For marijuana activists, Tuesday’s election was much like an overnight success literally decades in the making. Let’s take a tally: Two states legalized cannabis for recreational use, another for medical, and still another came out strong on the decriminalization front in three cities. Where pot measures failed, they failed only marginally.
The cannabis camp has gone from political kooks to serious constituents in the public eye.
Colorado sent the first and strongest message, legalizing marijuana with a 53.3 percent majority. Essentially, Colorado aims to regulate cannabis like alcohol by establishing a system of licensing run by the Department of Revenue. Taxes, stores, the works.
Under the new law, adults 21 and older will be able to possess up to one ounce of pot and can grow up to six plants for personal use. Paraphernalia is fine now, too. What’s more, the amendment also legalizes industrial hemp production and could generate up to $22 million annually in tax revenue.
Washington voters passed their legalization effort by a margin of 55 to 45. Similar to Colorado’s system, Washington will also allow adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of weed, but also allows for 16 ounces of edibles and 72 ounces of lotions and oils.
Unfortunately, Washington’s plan is slightly watered down: There is no growing for personal, nonmedical use and a per se DUI limit (which isn’t really applicable to pot) clause could inadvertently criminalize many tokers. With a steep 25 percent excise tax applied three times, it’s also going to be a little expensive. But, hey, at least you can’t go to jail for buying a bag.
Massachusetts’ medical marijuana ballot question passed by an overwhelming 63 percent majority, bringing the total number of medical states to 18 (plus D.C.). Under that system, patients will be able to possess a “60-day supply” of medical cannabis.
After Massachusetts, came the decriminalization victory in Michigan. Three cities—Detroit, Flint and Grand Rapids—voted to either remove the penalty for possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, or reduce the crime to a civil offense.
With only failures in Oregon and Arkansas—and all those successes—the cannabis lobby has had a remarkable year. What remains to be seen now is how the feds will respond to the changes—especially in Colorado and Washington. Indeed, marijuana is still federally illegal, and the Obama administration has authorized 170-plus dispensary raids and filed 61 indictments. Should we really hold off on the Cheetos and Goldfish? Certainly Governor Hickenlooper’s sentiment isn’t unfounded.
And yet, interference doesn’t seem likely. Maybe it’s that the DEA is still posturing, or that the strongest cries for regulation are coming from former U.S. officials, or that Eric Holder hasn’t said much about the issue, but it looks like the feds want to see what will happen. Obama’s interview in Rolling Stone spoke to that:
I can’t nullify congressional law. I can’t ask the Justice Department to say “Ignore completely a federal law that’s on the books.” What I can say is, “Use your prosecutorial discretion to go after things that are really doing folks damage.”
Telling. But states are free to set their own possession penalties and that’s not what the feds are worried about. It’s the legalization—the taxing and state distribution of a federally illegal drug—that’s riling them up. At the same time, though, that this unprecedented number of impactful cannabis measures went through across the country has to have some interests piqued in the Obama administration. Otherwise, why not just step in and supersede the initiatives outright?
It seems that the Obama administration sees the value in having two states serving as pilot programs for widespread legalization. That said, however, no one is quite sure what’s going to happen. But with vote certifications due by December 6th, and the aforementioned laws going into play then as well, we’ll find out the federal response soon enough. Hopefully Obama will let the Choom Gang return once and for all.
Regardless of what the Obama administration does, though, the message of this year’s election cannot be diminished. Last year, a Gallup poll revealed that 50 percent of Americans agreed with marijuana legalization. We legalized marijuana in two states, for Christ’s sake—I never seriously thought I’d write that while still in my 20s. We’re starting to realize the stoney dreams of my parents’ generation.