According to a Gallup poll released today, for the first time, the majority of Americans (58%) say that marijuana should be legalized.
The first time Gallup asked this question, in 1969, only 12% favored legalization.
Support for legalization has been rising incrementally since then, reaching 28% in the 1980s and 50% in 2011. Gallup believes that the increased support for marijuana legalization is a result of initiatives in Colorado and Washington this past year.
Also helping marijuana’s cause is that the federal government has refused to challenge those initiatives, so long as the states maintain strict regulations over the cultivation and sale of the drug.
Independents represented the largest segment of growing support for legalization. Twelve-percent more of them supported legalization in 2013 than in 2012.
["Man Smoking Joint" on Shutterstock]
A ballot measure that could grant full marijuana legalization in California has been filed, and the language for the initiative was prepared online using a shared document.
Supporters of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014 have asked the state initiative coordinator to give them permission to circulate a petition, and if they gather enough signatures, voters will have a chance to decide the measure next November.
The initiative’s sponsor said he created a website and email list and subscribed every marijuana activist he could find.
His group held a small conference in October 2012, where a one-page initial draft was presented, but since then it’s gone through hundreds of revisions and grown to 35 pages after someone posted the group’s Google document on Boing Boing.
Unfortunately, said sponsor Dave Hodges, some of those edits were less helpful than others, such as users playing around with fonts and colors or accidentally deleting the document.
But he was optimistic that the group would gather enough signatures and raise enough money to put the measure before voters.
If it’s approved, the initiative would grant “Californians the freedom to use, grow, transport and sell cannabis subject to reasonable regulation and taxation in a manner similar to alcohol.”
Cities would also be prohibited from banning medical marijuana dispensaries or severely restricting their numbers.
California was the first state to permit medical use of cannabis, in 1996, although a similar measure to broadly legalize marijuana was shot down by voters in 2010.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
“We don’t see any reason for the rejection, other than we like to tell the truth about cannabis,” said founder Mike Golden.
State officials say that it’s not their beliefs that the state finds problematic, but the fact that what they advocate directly contravenes state law. The possession, distribution and consumption of marijuana is illegal in Kansas.
“We don’t want to advertise for that because their name is gonna be on our signs and I don’t think that’s acceptable,” said Benny Tarverdi of the Kansas Department of Transportation.
The Department also told Eyewitness News 12 that this is only the second application it’s denied in the past decade.
The first was from the KKK.
Supporters of marijuana legalization are hoping that Alaska will follow the example set by Colorado and Washington state.
Timothy Hinterberger told the Anchorage Daily News that his ballot initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in Alaska is about halfway there. Hinterberger, who sponsored the ballot initiative, and his supporters need to gather about 30,000 valid signatures by December 1 to qualify for next year’s primary ballot.
“In a free society, prohibition of popular substances is just bad public policy,” Hinterberger said.
If approved by voters, the measure would allow those 21 and older to use and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational use. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1998.
The ballot measure is similar to two successful initiatives in Colorado and Washington state. Residents of both states voted to legalize marijuana in 2012.
The U.S. Department of Justice eventually responded to the successful legalization efforts by announcing it would not interfere with states that legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. The announcement was intended to clear up discrepancies between state and federal marijuana policies, and has given marijuana reformers like Hinterberger hope.
“I think that shows that we are on the right track in thinking that things are really changing, both in federal policy as well in public sentiment. It eliminates one of the arguments you sometimes hear against an initiative like ours — it doesn’t matter what we do locally as a state because the feds will still step in,” he explained to the Anchorage Daily News.
In a news release issued Monday, the Marijuana Policy Project said Alaska was one of ten states they expected to legalize marijuana by 2017. The group said it was supporting the petition drive in Alaska, and planned similar ballot initiatives in four other states.
“Most Americans are tired of seeing their tax dollars used to arrest and prosecute adults for using a substance that is objectively less harmful than alcohol,” said MPP executive director Rob Kampia. “Voters and state legislators are ready for change, and the federal government appears to be ready, as well.”
A relatively new group, Project SAM, is warning the nation to brace itself for the terrible consequences of legal marijuana.
“We can look forward to more drugged driving accidents, more school drop-outs, and poorer health outcomes as a new Big Marijuana industry targeting kids and minorities emerges to fuel the flames,” said former Congressman Patrick Kennedy, a co-founder of the organization.
The Justice Department announced Thursday that it would allow Colorado and Washington to move forward with the implementation of laws establishing state-regulated systems of marijuana production and distribution.
Federal authorities will only prosecute marijuana offenses in a limited number of circumstances, such as when marijuana is being sold to minors.
“This is disappointing, but it is only the first chapter in the long story about marijuana legalization in the U.S. In many ways, this will quicken the realization among people that more marijuana is never good for any community, which is what happened after the Ogden memo was issued in 2009,” added Kevin Sabet, the co-founder and director of Project SAM.
Colorado and Washington are the only states to have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. Twenty states and the District of Columbia have legalized the medical use of marijuana.
Attorney General Eric Holder spoke to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday about the Department of Justice’s plans to address marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado, along with the department’s recent disclosure that a drone strike on U.S. soil is legally possible.
This live video is embedded courtesy of C-SPAN 3.
David Edwards contributed to this post.
New York City’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced in a speech on Thursday that he is eliminating mandatory jail time for people arrested with small amounts of marijuana. Arrests for marijuana possession have skyrocketed since he took office and the mayor has made it plain that he does not support marijuana legalization.
However, as Think Progress reported the mayor is re-classifying pot possession as a violation rather than a misdemeanor, meaning that police will no longer be automatically hauling people caught with pot off to a night in jail.
