Cannabis law reform is still a hot-button news story, particularly following the Justice Department memo stating that the federal government will allow states to experiment with regulated cannabis commerce, so long as federal guidelines are met. Alaska and Oregon seem like the best bets for continuing the momentum at the state level.
Marijuana legalization activists hope Alaska and Oregon will become the next two states to put recreational use of the drug before the voters, perhaps as early as next year.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see legalization on the ballot in Alaska and Oregon in 2014," said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. "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."
Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize marijuana for recreational adult use after approving separate ballot measures last year. Some 20 states and the District of Columbia allow pot to be used for medical purposes.
Portland, Maine, is flying under the radar, as many local measures do, but the city will be voting this November 5th whether to legalize 2.5 ounces of cannabis. A victory in Portland will likely springboard the Pine Tree State to place a legalization measure on the statewide ballot in 2016. The Portland Press Heraldreported from the kickoff press conference for the local legalization measure:
Bob Talbot, a board member of the ACLU of Maine, said the state spends $9 million a year on "aggressive enforcement" of marijuana laws that "ensnares thousands in the criminal justice system" and takes people away from their families. That money could be better spent, said Talbot.
"Those are taxpayer dollars that could be spent on hospitals, schools or better solutions," Talbot said. "The truth is the war on marijuana is a failure."
City Councilor David Marshall said at the press conference that, although Maine has decriminalized marijuana and made possession of small amounts a civil violation, being caught with the substance is still a federal drug crime that can affect a person's ability to get a job, a place to live, a student loan or business loan.
While many advocates and political experts point to usual suspects as the next states to legalize-Alaska and Oregon, of course, along with California, Massachusetts and Maine. I will throw another state out there that is flying under the radar-Missouri. Granted, I'm a bit biased as I was born there, cut my teeth as an activist there and serve on the board of Show-Me Cannabis, but the state is a good prospect to be next in line for a few reasons.
First of all, are the great activists at Show-Me Cannabis that are doing great work across the state. Not only are Missouri activists working to change the law at the local level (Columbia, St. Louis and the ongoing saga in Springfield), advocates are holding town halls across the state and even hired a police officer to lobby the Missouri Legislature to reform marijuana laws. Polling released last March demonstrated 50% support for legalization among 2014 Missouri voters and a new poll is likely to show even stronger support. Finally, research has already been done showing that the Show-Me State is poised to reap great economic benefit from legalizing cannabis. Regardless of who is next to legalize cannabis, it is clear that momentum is on our side and I trust that cannabis law reform will only become a more mainstream political issue. And while it may seem to some in the Midwest that all of the action is happening on the coasts, please know that change is coming your way too, my friends. Upward and onward.