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The March Toward Marijuana Legalization: 2016 And Beyond

2016 election marijuana

(via chsarrow.com)

By Phillip Smith

State-level marijuana law reform won big in this month’s elections, with legalization initiatives triumphing convincingly in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC. The Florida medical marijuana initiative lost, but only because it had a higher bar of 60% of the popular vote. It ended up with 57%, a clear sign of solid majority support. And don’t forget Guam — the US territory approved medical marijuana with 56% of the vote.

Local marijuana reform initiatives also fared well. In Maine, Massachusetts, and Michigan, activists built on earlier successes to win more victories this year, while in New Mexico, voters in Albuquerque and Santa Fe voted in favor of decriminalizing pot possession.

All in all, a good year for marijuana law reform, the second good election year in a row. Since 2012, voters in four states and DC have been asked to legalize marijuana. They’ve now said yes in all of them.

And now, eyes to turn to 2016 and beyond. There are excellent prospects for more victories in the West, as well as in the Northeast. And there could be some surprises lurking out there in the middle of the country.

California, of course, is the big prize, and efforts are already well underway to ensure that legalization is on the ballot in 2016 — and that it actually wins this time. Arizona and Nevada are also on the radar, and the Nevada initiative campaign has already turned in twice the number of signatures needed to make the 2016 ballot.

In the Northeast, both Maine and Massachusetts are initiative states, and legalization appears headed for the ballot in both. In Rhode Island and Vermont, the push will come in the state legislatures.

“Things are clearly headed in the right direction,” said Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) communications director Mason Tvert, scanning the post-election terrain. “Even in a midterm where we saw large Republican gains, we also saw large gains for marijuana policy reform. A lot of people would say the turnout was smaller and more conservative, yet we still saw strong majorities approving measures making marijuana legal in various states and cities.”

MPP will be backing 2016 initiatives in five states, Tvert said, although the Nevada legislature could ease its burden by just approving an initiative rather than punting to the voters.

“In Nevada, the petition drive has just wrapped up. At this point, our goal there is to pass the ballot initiative; if the legislature chooses to take an objective look and give it some real consideration, that would be excellent, too,” he said.

“We also have committees filed to support initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, and Massachusetts,” Tvert said. “In California, we want to begin to raise money to support that effort, but it’s pretty early in the process. We expect to see very solid support for such a measure in California, especially running in a presidential election year when support for legalizing marijuana has been growing nationwide. Prop 19 got 47% in 2010; that will be six years ago come 2016.”

“We have a pretty comprehensive statewide coalition working on this,” said Dale Gieringer, executive director ofCalifornia NORML, which is a key part of that grouping, the California Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. “The coalition includes us, the Prop 19 people, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, MPP, the Emerald Growers Association, and the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) has been a partner in this, too.”

A little less than two years out, it’s a work in progress, said Gieringer.

“Pretty much all the leading groups interested in drug reform are interested in collaborating, but exactly how that will work hasn’t been settled yet,” he said.

Now that four states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, Gieringer sees some political space for pushing the envelope.

“Home cultivation will be in it,” he said. “They have that in Oregon and Colorado, and we’re going to have it in California. I also want to provide for on-site consumption; we’re working to get that instituted here in Oakland. In Colorado, they banned public use, which is one thing if you mean smoking pot on the street, but governments tend to have an expansive view of what constitutes public use, like a public accommodation under the Civil Rights Act. I think we can provide for licensed on-site consumption, at least by local option.”

And no reason to make what he called “unnecessary concessions.”

“We have a DUID law, and we don’t need to change that,” he said. “They didn’t do that in Colorado and Oregon, and we don’t need to do it. We learned a lesson in Washington — that lack of an express DUID provision didn’t make a difference — and we’re not going to repeat that.”

Although more than any other group in the coalition, CANORML represents the interests of marijuana consumers, Gieringer said it’s not pot smokers or growers who are going to make an initiative victorious.

