As pot dealers in Washington sell their first legal joints today, marijuana activists are targeting as many as 14 more states over the next two years.
Two states, Alaska and Oregon, along with Washington DC, will likely be targeted for votes as early as this November.
Marijuana activists are feeling the momentum as Colorado legalized selling pot in January and it became legal in Washington today.
The pro-pot groups have ambitious plans for 2016 when there will be a big turnout for the presidential election, a turnout that usually includes younger voters. They hope to have pot on the ballots in 11 states in 2016.
“Generally, the more people we see vote, the more support we see” for initiatives legalizing pot, says Mason Tvert, communications director at the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
Activists from MPP and other pro-legalization groups plan to push for citizen-led ballot initiatives in pot-friendly states -- including California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Montana -- in 2016. They also plan to use the presidential election cycle to urge lawmakers in states like Hawaii, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Delaware, Maryland, and Vermont to consider the issue.
But encouraged by what has happened in Washington and Colorado, they have moved up their timing for Alaska, Oregon and DC.
“In 2013, we were encouraging people to wait until 2016,” says Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the pro-legalization group Drug Policy Alliance. “What changed our minds, [in Alaska and] in Oregon especially, was that a whole lot of public opinion polling saw, like, an eight to ten point jump between September 2012 and September 2013.”
Nadelmann believes the marijuana lobby’s success in Colorado and Washington convinced voters that legalization is a viable option.
“It made it very real for people,” he said. Legalization “went from an abstract alternative to a very real policy reform.”
More than 145,000 Oregonians have already signed a petition to put legalization on the ballot come November.
If Oregon Secretary of State Kate Brown certifies that at least 87,213 of those signatures are valid, the Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act will be put to a public vote on Nov. 4.
The proposed act would license, tax, and regulate commercial pot sellers and permit adults over 21 to privately possess up to eight ounces of dried “usable” marijuana and up to four plants.
Proponents are hoping this proposal does better than the state’s 2012 legalization measure, which failed 47 to 53.
Unlike the measure up for consideration in November, the unsuccessful 2012 measure essentially made the state a purveyor of marijuana, mandating that a state-run commission purchase, package and sell the weed itself. That proposal failed to attract major out-of-state donors and fell flat.
This year’s initiative is “better written, more tightly state drafted … and quite likely more palatable to voters,” Tvert says. Both he and Nadelmann say they are confident the measure will pass.