The momentum for marijuana legalization appears to be gaining, as legalization measures scored huge victories on election night. Measures for marijuana legalization passed in Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. They join Washington and Colorado, the two states that had already legalized marijuana through similar referendums two years ago. With the latest batch of wins in two states and Washington, D.C., legalization advocates are feeling confident that momentum is one their side. This appears to be backed up by popular opinion, as well. A Pew poll earlier this year showed that 54 percent of Americans favored legalization. According to a Gallup poll in 2013, a majority of Americans were in favor of marijuana legalization. That poll came just 14 years after a similar poll showed that a vast majority of Americans were against legalization, by a two to one margin.
This latest round of wins have many marijuana legalization activists excited and believing that these victories are telling about the direction that things are going on this issue. They feel that similar victories are destined to be repeated in the future. With similar referendums set to take place in the 2016 election on this issue in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada, advocates for legalization are feeling very confident that more such victories are in sight.
A medical marijuana measure also passed in Guam, making it the first American territory with such a measure in place. Indeed, it seemed just further evidence that momentum is on the side of marijuana legalization advocates, as they scored huge wins in this election. Yet, it was not all smiles at victories for legalization advocates. A constitutional amendment measure in Florida to allow legal use of medical marijuana was defeated. Still, even here, there was a silver lining for those who desired legalization, as victory would have needed a strong majority of 60 percent. It fell just short of that, with 57 percent.
The Oregon measure that passed last night is similar to the ones already existing in Colorado and neighboring Washington. It allows for the possession, production, and selling of marijuana for anyone 21 years and older. A regulatory system for the commercial sale will also be set up, similar to those stores that have already been opened in Colorado and Washington. Alaska will also have a similar system in place, with the measure having passed by a majority of voters there.
The initiative in Washington, D.C., does not nearly go as far as it does in the states that have legalized. It allows a person of 21 years of age to possess up to two ounces of marijuana for their own use, as well as to grow up to six cannabis plants. It also allows someone to give another person up to one ounce, although it stops short of allowing it to be sold. Interestingly, however, since the capital city is a district, and not a state, the measure may yet be blocked by Congress, which holds the power to nullify the measure. Some lawmakers have already suggested that they will try and overturn it, despite it having won the majority through popular vote.
There is a bit of a paradox that exists, since cannabis remains illegal under federal law. Federal law supersedes any state referendums. However, the Obama administration has largely allowed legalization in Washington and Colorado to happen without intervention. The question, then, is how much pressure the federal government will be under to tone down the war on drugs, and possibly decriminalizing the sale and possession of marijuana.
Nonetheless, advocates for marijuana legalization feel very pleased with scoring such huge victories in the 2014 election. With Americans of different political persuasions becoming more vocal in criticizing the war on drugs, and with further referendums for legalization set for the 2016 election, there may indeed be good reason for those in favor of legalization to feel confident for the future.
By Charles Bordeau