By Phillip Smith
The race to be the next state to legalize marijuana at the ballot box is on. Activists in three states -- Alaska, Arizona, and Oregon -- have taken initial steps to get the issue before the voters during the 2014 general election.
In Alaska, Lt. Gov. Mead Treadwell last Friday certified a ballot initiative application that would legalize the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults. Backed by the Marijuana Policy Project, the initiative would also set up a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce. Adults could grow up to six marijuana plants for their personal use.
Proponents will have one year to gather 30,169 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. But they have to wait a week or so for the state elections division to begin printing the petition booklets.
Alaska already allows for adults to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes under the state Supreme Court's interpretation of the state constitution's privacy provisions.
In Arizona, Safer Arizona is sponsoring an initiative to amend the state constitution to allow for legal, taxed, and regulated marijuana use and commerce. The group filed the measure last week with the secretary of state. It now must gather 259,213 valid voter signatures by July 3, 2014 to qualify for the November 2014 ballot.
Organizers there said it would be a grassroots campaign relying on volunteers. The conventional wisdom for initiatives in high signature-count states is that they require paid signature-gathering efforts to succeed at a rough cost of a dollar or more per signature obtained.
Arizona voters approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2010, but that initiative squeaked through with barely more than 50% of the vote.
In Oregon, Paul Stanford, the controversial proponent of last year's failed marijuana legalization campaign, is back with two more measures, and other activists could file yet a third. Stanford's Oregon Marijuana Tax Act initiative largely echoes the language of last year's underfunded initiative, which picked up 47% of the popular vote, but reworks a contentious provision relating to a commission to regulate marijuana and hemp commerce. Stanford's second initiativewould simply legalize the possession and production of pot by adults 21 and over with a proviso that the state could impose regulations.
Stanford's move has inspired other Oregon activists organized as New Approach Oregon to say that they will likely have a better alternative initiative. "Something will be on the ballot," the group's Anthony Johnson told The Oregonian. "Either it's going to be a responsible measure or something not as well-vetted."
Stanford said he will conduct polling on the various measures before moving forward.
If legislators can't get around to legalizing marijuana, activists in initiative states want to let the voters do it for them. That's three states aiming at 2014 so far, and we're still a year and half out from election day.