2012 and 2014 were both incredibly important years for marijuana legalization. Colorado and Washington both jumped the gun and passed initiatives to decriminalize and legalize cannabis by popular vote in 2012, and since then, have both opened the first legal marijuana markets in the U.S. Legal retail sales began this year, and so far things have settled into place, albeit slowly.
The 2014 midterms saw legalization sweep over more areas of the country, including Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. For now, it looks as if the west coast is epicenter of the movement, but that may change in 2016.
Many states are following Washington and Colorado’s path, getting closer and closer to legalization every election cycle. So far, legalization advocates have had to rely on voter-backed initiatives to get legislation passed, as the federal government seems as though it still won’t budge on reclassifying cannabis out of its current Schedule 1 status. Local governments across the country have taken baby steps towards ending prohibition, with many cities passing ordinances that either have decriminalized small amounts of marijuana or marked them as a lowest priority for law enforcement officials.
Many people are still struggling with the concept of legalized marijuana. For decades and generations, Americans grew accustomed to knowing marijuana as a powerful and dangerous drug — one that could lead to deaths and criminal behavior if it was allowed in their community. The past decade has really opened up a lot of people’s eyes to the facts, which almost wholly dismiss those worries. The medical marijuana communities in several states have also shown the immense benefits cannabis can have for the sick, which is one of many factors that have led to a seismic shift in public opinion regarding marijuana legalization.
Presently, we sit on the precipice of more states preparing for coming marijuana legalization initiatives, either derived from state legislators or from citizens themselves through the ballots. Colorado and Washington kicked-off the whole thing, and have since been joined by a few others. That doesn’t mean that a slew of other states aren’t on the cusp, however.
Here are seven states that are preparing for legalization pushes of their own, hot on the heels of Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. Several of these states of ballot initiatives set for 2016, so we could less than two short years away from seeing their aspirations for marijuana legalization become a reality.
One of those states that is gearing up for a 2016 ballot initiative is the New England liberal stronghold of Massachusetts. Residents of Massachusetts aren’t afraid to be trailblazers, as they have installed sweeping healthcare reforms under then-governor Mitt Romney, and were the first state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage. Now, marijuana legalization advocates are gearing up for the next big public fight: ending cannabis prohibition.
The groundwork has already been started, and over the next two years, residents can likely expect similar political battles to break out over the topic heading into the next election cycle. “In 2016, Massachusetts will find itself in the crosshairs for cannabis reform,” Allen St. Pierre, the executive director of NORML, told The Boston Globe. The referendum has been filed, and advocates are moving forward with hopes of having Massachusetts seeing green by 2016.
Perhaps the biggest domino on the board that could drastically change the national landscape in terms of prohibition is California. If Oregon and California are both able to pass legalization measures, then the entirety of the U.S. west coast would be comprised of states that have ended prohibition, creating a Mecca of sorts for cannabis fans. Of course, California is the most populous — and probably most demographically complicated — state in the union.
California represents one of the world’s largest economies all on its own, and if cannabis is legalized, it will have a dramatic effect across the country. The state is already home to one of the most robust medical marijuana markets in the world, so the state’s residents aren’t exactly unfamiliar with the product either. Although it’s not expected to reach the ballot until 2016, the wheels are in motion to make California one of the next states to end marijuana prohibition.
Perhaps the most surprising state that may end up seeing a marijuana legalization option on 2016’s ballot is Missouri. Situated at the crossroads of the South and the Midwest, Missouri tends to have a much more conservative lean than the west coast and northeastern states that are moving forward with marijuana legalization. But alas, there is a movement underway in the Show-Me state.
“Opinions on marijuana legalization have been shifting for the past twenty years and dramatically so in just the past six to seven years,” John Payne, executive director of Show-Me Cannabis told The Riverfront Times. Payne is one of the leaders attempting to get a measure on the ballot for 2016, but needs signatures from 8% of voters in Missouri’s eight congressional districts. The state was looking at getting the issue on the ballot for 2014, but gave up after it was found that support wasn’t quite where they needed it. With more states jumping on the legalization train following 2014’s election cycle, perhaps more Missourians will change their mind as well.
Staying out west — way out west, that is — Hawaii should be one of a handful of states to opt for legalization. Hawaiians are famous for growing some of the most famous marijuana in the world, and it’s a plant that is fairly heavily ingrained in the island culture. Although legalization efforts have been stopped short thus far, it’s hard to believe that prohibition laws will remain intact very much longer, especially considering Hawaii’s fiercely independent ideals regarding self-reliance and governance.
A bill to legalize was brought before legislators earlier this year, although it died shortly thereafter. Once again, it looks like the voters of the state will need to pass a voter-backed initiative in order for legalization to happen. Legislators will most likely need to take a close look at the revenue Colorado and Washington are bringing in to sway them back to the idea, and with the amount of tourists the state sees annually, there’s a lot of potential for heavy tax revenues that could be convincing.
Far from the western states that seem to dominate the legalization discussion, the northeastern bastion of Maine is also sitting pretty, getting ready to mount legalization efforts of its own. There was recently enough signatures collected to give the movement some momentum, and several cities across the state are looking at decriminalization efforts as well.
If Maine is able to pass legalization legislation, then some of its New England counterparts may follow suit as well. There are already groups working in states like Vermont to get initiative on state ballots, and if Maine is able to kick over the first domino in the northeast, it should do nothing but help. As David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project told local news affiliate WCSH6, “we have bigger fish to fry. There’s violent crimes going on, there’s property crimes, and that is where our police resources should be spent.”
Residents of Nevada apparently don’t feel like getting left behind as the entire west coast prepares itself for legalization, so some residents are gearing up for a potential 2016 ballot initiative that will follow suit. The process started earlier this year, with members of the state legislature along with resident advocates starting to gather signatures in preparation for a stab at the 2016 election cycle.
Nevada could benefit greatly from the amount of tourists who may be interested in giving a newly-minted legal marijuana market a shot, especially in tourism-driven cities like Las Vegas and Reno. According to local NBC affiliate KSNV, a new law would allow use by adults over the age of 21, and for possession of one ounce of dried flower. A 15 percent wholesale tax would also be instituted, funding K-12 education in the state. “If we do this right, this will be a major boom to tourism, which is our economy,” state senator Richard Segerblom said, speaking with KSNV.
“I wanted to be the first, let’s put it that way,” he added.
Just south of Nevada, Arizona may be looking to get in on the marijuana legalization party as well. Another state, like Missouri, with a much more conservative mentality than the other states moving forward with legalization measures, Arizona is in a unique spot to benefit as it lies on the border with Mexico, and could ultimately share borders with two states that may end prohibition in 2016 — California and Nevada. Supporters have filed the paperwork, and it looks as though residents are aiming for a law modeled after Colorado’s approach.
Of course, Arizona’s location on the border will likely lead to incredible opposition to any legalization attempts as well. Law enforcement is famous for being rather intense in the state, and illegal immigration and drug trafficking has long been a problem there. The state does have medical marijuana laws already on the books, which serve about 50,000 residents according to AZ Central. But the paperwork has been filed, and an effort is underway. If one state’s initiatives will be interesting to watch over the next couple of years, it’ll be Arizona’s.
Follow Sam on Twitter @Sliceofginger
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