Supporters of legalized marijuana are cheering the results of Tuesday’s elections — which saw voters take unprecedented steps to decriminalize marijuana.
In Massachusetts, voters decided to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, making it the 18th state since 1996 to enact such a law. And both Colorado and Washington made history, becoming the first states in the nation to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
“The passage of these measures strikes a significant blow to federal cannabis prohibition. Like alcohol prohibition before it, marijuana prohibition is a failed federal policy that delegates the burden of enforcement to the state and local police,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the pro-marijuana group NORML.
In Arkansas, voters rejected plans to make medical marijuana legal and allow people to grow pot for medicinal purposes. Montana voters approved a ballot measure that would make that state’s marijuana laws more restrictive. And in Oregon, a ballot measure that would have legalized and regulated the sale and growth of marijuana went down in defeat. Oregon currently allows the growth and sale of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
In the states where the pot initiatives passed, victory may be short-lived. The use of marijuana for medicinal use has faced challenges from federal authorities almost everywhere it is has been allowed locally. And state laws have no jurisdiction over federal laws against the possession of marijuana.
But that didn’t stop voters in Massachusetts from overwhelmingly approving by a 2 to 1 margin the legalization of medical marijuana. The ballot measure, known as Question 3, eliminates statewide criminal and civil penalties related to possession and will allow people with certain illnesses to be able to legally purchase and use marijuana.
Supporters of Question 3 see its success as a mandate. Opponents have described it as an ill-conceived and poorly written law.
In Washington, voters made their state one of the first in the nation to legalize recreational pot use. Initiative 502 sets up a system of state-licensed marijuana growers, processors and retail stores, where adults over 21 can buy up to an ounce. It also establishes a standard blood test limit for driving under the influence.
The new law will impose a 25 percent tax rate on marijuana each time it’s sold by the grower, the processor, and the retailer. State financial experts estimate it could raise nearly $2 billion in tax revenue over the next five years. Although I-502 had little organized opposition, critics are concerned that increased access will lead to more marijuana use, especially among teens.
Seattle City Attorney Pete Holmes believes the Justice Department will be reassured by the I-502′s tight regulatory control and will not challenge I-502 in court.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Seattle released a terse statement about the initiative Wednesday.
“The Department of Justice’s enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged. In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance. The Department is reviewing the ballot initiative here and in other states and has no additional comment at this time,” the statement said.
Colorada’s Amendment 64, which also legalizes the recreational use of marijuana, allows adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. It also will let people grow as many as six marijuana plants.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper cautioned voters that the marijuana initiative violates federal law and will likely be challenged.
“The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will,” Hickenlooper said in a statement. “This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly.”
In Arkansas, despite support from medical marijuana advocate Montel Williams, voters defeated Measure 5, which would’ve allowed doctors to issue a certificate to anyone with a qualifying medical condition to grow, process, and use marijuana.
Additionally, it would have allowed the establishment of approximately 30 marijuana dispensaries. Had it passed, Arkansas would have become the first southern state to allow the sale of medical marijuana.
In Oregon, Measure 80 would have legalized and regulated the sale and growth of marijuana, creating some of the nation’s mildest pot laws, but it lost as well. Advocates argued that the drug should be controlled and taxed like alcohol.
Pro marijuana advocates in Montana were hoping to stop Initiative Referendum 124, which ratifies newly enacted restrictions on the state’s 2004 voter approved medical marijuana law, but were defeated by a large margin.