Since the turn of the New Year, cannabis enthusiasts across the country have been placing wagers on three-legged horses in regards to their predictions for what is to come in the brick-by-brick scheme to eliminate marijuana prohibition in the United States. Sadly, the majority of these visions are merely social media prophecies regurgitated from unreliable sources that have made it their mission to cleverly solicit clicks on their respective websites rather than deliver an insightful peek into hellish cyclone of American pot reform.
However, public policy aficionados, The Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank focused on the strengthening of American democracy, recently published a piece entitled “Marijuana Policy in 2015,” which suggests there will be several major developments this year that could mean “do or die” for legalization efforts in the years to come.
Regulatory Models Will Make It or Break It
Both Alaska and Oregon passed ballot initiatives in November that legalized a recreational cannabis industry, but the language of both measures could prove challenging when it comes to establishing regulatory models. Each of the initiatives call for the state’s legislature to team up with alcohol regulators in order to formulate a plan for launching the retail marijuana trade.
This is where problems are likely to arise, says John Hudak, a fellow in Governance Studies who contributed to report on Brookings. He says that both states must proceed with caution as they adopt new policies because the “rules may well determine the success or failure of marijuana policy in each state, and the path taken will also offer insight into how states are learning from each other as this policy area expands.”
Interestingly, Oregon is the first state to legalize a recreational pot market that borders another legal state (Washington) that’s already operating within an established framework. This will help officials in other states where this phenomenon is likely to become more common to catch a glimpse into a unique regulatory obstacle that has been impossible to gauge by monitoring Colorado for the past year.
“Watching Oregon’s commercial and regulatory choices will be crucial in understanding whether and to what extent states may strive for marijuana market advantages vis-à-vis bordering states,” Hudak wrote.
Profiling States Serious About Legalization
When it comes to identifying the next states that will legalize marijuana, the actions of pot proponents throughout this year will determine the success of 2016. And since it requires such a tremendous financial commitment to pass ballot initiatives, 2015 will truly be the test of which states are serious about legalizing marijuana in the next presidential election.
“To gain insight into who will push ballot initiatives, follow the money (and staff and volunteers and media campaigns) in 2015,” writes Hudak.
The favorite in 2016 is without a doubt California, with Florida almost certain to pass an amendment to legalize the leaf for medicinal purposes. In fact, Attorney John Morgan, who put $4 million of his personal finances into supporting Florida’s Amendment 2, recently announced that his organization, United for Care, was already hard at work collecting signatures to avenge the death of 2014’s failed initiative.
As it stands, California and Florida are the only two states that appear hungry enough this early in the game to go the distance with their legalization efforts. Then there is Show-Me Cannabis in Missouri, which looks promising, as well, just as long as they don’t lose the momentum they have gained over the past few years.
Getting Off Ballot Initiatives and Legalizing Through State Legislature
Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, mentioned in one of his recent articles, while ballot measures are great, they are also costly and have a very limited range – especially since only half the states allow “voter initiatives” to amend local constitutions. This is why he says it will be important for at least one state to legalize marijuana in the legislature in 2015.
“It is crucial that we continue to get more and more legalization bills introduced in the various state legislatures, and that we continue to build support for these bills among the elected legislators,” said Stroup. “Winning full legalization the old-fashioned way – by getting it approved by a majority of the legislature and signed by the governor – would be an enormous political achievement that would open up the possibility of legalization in the balance of those states that do not offer a voter initiative.”
In the Brookings article, Hudak agrees with Stroup in regards to this strategy, as it will be the only option for a large number of states. In 2015, there will be a number of bills introduced pertaining to the legalization of recreational and medical marijuana, as well as measures to decriminalize. Not only is it important for lawmakers to recognize proposals pertaining to marijuana policy, but also it’s crucial to “monitor” their progress – both in failure and in victory.
There’s speculation that Rhode Island could be the first state to legalize a recreational marijuana market through the state legislature, so this goal is well within reach this year. Stroup believes this occurrence would help break down some of the barriers that have made it taboo for state lawmakers to side with policies involving the legalization of weed, which should begin to relax attitudes across the board.
“It would demonstrate once and for all that supporting marijuana legalization is now a viable option for state level elected officials, overcoming a long-held presumption that supporting anything thought to be pro-pot was a sure bet to get one defeated at the next election by someone committed to continuing the drug war,” said Stroup.
The District of Columbia Vs. Congress
Amidst the pending lawsuits involving testing for marijuana in the workplace, the Schedule I classification of cannabis, edibles, product testing and whether legal states will be found in violation of federal law, another development to watch this year will be how Washington, D.C.’s Initiative 71 fares during its 30-day congressional review. Last week, District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson submitted the measure to federal lawmakers on Capitol Hill, which gives congressional leaders 30-days to decide whether to kill it or turn it loose to the city streets.
In December, a rider was attached to a federal spending bill that prohibits funds from being used to legalize a Schedule I substance in the District of Columbia. However, city lawmakers argued that the initiative was certified one week before the Omnibus Appropriations bill was passed and should be allowed to proceed.
There are rumors the District plans to file a lawsuit this year to challenge the congressional decision to block the city from reforming pot laws, but the inaction of Congress over Initiative 71 would almost guarantee this kind of recourse.
“Clarity about the future of marijuana policy in DC will almost surely be left to the federal courts,” writes Hudak. “Legal challenges are certain to abound, and 2015 will be the year in which that process begins.”
Presidential Candidates Can No Longer Dodge Marijuana
The upcoming presidential campaign will be another interesting aspect to watch in 2015. While candidates have been able to dodge the issue of marijuana legalization for many years, that’s not going to be so easy for President Obama’s potential replacement to do.
“The next election will not simply be a discussion of whether a candidate has inhaled in the past, but about how a president will treat those who choose to inhale in the future,” Hudak wrote.
What are some policy changes you would like to see in 2015? Share your thoughts with us below.