A number of states may vote to legalize pot in coming years. Marijuana advocates are working on California, Maine, Nevada and Arizona for the 2016 election, and the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest pro-weed organization in the country, is pushing for legalization in Hawaii, Maryland and three other states by 2017.
Pushing For Alaska and Oregon
But local cannabis backers are also supporting initiatives in two states that could come before voters much sooner. Alaska and Oregon appear to be the next battleground in the fight over legalizing cannabis, and efforts are already well underway to put initiatives on the November 2014 ballot.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see legalization on the ballot in Alaska and Oregon in 2014,” Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center, told Reuters news agency. “I expect the groups trying to put it on the ballot in these states to learn from what has happened in Colorado and Washington State.”
In 2012, voters in Washington and Colorado legalized pot, making them the first political entities in the world to do so. Eighteen other states allow medical weed, and it’s believed a number of those may be ready to accept recreational marijuana as well.
Is is too soon?
But activists are tentative about pushing the issue too soon. A ballot measure in California failed in 2010, and many backers believe voters aren’t ready for a do-over yet. They also believe the issue will do better in a presidential election, such as 2016, when turnout is higher and there are more young voters.
The Marijuana Policy Project is backing the initiative in Alaska, which is currently gathering signatures. Under the state’s election rules, ballot measures must be voted on during primary elections, which lessens the effect of turnout. And Alaska has long had some of the most liberal pot policy in the country.
Current Marijuana Policies
Pot is illegal in Alaska by legislation, but the courts have declared it legal under the state constitution. No one is arrested for it, though there is not way to purchase it aside from the black market. Alaska is a Republican state, but marijuana advocates believe its liberal tilt makes it the perfect place for legalization.
In Oregon, efforts to legalize by 2014 haven’t won the financial support of the Marijuana Policy Project, and there has been something of a divide between those focused on the next election and those looking to 2016 or 2017.
But recent developments in Washington, D.C., have spurred the former with renewed energy.
Getting On The 2014 Ballot
“Originally I agreed with the Marijuana Policy Project and other activists who urged waiting until 2017,” said Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon, a group behind one of two legalization efforts in Oregon. “But I’ve been convinced there’s a path to victory in 2014.”
State lawmakers are already considering a bill that would refer a ballot measure to voters. If that fails, Johnson and his group plan to gather signatures and put the issue on the ballot themselves.
There are also initiatives underway in California and Arizona to put legalization on the 2014 ballot. But those are less well-funded and have less support.