“Marijuana users are 12% to 15% of the population here; we really have to depend on more than that,” he said. “The users and growers will not determine this campaign. And I’m sure there will be people discontented with however the initiative turns out; there always are. But there aren’t that many growers in the state, anyhow. Some growers didn’t like Prop 19, but it failed for other reasons. It didn’t win in Los Angeles County, and that’s not because of the growers.”

In some states, such as Massachusetts, activists have been piling up marijuana reform victories for years.MassCANN/NORML and the Drug Policy Forum of Massachusetts have an unbroken record of winning non-binding public policy questions on marijuana reform issues going back seven election cycles. Voters in the Bay State have also signaled their approval of marijuana law reform by passing statewide medical marijuana (2008) and decriminalization initiatives (2012).

Now, Bay State Repeal has formed to free the weed in 2016, and it has a pot populist tinge to it. The group wants home cultivation, not just to keep prices down, but “to keep the cops from busting through the door just because there is marijuana growing there” and it wants taxation and regulation, but only “moderate,” not “cash-cow taxation or giant licensing fees.”

In Maine, where MPP has been active, putting successful municipal legalization initiatives on the ballot in Portland and South Portland (but losing one in Lewiston), there could be not one but two legalization initiatives unless differing actors come together. In addition to the MPP effort, a new group, Legalize Maine, is also moving forward with plans for an initiative.

As with Bay State Repeal, there is a pot populist tinge. Legalize Maine couches its argument not only in terms of justice and common sense, but also talks about jobs and economic development. And it wants marijuana regulated in a way that “focuses on people instead of large economic interests that seeks to dominate the marijuana industry.”

Legalization could also pop up in some unexpected places, too. While the major movement organizations already have selected targets for 2016 and have plans well afoot, things could break faster than the big players anticipate, and local activists in some states — Arkansas and Missouri, for example — may manage to get initiatives on the ballot without significant outside support.

In Missouri, Show Me Cannabis has been undertaking a vigorous and energetic campaign to put an initiative on the ballot in 2016. It submitted its initiative to state officials earlier this month; the first step in getting the measure before the voters. Similar efforts by different groups are also underway next door in Arkansas.

Those Ozark-area efforts don’t have the backing of big national organization behind them, but that could change.

“If these initiatives are well-drafted and the polling is strong, we’ll help as best we can, but we’re not making any financial commitments,” said DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann. “We have a major commitment in California, and we’re helping MPP draft initiatives in other states. In Missouri, let’s make sure there’s a solid draft initiative, and if the polling is there, well, a victory in Missouri would be very compelling.”

Seeing marijuana legalization creep along the West Coast, make inroads on the East Coast, and maybe even in the Ozarks would make for a very impressive 2016, but some Midwestern activists are looking further down the road.

Led by indefatigable Tim Beck, Michigan activists have managed to pass municipal personal legalization initiatives in all the state’s largest cities in the past few years. This year, they went eight for 13 with similar initiatives in smaller Michigan communities.

Michigan voters also approved marijuana in a statewide initiative in 2008, but, for Beck, getting the state’s dispensary situation settled — not legalization — is the first order of business.

“Although the state legislature is totally controlled by the GOP, we’ve been working with them, and they’ve kind of seen the light on a regulated system with a lot of local control, which is big with Republicans,” he said. “We have one of the best medical marijuana laws in the country, and it’s going to get better with a regulated dispensary system, as well as ingestibles. We won 95-14 in the House, and it’s going through the Senate now,” he said.

“We have over 1.5 million people now living in cities that have decriminalized,” Beck said. “And we liberated 140,000 this year — on the cheap. This has an impact. When we have dispensaries and when we have decriminalization, local officials won’t be able to say ‘Oh, we don’t want marijuana here,’ because the voters do.”

Legalization may not be the first order of business, but it is the ultimate goal, Beck said.

