Diverse Paths Lead States to Legalization

Although the 2016 elections are two years away, a growing number of states are taking up efforts to see marijuana legalization on the ballot. This week, Maine and Mississippi, both joined the efforts of California, Arizona, Nevada and Massachusetts to bring the issue to the people. It has also been suggested that in the coming months states such as Hawaii, Maryland, Delaware, New Hampshire and Vermont could be pursuing similar endeavors, making it a truly bipartisan issue.

To date, the movement for legalization has mostly been in western states. Washington and Colorado were the first states in the country to legalize marijuana, with distribution beginning in early 2014. In November 2014, just weeks from now, Alaska, DC and Oregon will vote on similar measures.

Advocates of the measures however, are taking very different paths to attain the same outcome. For example, in Maine a political action committee was formed. While no legislative language has been released, the committee is working to secure support and funding for the initiative. In the meantime, the PAC is coming across some prevention measures from local Boards who are attempting to keep the vote from the ballot. Additionally, campaigns and alternative action committee are being formed around the country to debate the idea at the state level.

Specifically, the Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington, DC, was influential in securing legalization in Colorado. At present, their efforts in Arizona are modeled after the voter-approved marijuana program in Colorado, where adults 21 and older can possess and use up to once ounce of weed. It also allows for stores to legally sell marijuana to those consumers.

MPP has also been behind the efforts in other states such as California and Massachusetts due to their significant lobbying efforts.

Unlike those organized PAC efforts that come with large amounts of funding, Mississippi has had an unconventional path towards legalization. In Mississippi the efforts have been run and backed by an activist in the Democratic Party. The woman behind the work, Kelly Jacobs, claims that her idea came from political meetings within the Democratic Party they believed would target the hundreds of thousands of unregistered voters in the state.

Of those opposed to her measure, which would ultimately amend the constitution of Mississippi by legalizing and taxing the sale of weed, is Marshall Fisher, the state’s former Bureau of Narcotics Director. He asserts that he is opposed to any language making it to a vote. According to his estimates, every dollar the state earns from legalized marijuana will result in $10 being spent on drug rehabilitation, and he therefore cannot support the measure.

Jacobs, however, contends that if legalized by her wording, most capital from the drug would be used by the state to fund education. Jacobs knows that in Mississippi, an often conservative state, the filing is not likely to be approved and the language proposed has not yet gotten approval. However, she has altered her proposal several times, dropping specific efforts that would support more controversial items such as pardoning low-level offenders to help the initiative.

While all of the aforementioned states, whether in 2014 or 2016, are moving legislative efforts forward to legalize the cultivation and distribution of marijuana in different ways, most are still looking to Colorado as a model. To date, Colorado has had the greatest success in it’s passage, regulation, distribution and monitoring of marijuana. Many would argue that this speaks to the success of the MPP, their targeted messaging and money well spent.

Nevertheless, the next two election cycles will tell the US a lot about the future acceptance and regulation of the drug, and what progression we might see on a federal level before the 2020 Presidential election.

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