“(NYC Police) Commissioner (Ray) Kelly and I support Governor Cuomo’s proposal to make possession of small amounts of marijuana a violation, rather than a misdemeanor and we’ll work to help him pass it this year. But we won’t wait for that to happen,” said Bloomberg in the speech.
“Right now, those arrested for possessing small amounts of marijuana are often held in custody overnight,” he contined. “We’re changing that. Effective next month, anyone presenting an ID and clearing a warrant check will be released directly from the precinct with a desk appearance ticket to return to court. It’s consistent with the law, it’s the right thing to do and it will allow us to target police resources where they’re needed most.”
Fresh off victories in Colorado and Washington, drug reform activists are wondering where the next hotbed for legalization will emerge. The Marijuana Policy Project, a leading group behind those 2012 wins, told Raw Story that they think they know the answers: Oregon, Maine and California.
Oregon is particularly of interest to MPP’s leadership, who saw a legalization initiative fail in the state last year even as Colorado and Washington’s efforts passed. MPP spokesperson Mason Tvert said he believes it failed because the proposed regulatory system was not strong enough, leaving room for improvement, either by the legislature or at the polls.
“If such action isn’t taken by the legislature, we are very interested in woking with activists throughout Oregon to have a ballot measure to that effect [in 2016],” Tvert said.
At a town hall meeting with constituents on Sunday, marijuana legalization was a hot topic for Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who proclaimed that his state would legalize the drug “sooner rather than later” and said he’s working with about two-dozen other lawmakers on the matter. A representative for MPP added that the group is willing to spend at least $700,000 to boost a legalization initiative in 2016, according to KATU News.
“I think that Oregon is a state where a majority of voters recognize that marijuana prohibition has failed and it’s time for a more sensible approach,” Tvert said. “We had 47 percent of the vote in this last election, and that is what many considered a poorly drafted measure. I think it’s a strong likelihood that you’ll see a strong measure approved by the voters in 2016.”
Then there’s California, the biggest prize of all for reform advocates, which Tvert said would be a big focus in 2016.But before those states can legalize, there’s some parliamentary business to attend to. Specifically, Tvert said, “there are a few states that have tax and regulate measures in their legislatures this year.”
“One of those will be Rhode Island, which we think will be the first one to legalize marijuana through its legislature,” he said. “In terms of ballot initiatives, the only one we see as viable [in 2014] is Alaska, which also has the most supportive voting population of any other state [that year].”
He added that a similar legislative effort is underway in Maine, which MPP is prepared to back up with a ballot initiative if lawmakers fail to approve. Nevada similarly “may be ready,” Tvert said, but not without the support of “a vigorous initiative process” which has yet to be determined.
“Most importantly, we need all voters to understand that marijuana is an objectively less harmful product than alcohol,” he concluded. “I think then voters will appreciate the arguments about regulating marijuana and making sure the money is being directed to legitimate businesses instead of the underground market and cartels.”
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During their state convention last weekend, Colorado Democrats adopted a party platform that officially calls for the legalization of marijuana, stopping just short of endorsing the Amendment 64, a statewide ballot initiative which seeks to accomplish exactly that later this year.
The Democratic Party’s official support for legalization comes about a month after a slim majority — 56 percent — of Denver County Republicans voted to support Amendment 64, according to Mason Tvert, who’s leading the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. However, the position was not adopted because of the local party’s requirement of a two-thirds majority to change its platform.
Colorado Democrats, however, embraced the addition to their mission statement with a bear-hug, confirming the platform by a nearly unanimous vote on Saturday night. It features legalizing marijuana as one of their core policy positions, right atop their list of most-wanted criminal justice reforms.
“The language does say that the party supports Amendment 64, however that is different than an endorsement,” Colorado Democratic Party spokesman Matt Inzeo told Raw Story on Monday, clearly hedging his bets and noting that official “endorsements” come from an internal committee and not the platform at-large.
However, he added: “We feel it is important to reexamine our drug policy, the effects on public health, on the resources that have to be devoted to the criminal justice system, to our state’s budget, to our personal freedoms. All of these are hugely important issues that have been massively affected.”
That argument isn’t just a Democratic one, liberal as it may sound: posing legalization as a states’ rights and budget issue has also been effective in winning over some conservatives.
“This of course demonstrates that support for ending marijuana prohibition spans the political and ideological spectrum,” Tvert added. “Within the last couple months we’ve seen both Pat Robertson and Howard Stern voice their support for this effort. And now we see both Republicans in Denver and the state Democratic party join in.”
While Raw Story could not reach anyone with the Denver County GOP for comment, Inzeo was glad to elaborate on why Democrats have targeted drug reforms as a priority in their platform.
“We’ve been a state where we’re starting to see a broader data-set regarding individual use [of marijuana] and how it more broadly affects our communities.” he said. “I think there’s certainly a large group of Coloradans, and many of them are Democrats, who feel that where we are with federal policy in particular is massively counter productive. Considering the stakes in this debate, I think that’s absolutely a discussion that needs to be taking place both here in Colorado and across the country.”
Despite Colorado Democrats’ recent adjustment, President Barack Obama has maintained the status quo on drug laws, even after previously voicing support for a marijuana decriminalization scheme. Obama told Latin American leaders at The Summit of the Americas over the weekend that he still supports prohibition and dreads what might happen if drug gangs were refashioned into legitimate businesses under a legalization scheme.
Colorado leans heavily toward favoring marijuana regulation, even moreso than California did in 2010, when voters there defeated marijuana legalization by a narrow margin. Colorado lawmakers have already become the first in the nation to begin directly licensing medical marijuana businesses, and the state’s Department of Revenue has even sent a formal letter to the Drug Enforcement Agency asking that it recognize the plant’s inherent medical value.
Still, whether the voters will see fit to bring the marijuana industry above ground and make its products legally available to adult consumers remains to be seen.
Photo: Flickr user mcnallyterrence