Prospects for Legal Marijuana? Higher and Higher

Anyone who still saw the marijuana-reform movement as a hopeless collection of hippies and slackers got a reality check last November, when advocates successfully passed three major initiatives. Massachusetts became the 18th state to allow for medical marijuana and, most notably, Washington and Colorado became the first two states in the country to legalize recreational use of the drug. Now, less than five months later, a slew of pro-marijuana measures has been introduced in legislatures across the country. At least six have a good chance of passing. Seventeen states have bills to allow medical marijuana. Nine others would make the punishment for possession a fine rather than jail time. Eight states' bills would create a taxing and regulatory system for the drug. And those are just the measures that have already been introduced; others are yet to come.

Traditionally, most major progressive changes to drug laws have occurred through ballot initiatives rather than the legislative process. One reason? According to an October Gallup poll, 50 percent of voters approve of legalizing marijuana, and there are both Democratic and Republican ends of the spectrum. But lawmakers in both parties are hesitant to support even medical-marijuana reform. Much like support for gay marriage, it seems when it comes to marijuana, elected officials lag behind, hedging their bets and fending off potential attack ads.

Activists are hoping this will be the year that changes“Something that was once verboten is becoming both politically popular and therefore salient for reform,” says Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of pro-marijuana legalization group NORML.

Activists like St. Pierre are particularly optimistic about medical-marijuana measures. The issue is increasingly noncontroversial. Already, 18 states have some measure on the books that allows for marijuana use for people with certain illnesses, though they range from very restrictive measures like New Jersey’s, where there’s only one dispensary for the entire state, to California’s extremely liberal law that makes it relatively easy to open a dispensary or get access. 

New Hampshire, Illinois, and New York are all considering medical marijuana measures with good chances of passing. The Illinois measure is on the stricter end, allows 22 dispensaries, and St. Pierre expects a successful measure from New York to be similar in specifying the number of dispensaries. New Hampshire is particularly promising. The state's bill has already passed the House and been sent to the Senate, which is likely to pass the measure as well. The New Hampshire Legislature passed similar measures in previous years, only to see them vetoed by then-Governor John Lynch. However, current Governor Maggie Hassan, who, like Lynch, is a Democrat, has expressed support for legalizing medical marijuana.

Decriminalizing recreational use is far tougher—and so far, no state legislature has done more than put it up for a popular vote. But several promising measures are currently moving through state assemblies. The Maryland Senate passed a measure to decriminalize the drug in small amounts (10 grams or fewer) and now awaits a decision in the state house. In Oklahoma, lawmakers may dramatically reduce the penalties for second-time marijuana offenders—and eliminate mandatory-minimum jail sentences.

In Vermont, Governor Peter Shumlin has been an outspoken supporter for decriminalizing—so much so that he campaigned on the issue last year when he ran successfully for re-election. Mason Tvert, who co-directed the initiative campaign in Colorado and now works with the national Marijuana Policy Project, says the Vermont legislation could be law by the summer. Tvert also has high hopes for Rhode Island. He believes it may be the first state to pass a bill through the legislature that actually taxes and regulates marijuana. So far, only Washington and Colorado have already passed such measures, and they did so through initiatives. This would be the first time a marijuana bill became a law through the legislative process. 

The key to passing marijuana reform, says Tvert, comes from educating the public—and lawmakers—about the drug. It’s “critical that voters understand the very simple fact that marijuana is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” he says. That way, the idea of regulating marijuana like alcohol “becomes a lot clearer.”

Even if the majority of these measures fail, the lobbying and grassroots efforts from the movement will build support for the cause.

The next big question for activists will be whether to start more initiative campaigns for 2014 or whether to wait until the next presidential election. Tvert advocates focusing on the legislative level for now, and says the initiative process shouldn’t be tried again until the next presidential election—when turnout is higher across the political spectrum. Midterm elections tend to rev up groups out of power—currently the conservative base. Not everyone is willing to wait, though. In Florida, two big Democratic fundraisers have announced their intention to help get a medical-marijuana initiative on the ballot in 2014. According to St. Pierre, legalization efforts—like the ones that passed in Washington and Colorado—are in full swing in California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Oregon, where a similar measure failed in 2012. “We already have lots of grassroots on the ground and all of those states ready to rock,” he says. 

That activists are debating tactics is a sure indication of the progress that marijuana legalizers have made in recent years. They're no longer wondering whether victories will be possible but how best to achieve them.


There are three major groups of reasons why a specific drug or behavior may be banned.

1. the drug or behavior IN ITSELF harms the one who does it.
2. the drug or behavior IN ITSELF harms others around those who do it.
3. the drug or behavior COMBINED WITH LAWS OR CUSTOMS THAT CONDEMN IT harms those who do it and those around them.

In case 1, the drug or behavior could legitimately be discouraged by influencing public opinion, offering rehab opportunities, etc. Legal casinos themselves, for example, promote a hot line to call if you are ADDICTED to gambling, because they want their customers to leave their money CHEERFULLY and maintain a happy environment, not an angry or desperate environment.

