The outcome of this year’s general election has proven to be super fuel for the legion of marijuana advocates fighting to legalize the leaf in the United States. Although the efforts of these soldiers have come with an irrefutable amount of power for some time, something magical happened in November after voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia kicked down the doors to their respective polling stations and aggressively cast ballots in favor of legal weed.
It was then that everyone who had exhausted themselves to put initiatives in front of voters realized that the days, which had turned into years, were finally paying off – and it was just a matter of time before the U.S. experienced nationwide marijuana reform.
For the past month, there has been a great deal of speculation as to what is next in the realm of legalized marijuana in the United States. Many advocates predict that 2016 will be one of the biggest years the movement has ever seen. But, what’s the reality of the situation and what could happen next?
Rob Kampia, Executive Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest organization in the U.S. working to end prohibition, published an article aimed at giving some insight as to what can be expected in regards to pot reform between now and the next presidential election.
“In November 2016, at least five states are expected to vote on similar ballot initiatives — Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada — and one could potentially appear on the ballot in Missouri,” he continued. “By the end of 2017, marijuana could be legalized in 15 states and D.C., which would comprise 26 percent of the nation’s population.”
In addition to predicting that the District of Columbia will pass legislation this spring that will enable the city to operate a taxed and regulated marijuana market, Kampia believes 11 more states, the first of which will be Rhode Island, will legalize pot and establish a statewide cannabis commerce in a manner similar to Colorado and Washington.
“There’s also a real opportunity to legalize marijuana through five more state legislatures between now and 2017 — Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, and Vermont,” he wrote. “There will also be serious legislative activity in other states, such as New York, but it is less clear when such legislation will pass.”
Although Florida voters fell short of passing Amendment 2 earlier this year, which would have legalized a statewide medical marijuana program, Kampia believes the state will successfully get the initiative approved in 2016. In fact, the only reason the Sunshine State did not manage to pass this measure in the recent general election is because Florida initiatives require a 60 percent majority in order to pass – Amendment 2 failed with only a 58 percent electorate vote.
“If the same initiative is placed before the voters in November 2016, the initiative is likely to pass, because the electorate during presidential elections is typically larger, younger, and more independent,” said Kampia.
There’s also a chance initiatives in Arkansas and Ohio will appear on the 2016 ballot, while it’s almost certain Michigan will move to upgrade its medical marijuana laws by then, allowing for licensed dispensaries and edible cannabis products. Pennsylvania is another state that will most likely legalize medical marijuana, but they are expected to do so through the state legislature. Earlier this year, the state Senate approved a measure aimed at legalizing cannabis oil, edibles, and ointments, but it never received a vote by the House. However, Senator Mike Folmer plans to reintroduce the bill at the beginning of the legislative session in January.
It’s possible the Republican-led House could cause problems for the bill again in 2015, but supporters believe the measure will receive some additional strength from Governor-elect Tom Wolf, who is in favor of medical marijuana.
Some states are simply moving to decriminalize marijuana, which Kampia claims is most likely to happen in five states within the next couple of years: Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Hampshire, and Texas, all have the potential to pass decriminalization laws through their state legislature.
“While the definition of “decriminalization” varies from state to state, the idea is to remove the threat of arrest and jail, instead treating marijuana possession like a speeding violation,” said Kampia.
Chipping Away at Congress
The federal government may not be in any hurry to repeal prohibition, but there has been some progress in pot reform made on Capitol Hill in 2014. Earlier this year, Congressmen Dana Rohrabacher and Sam Farr managed to pass an amendment in a Republican-led chamber that would prohibit the Drug Enforcement Administration from causing trouble for the medical marijuana community with the use of tax dollars.
“Whether this amendment is included in the omnibus spending bill for fiscal year 2015, it’s almost a certainty that the House will vote on the amendment again in the spring or summer of 2015 (for fiscal year 2016),” said Kampia.There are also several other marijuana-related bills gaining strength in the House, which include measures that would allow states to reform marijuana laws without the risk of federal interference; doctors employed by Veterans Affairs to give recommendations for medical marijuana; and the elimination of laws that give police the authority to seize personal property without obtaining a conviction.
Kampia says the progress of state and national marijuana reform could come down to the person elected to be the next president of the United States, “with Senator Rand Paul being the best choice, but with the possibility that people like Hillary Clinton could also be good about not interfering with state-level marijuana laws.”
Although there’s a possibility that a new president could take office in 2017 and put an end to state marijuana laws, drug policy experts claim this would be an extremely difficult task.
“Diverse sectors of society are developing a stake in marijuana remaining legal,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “Taxpayers and tax collectors enjoy the revenue. Cost cutters appreciate the savings from no longer arresting so many people for marijuana. Unions welcome the new legal jobs. Businessmen, including many who vote Republican, relish the actual and potential profits.”
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