Certain states lend themselves to the possibility of legal weed. Other states don’t. Usually, but not always, that distinction falls along red-blue, liberal-conservative lines. Both sides of the aisle have strong libertarian streaks, but anti-pot conservatives tend to dominate the issue on the right.
That makes legalization an uphill fight in most deep-red states. But don’t tell that to energized marijuana advocates. They’re taking aim at unlikely targets, from Arkansas to Wyoming.
Their latest effort may be a real doozy, though. Backers of legal pot have turned their sights on the blood-red state of Texas.
Their plan: to push legalization when the Texas Legislature convenes in 2015. In the meantime, they’ll be able to see how events play out in Colorado and Washington State.
“I think there will probably be a handful of states we will be able to look at between now and then, before it comes here,” said Cheyanne Weldon, who heads the Texas chapter of NORML.
Colorado and Washington both legalized recreational pot at the ballot in 2012. The first retail marijuana stores opened in Colorado Jan. 1, while shops are expected to open in Washington in the spring. More states, from California to Rhode Island, could legalize over the next few years.
Weldon said lawmakers would be able to see the effects of legalization – from addiction to traffic collisions – before deciding whether to make weed legal themselves.
“Is there an increase in stoned driving and accidents, or has there been a decrease in violence and accidents, those types of things,” she said.
Texas may seem like a long shot, but Nathan Jones of the Baker Institute at Rice University said that’s not necessarily true. The conservative libertarian streak could lead voters to support legalization.
“That libertarian tendency is suggesting that a legal market that the government can essentially regulate would be better than leaving it in the hands of organized crime,” Jones said.
What’s more, polls show most Texans want to legalize. A survey by Public Policy Polling in October found 58 percent of respondents supported legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol.
“We’re seeing this swelling of support,” Jones said in October. “Now it’s just a matter of when legislators will catch up.”
Texas isn’t the only red state targeted by cannabis advocates over the next few years. A Wyoming lawmaker plans to introduce legislation to legalize weed, while NORML is drafting a ballot proposal for 2016. A flurry of marijuana ballot petitions are pending approval in Arkansas.
But the best odds for success in a red state are probably in Alaska. Activists have already collected enough signatures to put full legalization before voters in this year’s primary election. If it passes, it will become law. Pot is already de facto legal in the state.