In case 2, there is a rational basis for criminalizing the behavior regardless of ideology (except for people addicted to collecting guns; they should not even have to pass a background check, according to Pope Wayne of the Church of NRA). Very few DRUGS and very few PRIVATE behaviors fit this criteria, but theft, murder, rape, child molesting certainly do.

In case 3, there is a circular reasoning: it ought to be outlawed because it would hurt you to be jailed for doing it. If there were no law against it, it would cause no problem. The problem occurs when the case 1 reasons for outlawing a drug or behavior are less troublesome to society than the case 3 reasons. Alcohol is an example: there were always good reasons for urging people to drink in moderation, and urging those who could not control their drinking moderately to just stop, AS A PERSONAL CHOICE. And there were always good reasons to hold drinkers liable for the collateral damage of too much drinking. But in the 1920's there were even more case 3 reasons, namely it was illegal. But since people did it anyway, the ban resulted in more problems for society than the case 1 problems of drinking itself, so the ban was repealed.

And marijuana is like alcohol, but less so. Smoking it in excess may cause problems for the user, and possibly for others around the user, but smoking it occasionally and responsibility, which is easier than anti-pot activists believe, causes no problems for the user and those around the user ... EXCEPT the very fact that laws against it exist and ARE being enforced causes those problems. The proof of this is in the large number of people who smoked pot regularly in the 1960's and 1970's and STOPPED DOING SO ON THEIR OWN when it became fashionable for almost every job to require drug screening. If it had been as addictive as claimed, there would be huge numbers of former hippies in jail, or there would be far more pot-quitting facilities, which would have gotten huge numbers of clients in the 1980's and 1990's. Instead, the potheads of earlier years made the rational decision to stop using it when it became a virtual disqualification for responsible jobs. And many of these users were doing responsible jobs and limiting their smoking BEFORE the glut of anti-pot corporate policies, when they were supposedly "addicts."

Make pot like alcohol, and regulate the DAMAGE that irresponsible use may cause, by licensing growers, packagers and sellers, rather than trying to stop it. Who knows, maybe the tobacco companies and farmers could convert almost 100 percent to pot without tanking the economies of tobacco states.

The "harder" drugs are a tougher problem, because all those years of criminalizing have led to a demand for the drugs. But decriminalizing personal use of those drugs would remove the attraction for teens to try them for the first time. Combined with more labor-friendly distribution of wealth in the economy, we might be able to finally crush the ghetto gangs by making them irrelevant. Experience with legalized pot would show where we can go from there. Certainly, legal pot would remove gangs from the supply chain and remove the contact between pot buyers and the criminal culture, which is the REAL reason pot has become a "gateway drug": it is a gateway drug BECAUSE pot AND other drugs are illegal, and pot suppliers have an incentive to trick their customers into becoming addicted to other drugs by ADDING them to pot, which a LEGAL pot industry would never do.

This whole problem was hashed over, with the same recomendations, in the report "Licit and Illicit Drugs," published in 1973 or perhaps earlier by Consumer Reports, for goodness sake. If anything, those conclusions are more firmly established now than forty years ago.

Lumping cannabis in with toxic, or truly addictive substances under the umbrella of "DRUGS!!!1!!" has puzzled me ever since I was old enough to understand the question. Seems to me that to throw people in prison for forty years for reasons demonstrably false must have motives behind it other than the professed ones. Proving that, on the other hand, may be impossible.


I've proposed a complete marijuana rationalization
regimen, filling coffers, not prisons.

mindful of reason and proportion, applying a non-intrusive
umbrella, cause it's scientifically a double-sided matter
that the active ingredient in marijuana is functionally almost
identical to the naturally occurring endorphin coursing through
the arteries of the prosecutor prosecuting the poor kid caught
with a joint.

Also, partly for demonstrating the naivete that necessarily
accompanies judgement making in areas that demand the
same reason and proportion and attention to science above,
I added an alcohol space.

It' entirely original, new and sufficiently elaborate that
this is the only way to do it. I hope you don't mind.
I make a point of trying not to post anything "me" more than
once monthly in any forum even where I DO have something
really original to further offer.

I’m actually from public health.

I don't mind if it is made legal, however, I would like to see a ban on smoking outside of houses or public areas.

Don't get me wrong, I understand the health factors are for the most part exaggerated, my main problem is :

A) In vehicles or driving, people smoking easily get distracted and can cause all kinds of accidents, Marijuana I guarantee is no exception to this rule.

B) People will use it as a scapegoat in behavioral issues, or someone who is mentally disturbed could use it in such a way. (Think if a guy hits you with mental disabilities, then they get off because they took Marijuana and lawyers end up using that as a defense, leaving you a victim with no justice)


Again, I don't mind legalisation, and I certainly understand alchohol and smokes are far worse in what they do, then again, I feel the same should be placed on both of them. (Done only in public properties/homes.)

In the next few years we will see the marijuana laws change and more states will legalize this drug. Thanks for this interesting and current article.

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