“My philosophy has never been that the solution is medical, but straight-out, unadorned legalization, but we’re -having to do it on our own,” he explained. “Michigan is fly-over country for the big players. It’s a large state with a population of more than 10 million, so it’s expensive to win a campaign, and it’s a bit more conservative than the East or West coasts.”

That means Michigan needs to be patient.

“Our realistic priority for the next couple of years is to work with the legislature,” Beck said. “We have a new class of entrepreneurs who have come out of the closet, and we’ve been able to fund our own lobbyist to the tune of about $150,000. Once we get dispensaries, then we’ll turn to decriminalization at the statehouse. We had a decriminalization bill this year, but it was introduced by a Democrat and went nowhere.”

Beck is also waiting for the opinion polls to move further in the right direction.

“There’s a weird dichotomy in our polling,” the veteran activist explained. “We get well over 60% saying yes to reallocating police resources away from small-time marijuana users, but when it comes to legalization, that number drops dramatically. We might be at 50%; we’ll do another poll at year’s end, but I don’t think much will change. It’s hard to demand that anyone open their checkbook when you’re only running 50%. We have to just keep going on an incremental basis. Maybe by 2018 or 2020, we’ll be ready.”

While Beck counsels patience, Nadelmann is counseling prudence. And while he is of course happy that all the legalization initiatives passed, he doesn’t want people to think it’s going to be a walk in the park from here on in.

“The downside is a sense of overconfidence, a feeling that marijuana will legalize itself,” he said. “That could make it more difficult to fundraise if there’s a sense that you can put anything on the ballot and not anticipate serious opposition. There could be a sense in the industry that you can be free riders while the activists raise the money.”

There are other potential pitfalls. Entrepreneurs trying to push the envelope could push too far, Nadelmann said.

“Don’t forget the Montana disaster,” he warned, referring the wide open medical marijuana expansion there that created a backlash that drove the industry back into the ground. “Don’t be short-sighted and greedy, and contribute and support the organizations working on this.”

And don’t forget federal pot prohibition.

It’s one thing for a handful of states — or even more — to legalize marijuana, but as long as federal marijuana prohibition remains on the books, even the legal marijuana states could theoretically face a concerted federal effort to roll back the clock. Using federal marijuana prohibition as a hammer, a hostile Congress and president could wreak havoc with state-level regulation and taxation. (Ironically, a move to do that could result in marijuana being legal to smoke and possess in those states, but not to sell or be taxed or regulated.)

But if repealing federal pot prohibition is the Holy Grail, reformers still have a ways to go.

“A lot more states are going to have to approve this before it gets to the point where repeal can pass,” said Nadelmann. “When you look at medical marijuana and how slowly that moves on Capitol Hill, you see that it wasn’t until this year that we actually got something passed, and that was just to stop federal interference in medical marijuana states. I’m more optimistic about winning votes like that next year, to get the federal government out of the way.”

Congress has not been especially responsive to growing support for marijuana legalization, and there’s no reason to expect that to change anytime soon, Nadelmann said.

“It’s hard to imagine Congress playing any sort of leadership role on this stuff,” he explained.

Maybe when we have 24 legal marijuana states, not just four of them. That means there’s still plenty of work to be done at the state house and the ballot box.

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Johnny Green


  1. You might recall that a few years ago Nevada had a vote for, I believe, 3 pounds and it lost, arguably because of the large amount allowed. I personally think there should be no limit, but I’d much rather have a small amount than no amount at all.

  2. Captain Obvious on

    Perhaps, but they should at least keep a low license fee or 0 to keep a trend of low barriers to entry since cannabis is for everyone, rich and poor.

