If you live in Colorado, Washington or Oregon, your state may soon be the first in the nation to allow possession of marijuana—in limited quantities—for recreational use. It all depends on what happens Nov. 6. Pot is no stranger to the ballot in Colorado, where smokers consume more than two million ounces of marijuana each year and the state spends more than $40 million annually enforcing its prohibition. A ballot initiative to legalize marijuana failed 59% to 41% in 2006, six years after a referendum approved medical marijuana for use in the state.
Washington is emerging as the most likely state to be the first to legalize marijuana according to new polls. But even with a huge fundraising advantage, and less organized opposition, Initiative 502 is far from a lock as voters begin casting ballots. A poll released today by Strategies 360 finds a 54-to-38 lead for I-502, with about 7 percent undecided (rounding errors cause it not add up to 100 percent). A larger poll last week, the KCTS 9 Washington Poll, gave I-502 a 51-to-41 lead among all voters; among likely voters, it leads 47-40 percent, indicating considerable uncertainty. (See also: Marijuana Initiative 502 a tough sell in Eastern Washington)
When people go to the polls two weeks from now they won't just be voting for candidates, in some states, they'll be passing judgment on social issues. In Oregon, Washington and the Rocky Mountain state of Colorado it's the legalization of marijuana. Part of this has to do with cash-starved governments looking for new things to tax for more revenue. But much of it has to do with the growing acceptance or at least tolerance for a drug that was once considered the devil's weed and a flashpoint for cultural and generational warfare.
A top Justice Department official has told "60 Minutes" the federal government is ready to combat any "dangers" of state-sanctioned recreational pot, amid criticism of the Obama administration for its relative silence on legalization drives in three states. Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon are set to vote on November 6 on whether to legalize and tax marijuana sales, raising the possibility of a showdown with the federal government, which views pot as illegal.
Former Drug Enforcement Agency administrators and directors of the Office of National Drug Control Policy voiced a strong reminder to the U.S. Department of Justice that even if voters in Colorado, Oregon and Washington pass ballot measures to legalize marijuana use for adults and tax its sale, the legalization of marijuana still violates federal law and the passage of these measures could trigger a "Constitutional showdown."
upporters say passing Initiative 502 on Nov. 6 could make drug laws more reasonable, prevent thousands of arrests a year, and bring Washington hundreds of millions of dollars to help pay for schools, health care and basic government services. It could also set up a big fight with the federal government. Voters in Colorado and Oregon are considering similar measures. But based on polls, Washington's initiative might stand the best chance of passing.
A new crime-data analysis has found that 241,000 people in Washington were arrested for misdemeanor marijuana possession over the last quarter-century, adding fuel to a campaign seeking to make this state the first to legalize recreational marijuana sales. The analysis estimates those arrests translated to nearly $306 million in police and court costs — $194 million of it the past decade. African Americans were arrested twice as often as whites for possession in Washington in the past 25 years, even though whites use marijuana more.
Seattle's first-ever Medical Cannabis Cup — part gourmet weed contest, part trade show, part smoke-in — showcased the entrepreneurial drive and explosive growth of the local medical-marijuana industry. From dispensaries offering dozens of marijuana varieties to new potency-testing labs to makers of cannabis-infused capsules and candy corn, storefronts displaying the trademark green cross dot nearly every Seattle neighborhood. The city estimates there are at least 150 marijuana-related businesses here, more ubiquitous than Starbucks.
In Oregon - a state with one of the nation's highest rates of pot use and a reputation for pushing the boundaries on marijuana laws - organizers are looking at a bank account with just $1,800. Marijuana activists who have ploughed big bucks into campaigns in the other two states complain the Oregon measure is poorly written and doesn't poll well. It didn't qualify for the ballot until July, severely limiting the time available to sway voters. They also don't care for the man with a blemished record who's pushing Oregon's measure. More than $4 million has flowed to Washington and close to a million in Colorado.