More States Consider Legalizing Marijuana

obama-medical-marijuanaDespite the drug still being illegal under federal law, the Obama administration has said it will not interfere with the roll-out of legal marijuana in the states for several reasons, including whether the state is successful in keeping it out of the hands of minors.

At least 14 states — including Florida, where an initiative has already qualified for the ballot — are considering new medical marijuana laws this year, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, which supports legalization, and 12 states and the District of Columbia are contemplating decriminalization, in which the drug remains illegal, but the penalties are softened or reduced to fines. Medical marijuana use is already legal in 20 states and the District of Columbia.

An even larger number of states, at least 17, have seen bills introduced or initiatives begun to legalize the drug for adult use along the lines of alcohol, the same approach used in Colorado and Washington, but most of those efforts are considered unlikely of success this year.

The allure of tax revenues is also becoming a powerful selling point in some states, particularly after Gov. John W. Hickenlooper of Colorado said last week that taxes from legal marijuana sales would be $134 million in the coming fiscal year, much higher than had been predicted when the measure was passed in 2012.

In Rhode Island, which is struggling financially, national and local advocates for legalization say the Colorado news is sure to help legislation introduced in February to legalize the drug.

“Some feel it’s not an appropriate issue for an election year, and others want to wait and see what happens in Colorado,” said State Senator Joshua Miller, a Democrat who is sponsoring the Rhode Island legalization law. “But a lot of other people are very anxious to take the revenue part of this very seriously.”

Opponents of legalization, meanwhile, are mobilizing across the country to slow the momentum, keeping a sharp eye on Colorado for any problems in the rollout of the new law there.

“Legalization almost had to happen in order for people to wake up and realize they don’t want it,” Mr. Sabet said. “In a strange way, we feel legalization in a few states could be a blessing.”

California had been considered a possibility to legalize marijuana this year through a ballot proposition — one to do just that failed in 2010 — but the Drug Policy Alliance, which had been leading the effort, decided this month to wait until 2016.

While much of the recent attention has focused on these legalization efforts, medical marijuana may also cross what its backers consider an important threshold this year — most notably in the South where Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina are among the states considering such laws.

John Morgan, an Orlando lawyer whose firm includes former Gov. Charlie Crist, has spent $3.6 million of his own money to get a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot in Florida, where a Quinnipiac University poll conducted in November showed that eight in 10 Florida voters support medical marijuana. State law requires 60 percent to pass.

Mr. Morgan insists that his initiative is not intended to help Mr. Crist, a Republican turned Democrat, reclaim the governorship.

Election data, compiled by Just Say Now, a pro-marijuana group, showed that the percentage of the vote that came from people under 30 increased significantly from 2008 to 2012 in states that had marijuana initiatives. This youth vote, predominantly Democratic, rose to 20 percent from 14 percent in Colorado, and to 22 percent from 10 percent in Washington, both far above the 1 percent rise in the national youth vote.


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