  3. We are at a very interesting point in the legalization movement. A second loss in California could turn the tide in an opposite direction, unless all of the smaller states continue the trend toward legalizing. We need to have the most populated state in the nation take a real stand in announcing to the rest of the bigger states, and the federal government, that this movement is here to stay until we reach the finish line [that being legalization at the fed level not just rescheduling].
    It is nice to read about the wealth of new states jumping on board the legalization band wagon, and my hope is to finally get one of the southern states a real chance at a win [so the entire country demographic can be represented], but I want everyone who is excited about our current wins to continue to be excited, and involved, about the next round of measures/initiatives/bills. This is going to take a country wide effort to make legalization a reality; Even if you don’t live in a state trying to make a push, offer money, your time via emailing the masses/willing to make calls for the organization/s involved, etc etc. We need all hands on deck, as often as they can be spared, until we either A) just legalize usage in every state or B) finally force the feds to accept that we will not be detoured and prohibition is repealed.
    Now let’s go get’em folks =D

  4. if 36 happens I will move there as long as you can keep the fruits of your harvest and not be restricted to small quantities of usable flower.

    at a total of 72 for wifey and I we could easily produce 6-8 pounds a month indoors year around!

    Now that’s what I call a retirement income!

  5. Where can the cancer studies be found?
    So many of them involved only a handful of people and weren’t particularly well defined/controlled.

  6. Good stuff and nice to see wrapped up in one location ….

    And there are decrimilazition efforts happening in Kansas and Chicago I beleive as well ….

    When DC a legalizes I belive the entire United States will say how come legal in Capital but not here?

  7. Thirty-Six Plants per person, that is silly and won’t pass …..

    Don’t get me wrong I’m all in if Arkansas approves …. Nothing better than floating the White and I would love to retire there but 36 plants is extreme, dial it back!

  8. Medical Marijuana encourages apoptosis and autophagy of Cancer cells,
    while leaving normal cells untouched, is anti-angigogenic,
    anti-proliferative, and is anti-angiogenic.

    I’m pushing that too. It helps to throw in medical terms.

  9. The cancer angle I think is a big one. Not enough people know about cannabis’ anti-cancer properties.

    The Prohibitionists are involved in mass murder. The Reagan – Bush administration tried to suppress the finding that cannabis is effective against cancer. You can look it up. Of course the Democrats did nothing when they had a chance.

    Cannabis cures cancer. Cancer kills 586,000 Americans every year. Every Prohibitionist is complicit in mass murder.

    Pass it on.


    We do have a number of ‘net activists getting the word out despite the Big Media blackout. I think that will change the environment by 2016 and especially the Federal environment.

  10. Good article. People in non-legal states like Florida for example seriously need to realize that they need not settle at this point for a medical campaign only since all the states that now have recreational had medical legalization before. Now that there are so many states with medical and a few with recreational, forget about settling for pushing a medical legalization only campaign. Go full bore, go all out, go for a recreational legalization ballot in 2016. Don’t waste a prime presidential election year on just a mere super-restrictive medical-only ballot as it will be another 4 years of still having to deal with cops arresting recreational users. Take advantage of the coming 2016 voter turn-out. The younger crowd never bothers to come out in full force except on presidential elections years and that only happens once every 4 years. For example, I think it’s a waste of effort to put Florida’s same MMJ bill up for vote in 2016 when the chances for recreational passage will be just as good and if they don’t put recreational on the ballot there in 2016, it will be until 2020 before the young voters will be out in numbers enough to make a recreational vote pass.

    It’s going to take the younger votes to get recreational passed, especially in the southern states. I know this wasn’t needed for 2014 in Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. , but the younger vote will be needed in the south. Georgia of all places has a senator that thinks he can get GA legislators to pass a combined medical / recreational bill in the 2015 session in GA, although his heart is in the right place, he’s jumping the gun too early because the majority of those archaic legislators wouldn’t even pass a severely restrictive CBD-oil only legalization bill and GA needs to get a bill like that out in the open for ALL of GA residents to vote on and again, it will come down to the younger voters being out in full force to sway the win.The more states that end up passing legalization for adult use, will be all the more pressure on Congress to reschedule it off the list of controlled substances. Another thing will be the more states that pass full recreational legalization will be that much more pressure on the states that border them to do the same as cops in neighboring states will increase their arrests in traffic stops that border those newly legalized states from their own residents crossing state lines to buy a bag, then return home to get busted with it.

