Marijuana's Westward March

How other western states are following Colorado and Washington's marijuana-friendly path

legal marijuana
Seth McConnell/The Denver Post via Getty Images
Strains of legal marijuana.
By |

2014 may be the year that established Colorado and Washington as trailblazers: the respective ballot initiatives that legalized recreational marijuana in those states have emboldened dozens of copycat movements across the country. But marijuana legalization seems to pull on the heartstrings of western voters in particular, who have always had a fondness for ballot initiatives. And direct democracy campaigns far away from Capitol Hill have been the vehicle for change on this issue, putting states with strong ballot initiative laws first in line for legalization. When voters are ahead of their legislators, as polling data suggests is the case with pot legalization, these kind of initiatives may be the best way for the movement to roll forward.

Which State is Better For Weed: Colorado or Washington?

Based on the campaign activity of the most influential state-level groups, here are some of the next states where a marijuana referendum is likely to make it onto the ballot in either 2014 or 2016:

Alaska
Alaskans aren’t used to being told to follow rules when it comes to pot. Ever since the Alaska Supreme Court ruled in favor of private possession and consumption of marijuana in 1975, residents have not been penalized for keeping up to four ounces of marijuana in their homes.

Last week, a citizens' initiative for voters to decide whether or not to legalize marijuana for recreational use passed the signature threshold to appear on the August 19th primary ballot. The draft legislation will decriminalize and regulate marijuana much the same way Colorado already does. "Home grows" might be more of a challenge in Alaska's northern climes, but that hasn't seemed to deter Taylor Bickford of the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska. He believes the state's libertarian voters will show support for legalization.

So this summer, one of America's reddest states may become one of its greenest.

Oregon
Oregon posed the question of marijuana legalization to voters in 2012, but back then it failed to pass by an eight-point margin. The state has one of the strongest traditions of ballot initiatives in the nation, with more referenda appearing on the ballot than any other state going back to 1905. Not long after the extremely hemp-friendly 2012 measure failed, polling data began to shift in the opposite direction, perhaps as a reaction to the tipping of the scales in Washington.

Inside the Denver Weed Boom

There are at last three proposals in the signature race to the 2014 ballot. The Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, a reworked version of what appeared on the 2012 ballot, is now making a comeback. It creates a commission that would be in charge of setting prices for retailers and purchasing all the marijuana produced for resale. A competing proposal known as New Approach Oregon has powerful backers that include Peter Lewis's Progressive Insurance and the George Soros-funded Drug Policy Alliance. It would create a marijuana market regulated by the state’s liquor control commission and would legalize possession and cultivation of plants. Finally, Oregon's state legislature might move to refer its own initiative to voters in 2014. All three of these proposals might make it to the ballot later this year, giving voters a range of options for the future of weed in their state.

California
In California, where 13,400 people were arrested for marijuana felonies in 2012, two competing legalization initiatives are now feverishly working to collect enough signatures by April to make it onto the November ballot. But the vast number of signatures needed in such a short amount of time is raising eyebrows, especially among the other power players in the state’s legalization movement, including the deep-pocketed Drug Policy Alliance and its partners. The coalition that has strategized many of the marijuana initiatives across the country announced this week that they’re backing out until 2016, when the funding base needed for a full-fledged media campaign is more likely to materialize.

How Harsh Is Your State Towards Marijuana Use? 

California, the state that legalized medical marijuana in a historic 1996 initiative, has been on the defensive throughout almost two decades of federal raids, asset forfeiture, and for some dispensary owners, time behind bars. California's Attorney General Kamala Harris estimates that one of the initiatives vying for the ballot could save the state up to $100 million every year in law enforcement costs and money spent handling criminal cases and keeping offenders in jail. But the California Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act will need to raise about $2 million to support their signature-collecting campaign. It's a race against the clock for the Golden State to realize its green future, but the prospects for 2016 are looking hopeful.

x