In the race to reform marijuana law, one big state has dropped out until at least 2016.
That leaves just two, Alaska and Oregon, in the lead to follow Colorado and Washington by legalizing recreational weed. Voters in either or both could choose to regulate pot like alcohol as soon as this year.
Their reasons for doing so would likely be very different. Oregon and Alaska have little in common aside from their geography in the Pacific Northwest. Alaska is a haven for Republicans and libertarians, while Oregon is known for its back-to-the-Earth liberals.
“Alaska is a red state, but with a heavy libertarian streak,” said Taylor Bickford, spokesman for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Alaska. “The idea of personal freedom and responsibility is uniting Alaska on both sides of the aisle.”
In Oregon, activists are taking a two-pronged approach. They’re asking state lawmakers to put legalization on the ballot in November while at the same time getting ready to collect the 87,000-or-so signatures needed to do that themselves.
“At the moment, I’d say the odds are no better than 50 percent that the Legislature will act,” Mr. Johnson said. “But if they don’t, we will just gather the signatures. I am pretty confident we will be able to get them.”
There are concerns in both states, though. The initiative in Alaska has been certified to appear on the primary ballot in August. That puts the state first in line, but it also means the issue will be decided during an election with low voter turnout, which typically means relatively fewer of the young voters most likely to favor legal weed.
“The support in Alaska is very strong, but how do you poll on an issue like this for a low-turnout primary election?” asked Ethan Madelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance.
Madelmann thinks chances may be slightly better in Oregon this year. Voters there rejected legalization in 2012 – the same year Colorado and Washington adopted it – but that was largely because the initiative was poorly crafted. Observers predict better odds this time around.
Still, there isn’t much time left for advocates to prepare, and the state has been struggling recently with issues related to its medical marijuana industry.
Last year the legislature opened the door to retail dispensaries for the first time, allowing patients to buy their weed rather than grow it. Now, a number of local governments want to ban medical pot shops outright. The state House and Senate are working on conflicting bills, one of which would allow such bans, the other of which would not.
California was also long considered a contender for 2014, but the most realistic campaign in that state bowed out recently. Now almost all serious funding and volunteer resources will be dedicated to legalization in 2016.
The Marijuana Policy Project, the largest pro-pot group in the country, is leading a 10-state campaign to end prohibition across the country. Alaska is one of the targeted states.
“It is certainly important to maintain the momeuntum,” said Mason Tvert, the group’s spokesman. “But I don’t think we can look at any one election cycle and see what the future holds. This is going to be a multiyear effort.”