Marijuana election SWEEP: 8 out of 9 states pass new freedom-loving legislation
Voters overwhelmingly rejected the failing drug war at the voting polls, with eight out of nine states approving ballot measures loosening restrictions on the use of marijuana.
Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota became the 25th through 28th states (plus the District of Columbia) to approve marijuana for medical use. Perhaps of even greater significance, the number of states allowing recreational marijuana has now doubled, with Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada and California – the nation’s most populous state – joining Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington in embracing a legal, regulated recreational marijuana industry. A number of other states have also decriminalized cannabis, without legalizing it.
Only Arizona rejected its recreational marijuana initiative. Medical marijuana remains legal in the state.
Legalization advocates predict that the ballot victories will increase pressure on the federal government to end its prohibition of cannabis once and for all.
The ballot victories were driven by high voter turnout among a population that increasingly recognizes marijuana as less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes. The new laws will regulate marijuana similarly to those products.
Specifically, the states will all allow anyone 21 or older to possess an ounce of marijuana and six plants in their homes. The exceptions are Nevada, which only allows possession of plants for those living more than 25 miles from a marijuana retail store, and Maine, which allows possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana, six flowering plants and 12 nonflowering plants.
The most immediate impact of the new laws will likely be an end to the imprisonment and criminalization of people for simply using recreational marijuana without committing any other “crimes.” California is already working to retroactively reduce the sentences of people convicted of some drug offenses prior to the law’s passage.
The states are also expected to set regulations for smoking marijuana in public spaces.
All four states expect a significant economic boom to flow from the new industry.
“This is obviously a positive development, particularly with the size of California,” said Morgan Fox of the Marijuana Policy Project. “The money that was going into the hands of criminals is going to be going into legitimate businesses.”
According to a recent study, legal marijuana contributed $2.39 billion to Colorado’s economy in 2015, including $1 billion in sales, $120 million in tax revenue, the creation of 18,000 new jobs and the creation of additional business-to-business transactions and indirect jobs.
“All of it just generates and spins through the economy,” said Jacob Rowberry of the Marijuana Policy Group, which commissioned the study.
Full legalization on the horizon?
In the longer term, legalization advocates hope that the increasing number of states rejecting prohibition will increase pressure on the federal government to do likewise.
“This is a big election, arguably bigger than the one we had two years ago where we added two states to the map,” said Michael Collins, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “In California, one of the biggest states in the nation, all of the big state-versus-federal conflicts are going to be dramatically increased by what goes on. The end game is in sight.”
In recent years, the Justice Department has mostly directed federal law enforcement not to bother with marijuana prohibition enforcement. But the continuing prohibition of marijuana continues to create difficulties for legal marijuana businesses and the governments that seek to tax and regulate them.
With larger states such as California and Massachusetts entering the marijuana regulation business, some of those hurdles may start to get figured out.
“It’s really going to create examples for people in other states to look at when they’re considering their own marijuana policies,” Fox said.
Evidence of marijuana’s medical benefits also continues to mount. A recent study found that states with medical marijuana have seen dramatic drops in prescriptions of drugs for anxiety, depression, pain, nausea, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity, and a drop in opioid overdose deaths.
by David Gutierrez