The question is no longer whether marijuana will be made legal. Sometimes, when historical events reach a certain momentum, there’s simply no going back.
Now the big question – and it’s a pressing one – is, who’s next? A growing number of localities are racing each other to the punch.
On Jan. 15, the New Hampshire state House of Representatives voted to legalize up to one ounce of marijuana for adults over the age of 21. Alaska activists have turned in enough petitions to put legal weed on the ballot in August. In California, the question will go before voters, possibly this year, definitely by 2016.
At this point, it’s almost anyone’s guess where the tide will turn next. But a select group of states hope they can grab a big piece of the financial and political pie that’s just waiting for the taking – even if the first two to legalize, Colorado and Washington, stole the thunder.
The vote in Concord, N.H., was just the latest move. It probably won’t end in legalization, at least not anytime soon: Gov. Maggie Hassan has promised to veto the bill. But if it became law, it would regulate pot sales, allow residents to grow six plants at home, and levy a tax of $30 per ounce.
But plans in nearby Rhode Island have a better shot. Most voters there support legalization, and a bill introduced this year would do just that. The state decriminalized possession of less than an ounce last April. Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, predicted last year that Rhode Island would be the first state to legalize by legislation, and said it could happen as early as this year.
Alaska may turn even sooner, though. Supporters there turned in 46,000 petition signatures earlier this month, 16,000 more than they need to get the issue on the August primary ballot. If it passes there, Alaska would become the third state to legalize, regulate and tax recreational pot.
California is another possibility for 2014. Four referendum petitions have been submitted there, though most aren’t considered strong enough to make the ballot in November. If one does, support is strong enough in the state, according to polls, that it could pass – depending to some degree on the details of the initiative. Two of the proposals for this year offer few regulations, and supporters of the petition with the most potential haven’t yet committed to it.
In the West, Nevada and Arizona are also targets, though more likely in 2016. Ballot initiatives are planned for both states that year, and both states have relatively successful medical marijuana programs, making success more likely.
But activists are also aiming for the East Coast, where Maine and even Massachusetts are warming up to the idea of legal pot. Both states have decriminalized weed, and both states allow medical marijuana.
No one knows for sure who will legalize next, but advocates are sure of one thing: The policy will keep spreading, and eventually it will reach everyone.