After a decades-long campaign to legalize marijuana hit a high mark in 2012 with victories in Washington state and Colorado, its energized and deep-pocketed backers are mapping out a strategy for the next round of ballot-box battles. They have their sights set on ballot measures in 2014 or 2016 in states such as California and Oregon, which were among the first in the country to allow marijuana for medical use. Although those states more recently rejected broader legalization, drug-law reform groups remain undeterred.
The sequential strategy will look familiar to Coloradans: first, pass a medical-marijuana law; then put dispensaries in place; then go for recreational legalization. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is pushing medical-marijuana laws in New York, Illinois and New Hampshire, along with contemplating a ballot initiative in Idaho. The true test for marijuana activists will come in 2016, the next presidential election year. That is when MPP hopes to run legalization initiatives in California, Massachusetts, Oregon and Maine.
Rob Kampia, co-founder and executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), has co-authored most of the medical marijuana laws on the books. His group spent years laying the groundwork for the successful legalization initiatives in Washington and Colorado, and the MPP was – by far – the biggest financial backer of the successful campaign in Colorado. He is interviewed about the future of pot prohibition, the role of the feds ...
Let Colorado and Washington be the marijuana trailblazers. Let them struggle with the messy details of what it means to actually legalize the drug. Marijuana is, as a practical matter, already legal in much of California. No matter that its recreational use remains technically against the law. Marijuana has, in many parts of this state, become the equivalent of a beer in a paper bag on the streets.
By legalizing marijuana through direct democracy, Colorado and Washington have fundamentally changed the national conversation about cannabis. As many as 58 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. The political establishment is catching on. Former president Jimmy Carter endorsed taxed-and-regulated weed. In a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder, Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy suggested "to amend the Federal Controlled Substances Act to allow possession of up to one ounce of marijuana, at least in jurisdictions where it is legal under state law."
It has been a little over a month since Coloradans approved a groundbreaking law legalizing small amounts of marijuana for recreational use. Now that the celebratory haze has settled, state officials and marijuana advocates began sifting through the thorny regulatory questions that go beyond merely lighting up.
President Barack Obama says he won't go after pot users in Colorado and Washington, two states that just legalized the drug for recreational use. But advocates argue the president said the same thing about medical marijuana - and yet U.S. attorneys continue to force the closure of dispensaries across the U.S. Welcome to the confusing and often conflicting policy on pot, where medical marijuana is legal in many states, but it is increasingly difficult to grow, distribute or sell it.
President Obama’s statement of tolerance toward legalized marijuana is welcome. The real question is not whether federal agents will go after users. In Colorado and Washington, the question is whether they will go after growers, processors and retailers that have been licensed under state law. It is whether the federal government will allow states to sanction businesses that keep accounts, pay taxes and follow state law.
President Obama says recreational users of marijuana in states that have legalized the substance should not be a "top priority" of federal law enforcement officials prosecuting the war on drugs. "We've got bigger fish to fry," Obama said of pot users in Colorado and Washington during an exclusive interview with ABC News' Barbara Walters. (See also: Parsing Obama's words on legalizing marijuana, by Ethan Nadelmann)
In an interview with ABC News President Barack Obama said federal authorities should not target recreational marijuana use in two Western states where it has been made legal given limited government resources and growing public acceptance of the controlled substance. "It does not make sense from a prioritization point of view for us to focus on recreational drug users in a state that has already said that under state law that's legal," he said.
Most Americans want the federal government to stop enforcing anti-marijuana laws in Colorado and Washington state, according to a Gallup Poll. Sixty-four percent do not want the federal government to enforce its anti-marijuana laws in those states, compared to only 34 percent who do. Among those who believe marijuana use should be legal, a whopping 87 percent said the federal government should back off. But even among those who oppose marijuana legalization, 43 percent don’t want the federal government to get involved.
Former President Jimmy Carter said he is in favor of legalizing marijuana during a public panel that CNN aired Tuesday. “I’m in favor of it. I think it’s OK,” Carter said. “I don’t think it’s going to happen in Georgia yet, but I think we can watch and see what happens in the state of Washington for instance around Seattle and let the American government and let the American people see does it cause a serious problem or not.”
The law setting up the US's first legal regulatory system for retail pot won't allow sales until next year. And the federal government still considers marijuana illegal. Then there are the taxation provisions: Can legal retailers compete with the black market when they have to payover 25% in taxes? What about the provision that says marijuana shops can't stock anything but pot and pot supplies?
Gov. John Hickenlooper on Monday quietly removed the final barrier to legalization by declaring that an amendment passed by voters in November was officially part of the state constitution. He announced the move on Twitter and email after the fact. In response, a handful of marijuana activists celebrated by toking up on the Capitol steps, but there were no crowds and little fanfare.
Senior White House and Justice Department officials are considering plans for legal action against Colorado and Washington that could undermine voter-approved initiatives to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in those states, according to several people familiar with the deliberations.
Although Canada has long toyed with decriminalizing marijuana, that idea was shelved when Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper took office. Earlier this year, the Liberal Party endorsed marijuana legalization. A poll conducted earlier this year found that two-thirds of Canadians say it should be decriminalized, in sharp contrast to the position of the Harper government.
The crowds of happy people lighting joints under Seattle's Space Needle early Thursday morning with nary a police officer in sight bespoke the new reality: Marijuana is legal under Washington state law. Hundreds gathered at Seattle Center for a New Year's Eve-style countdown to 12 a.m., when the legalization measure passed by voters last month took effect. When the clock struck, they cheered and sparked up in unison.
Some researchers think marijuana use among 18- to 25-year-olds will increase when Initiative 502 goes into effect, but college students say the drug is already so easy to obtain that they don't believe pot use will go up. Roger Roffman, a principal supporter of I-502 and a professor emeritus who has studied marijuana use and dependency for nearly 30 years thinks use will increase. He expects new norms to evolve, including norms that will discourage abuse. "I think the way this initiative is written is going to feed into the gradual evolution of safer use, and better decision-making."
Votes in Washington and Colorado last month to legalize pot for recreational use turbocharged marijuana as a legitimate business opportunity. Business people packed a marijuana-industry conference in Denver the day after the election, and shares of publicly-traded companies spiked — one that sells marijuana vending machines jumped 3,000 percent.
Some drug policy reform leaders, fearing an official backlash, are urging a cautious, go-slow, approach: make it as easy as possible for the feds to back off and let the states do their thing. Other voices, claiming a pro-pot electoral mandate, are calling for bold, assertive moves to implement the will of the voters.