The marijuana lobby scored huge victories on Tuesday, with the District of Columbia, Alaska, and Oregon all voting to legalize the drug for recreational use. In California, nearly two-thirds of voters passed Proposition 47, which defelonized drug possession crimes (among other non-violent crimes). In Guam, voters passed a law ordering the Department of Public Health and Social Service to regulate the use of marijuana to treat certain medical conditions. Three cities in Michigan, one city in Maine, two counties in New Mexico, and a few districts in Massachusetts all voted to either decriminalize or to reduce penalties related to the possession and use of marijuana.
The only major setback took place in Florida, where an amendment to legalize marijuana for medical use failed to garner the 60 percent majority needed. (It got 58.)
Alaska’s Measure 2 was passed with 52 percent of the vote, and allows adults in the state to possess up to one ounce as well as six plants. Marijuana was already quasi-legal in the state thanks to the Ravin v. State decision that permits the possession (but not sale or purchase) of marijuana in one’s own home for personal use. Measure 2 established a regulated and taxed system for the sale and purchase of marijuana, and permits individual towns to ban dispensaries. Alaskans who are caught smoking in public will be fined $100.
Measure 91 in Oregon was similar to Alaska’s Measure 2. Marijuana was made legal for residents over the age of 21 and established a system for the licensed sale of the drug. Oregonians are now permitted to possess eight ounces of “dried” marijuana and may grow up to four plants. Measure 91 was approved with 55 percent of the vote.
District of Columbia:
Initiative 71 in the District of Columbia was passed overwhelmingly with 69 percent of the vote, and legalized the possession of two ounces of marijuana and up to six plants. Unlike the other two measures, a system of dispensaries was not included in Initiative 71. The initiative still has to be approved by the D.C. Council (which should happen without much of a hitch) and by Congress—which is a far more difficult endeavor
None of the laws passed prevents companies from testing (and possibly firing) their employees for marijuana use.
What does this mean? Well, save for the residents of Alaska and Oregon, who will experience legalized sale, possession and growth of marijuana in approximately 90 days and on July 1, 2015, respectively, it’s not entirely clear. The other areas (New Mexico, etc) all passed measures that are largely symbolic, but still speak words about the public’s view on marijuana policy.
Matthew Hurtt, Chairman of the Arlington, Virginia Young Republicans, (which is just outside D.C.) described the passage of I-71 as a “step in the right direction” for limited government and for sensible legal policy.
“I think the overwhelming passage of Initiative 71 is a step in the right direction for D.C. Voters in D.C. and states like Washington and Colorado believe we should have the freedom to choose what we put into our bodies, either for medicinal use or recreational use. The notion that you can be arrested and put away for a long time for small amounts of marijuana possession is outrageous. The War on Drugs has worked to destroy predominantly inner-city communities. Prohibition laws are disproportionately used to target minorities. Our focus should be on rehabilitation of addicts, not imprisonment of small-time offenders.”
Echoing Hurtt’s statements is Hayden Petersen, a resident of the Portland (Maine) area and a licensed legal marijuana caregiver and an advocate for industrial hemp. Petersen believes that the public’s opinion of marijuana as a medication is shifting, and that industrial hemp will be a major economic help for the state.
“Our education (about) cannabis has been skewed since our youth, and it seems society has matured enough to reconsider the beneficial values [of the plant],” he said in an interview with Townhall. He continued, “The potential environmental benefits of growing hemp as an alternative crop here in Maine are remarkable. Based on studies [commissioned] in 2003 by the Maine legislature, all of the necessary growing conditions are available here to farm industrial help. [The vote tonight] is confirmation that [Maine] is taking steps in the right direction.”
As I’ve written before, I think it’s silly to waste police time and energy on non-violent crimes such as marijuana possession by adults or the consumption of marijuana in a private residence. I also think that there needs to be something done to reform America’s insane drug law policy—marijuana, for instance, is categorized at a higher level than drugs like cocaine. That is absurd. While I’m not saying everyone should adopt the way of life detailed in the song “Smoke Two Joints,” (just as I wouldn't advise someone to drink alcohol heavily every day), I think that some reform must occur. Four states (and one legal district) have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and nearly half of the states permit its use in a medicinal sense. Heck, even the (incredibly ineffective) federal anti-drug program D.A.R.E. has dropped its scaremongering about marijuana to its fifth-and-sixth grade students. It’s time for a change, and it’s entirely probable that this past Tuesday was only the beginning.