    2016 will be the major turning point for the nation in ending marijuana prohibition on a nationwide scale. Just like Wednesday is considered hump-day of the week, 2016 will be the top of the mountain for legalization and after 2016 everything will be easy and a downhill ride from there onward. There’s going to be so much marijuana crossing state lines immediately after 2016, with so many newly legalized states, the remaining states’ legislators will take notice of all of the increased marijuana arrests fully knowing that between their own state residents becoming marijuana tourists to their neighboring legalized states and the black market profiteers making their last stand at supplying the market in the remaining illegal states, the legislators will have unreal pressure in knowing that it’s futile to keep resisting putting forth legalization bills. This is why at this point, as far as the overall legalization movement has grown, it’s a waste of time and money just to campaign for a “medical-only” bill in 2016 in the states that don’t have anything. At least attach a recreational bill in with a medical bill for 2016 but don’t just think that the only chance you have is to go for a medical bill then have to come back 4 yrs later and campaign once again for recreational. Knock out 2 birds with 1 stone, ( no pun intended )

  11. Captain Obvious on

    I’d like to see that! I’d be nice if some other states set a better examples with low barriers to entry and a small government / low tax approach. Industrial hemp is going to be the real cash cow for Uncle Sam anyway. Banning vegetable gardens via extensive barriers to entry is unconstitutional, and they know they will loose that battle as the dominos fall.

  12. Thanks for this post. It’s really good to see a more complete picture in one place. Lots of information here that I now don’t have to go all over the internet to find. Thanks WeedBlog and thanks Phillip Smith.

  13. Wow really nice to know the mop could give two shots about what we are doing here in Arkansas. We have our amendment approval. 36 plants per adult with only a $250 license who the he’ll out there can beat that

  14. Like the majority of Americans, I strongly support the immediate, complete legalization of Marijuana.

    But as a Scientist with a strong interest in Cancer research, I feel even more strongly about the need for its immediate legalization of it for Medical use, and the need to ensure that no Cancer patient is denied it, than I’ve ever felt about any issue, because I’m so impressed with its benefits for Cancer patients.

    I urge everyone reading this to PLEASE call and email the Attorney General, the press, Congress and the President today.
    Its amazing what a few well written editorials and interviews on news programs can do.

    Medical Marijuana not only helps with Cancer therapy, seizures, PTSD and chronic pain, but has helped countless Americans, including countless veterans stop using Alcohol, and hard drugs, both legal and illegal ones.

    Every minute an American dies of Cancer.
    Every 19 minutes an American dies of a prescription drug overdose.
    Many vets become addicted to prescription opiates and die from them.

    NOBODY has ever died from smoking too much pot.
    Lots of people’s stage 4 Cancer has been cured by high dose Medical Marijuana oil, and every Cancer patient that uses Marijuana to ease their suffering benefits greatly from doing so.

    It is immoral to leave Marijuana illegal, for anyone, for even a second longer.

    For Cancer patients, its a matter of life and death.

    Medical Marijuana has an unmatched safety profile, and for people who suffer from so many diseases of so many kinds its a medical miracle, and the scientific evidence behind it is rock solid.

    For example, Medical Marijuana encourages apoptosis and autophagy of Cancer cells, while leaving normal cells untouched, is anti-angigogenic, anti-proliferative, and is anti-angiogenic.

    Its also synergistic with chemotherapy and radiation therapy, making both more effective.

    For many Cancer patients its meant the difference between life and death.

    For everyone else, its a far safe alternative to Alcohol, and infinitely safer than Cigarettes.

    Either take them off the market too, or legalize Marijuana right now.

    2016 is too far away, between now and then roughly 1 MILLION Americans will die of Cancer.

    And its a horrible way to die.

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