It’s an interesting time to stand on the sidelines and watch marijuana legalization efforts take over the country. Colorado and Washington both jumped the gun and passed initiatives to decriminalize and legalize cannabis by popular vote in 2012, and since then have both opened the first legal marijuana markets in the U.S. Legal retail sales began this year, and so far things have settled into place, and the novelty has started to wear off to some degree.
But many other states are following Washington and Colorado’s path, getting closer and closer to legalization every election cycle. So far, legalization advocates have had to rely on voter-backed initiatives to get legislation passed, as the federal government seems as though it still won’t budge on reclassifying cannabis out of its current schedule -1 status. Local governments across the country have taken baby steps towards ending prohibition, with many cities passing ordinances that either have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana or marked them as a lowest priority for law enforcement officials.
Many people are still struggling with the concept of legalized marijuana. For decades and generations, Americans grew accustomed to knowing marijuana as a powerful and dangerous drug — one that could lead to deaths and criminal behavior if it was allowed in their community. The past decade has really opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the facts, which almost wholly dismiss those worries. The medical marijuana communities in several states have also shown the immense benefits cannabis can have for the sick, which is one of many factors that have led to a seismic shift in public opinion regarding marijuana legalization.
As time marches forward, more states are preparing for coming marijuana legalization initiatives, either derived from state legislators or from citizens themselves. A few states have gotten close in the past, but so far only Colorado and Washington have been able to pull through. That doesn’t mean that several others aren’t on the cusp, however.
Here are six states that are the closest to legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the near future, hot on the heels of Washington and Colorado.
Perhaps the state that was the closest to becoming the third to end prohibition is Oregon, Washington’s neighbor in the Pacific Northwest. Oregon has a reputation for being a hippy haven of sorts, although that stereotype really only holds true in a few select cities, like Portland, Eugene, and Corvallis. Despite the conservative-lean of most of the remainder of the state, Oregon still came very close to legalizing cannabis in 2012, but voters turned down a measure that would have probably done more harm than good.
This year, a new initiative is on the ballot for voters to consider, so Oregon could join its northerly neighbor in November. The Huffington Post reports 87,000 signatures had been collected to get the measure on this fall’s ballot, and seeing that 57 percent of the state’s residents support legalization, it’s likely to pass. Legislators also like the possibility of up to $40 million in new tax revenue.
Perhaps the biggest domino on the board that could drastically change the national landscape in terms of prohibition is California. If Oregon and California are both able to pass legalization measures, then the entirety of the U.S. west coast would be comprised of states that have ended prohibition, creating a Mecca of sorts for cannabis fans. Of course, California is the most populous — and probably most demographically complicated — state in the union.
California represents one of the world’s largest economies all on its own, and if cannabis is legalized, it will have a dramatic effect across the country. The state is already home to one of the most robust medical marijuana markets in the world, so the state’s residents aren’t exactly unfamiliar with the product either. Although it’s not expected to reach the ballot until 2016, the wheels are in motion to make California one of the next states to end marijuana prohibition.
Sticking out west, and quite far north, Alaska has long been rumored to be on legalization’s doorstep — although it hasn’t happened just yet. Alaska has had some of the nation’s most lax marijuana laws for a long time, likely due to its incredibly sparse population, and vast landscape. Although law enforcement agencies have maintained that they don’t plan on relaxing their duties when it comes to cannabis, even as other states have legalized, Alaskans are holding out hope.
Like Oregon, a ballot measure is in place for November, which will give Alaskans the opportunity to vote for legalization. There is a lot of support for passing the measure, but as some sources are reporting, there is also a lot of resistance. If Alaska can stick with its west coast cousins and formally end marijuana’s prohibition in the great white north, it should be a victory for Alaskans statewide and for entrepreneurs, legislators, and the state’s budget as well.
Staying out west — way out west, that is — Hawaii should be one of a handful of states to opt for legalization. Hawaiians are famous for growing some of the most famous marijuana in the world, and it’s a plant that is fairly heavily ingrained in the island culture. Although legalization efforts have been stopped short thus far, it’s hard to believe that prohibition laws will remain intact very much longer, especially considering Hawaii’s fiercely independent ideals regarding self-reliance and governance.
A bill to legalize was brought before legislators earlier this year, although it died shortly thereafter. Once again, it looks like the voters of the state will need to pass a voter-backed initiative in order for legalization to happen. Legislators will most likely need to take a close look at the revenue Colorado and Washington are bringing in to sway them back to the idea, and with the amount of tourists the state sees annually, there’s a lot of potential for heavy tax revenues that could be convincing.
Far from the western states that seem to dominate the legalization discussion, the northeastern bastion of Maine is also sitting pretty, getting ready to mount legalization efforts of its own. There was recently enough signatures collected to give the movement some momentum, and several cities across the state are looking at decriminalization efforts as well.
If Maine is able to pass legalization legislation, then some of its New England counterparts may follow suit as well. There are already groups working in states like Vermont to get initiative on state ballots, and if Maine is able to kick over the first domino in the northeast, it should do nothing but help.
As David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project told local news affiliate WCSH6 that, “We have bigger fish to fry. There’s violent crimes going on, there’s property crimes, and that is where our police resources should be spent.”
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6. Washington D.C.
The irony would be thick if D.C. was able to pass a legalization measure, wouldn’t it? Well, voters living in the District of Columbia will get a chance to pull it off, just like Oregon and Alaska this November. There was an apparent overwhelming show of support in order to get an initiative to the voters this fall, and although D.C. isn’t actually a state, its residents look as ready to end prohibition within their jurisdiction as any other place in the country.
Being the heart of the federal government, a voter-backed legalization law could have some pretty resounding effects. It would be pretty hard for the federal government to continue justifying federal prohibition laws in say, Kentucky, while the city surrounding the nation’s capital don’t even enforce those laws themselves. One thing is for sure — it will be interesting to see what happens if D.C. is able to pull off a successful legalization effort.
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