The election results were overwhelmingly positive for marijuana smokers last night, with full-legalization proposals being approved in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia. And even the one losing initiative, the medical-use proposal in Florida, won the approval of a significant majority of the voters.
Measure 91 in Oregon
In a convincing victory, Oregon voters approved Measure 91, which legalizes the use and cultivation of marijuana by those 21 and older and establishes a system of licensing, taxing and regulating marijuana sales under the auspices of the Oregon Liquor Control Board, with an impressive 55 percent of the vote.
More specifically, under Measure 91, adults will be permitted to possess up to eight ounces of “dried” marijuana and cultivate up to four plants. And they will be allowed to give up to an ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana products in solid form or 72 ounces of marijuana products in liquid form, to other individuals 21 and older; they can not be compensated or reimbursed for these transactions. Adults will be allowed to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana, 16 ounces of marijuana products in solid form or 72 ounces of marijuana products in liquid form from properly registered businesses. These limits are more permissive than those previously approved in Washington and Colorado, and may provide a model for other states to emulate.
Nothing in Measure 91 will interfere with an employer’s right to drug test employees or require a drug-free workplace. An employee can still be fired for testing positive for THC, without showing any signs of impairment.
Individuals will be legally permitted to grow, possess and use marijuana as of July 1, 2015. The Liquor Control Board will have until January 1, 2016 to implement regulations to effectuate the licensing of producers, processors wholesalers and retailers.
Measure 2 in Alaska
In a somewhat closer victory, voters in Alaska approved Measure 2, which legalizes the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (and the possession of the marijuana produced by those six plants) by adults, and establishes a legally regulated and taxed system of sales under the state Alcohol Beverage Control Board, with 52 percent of the vote.
Measure 2 also protects the right-to-privacy ruling in Ravin v. State that allows for the legal possession of up to four ounces of marijuana in the home; protects patients and caregivers under the existing medical use law in Alaska; and eliminates the existing paraphernalia laws. The initiative does permit individual cities to ban marijuana dispensaries, but not to ban private marijuana possession or cultivation. It further does nothing to change existing DUID laws, nor does it protect employees from being fired for testing positive for marijuana; and public smoking will now carry a $100 fine.
Measure 2 will become law 90 days after the election is certified, which is expected in late November. The state will have an additional nine months to implement regulations contolling the production and sale of marijuana.
I-71 in the District of Columbia
As expected, the most convincing victory of the night came from the District of Columbia, where voters overwhelmingly approved Initiative -71 with an astounding 69 percent of the vote! I-71 still must be approved by the D.C. City Council, which should be no problem, and must survive a Congressional review process, which could be more problematic.
I-71 legalizes the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use by adults; the private cultivation of up to six plants (of which no more than three may be mature) in one’s personal residence; the transfer (but not sale) of up to one ounce of marijuana to another adult; and the possession and sale of paraphernalia. Initiative 71 does not establish marijuana dispensaries, although the City Council is expected to pursue that goal over the coming months; nor does it protect employees from job discrimination or alter the existing DUID laws.
Until the City Council decides how and when to proceed, it is unclear when these new provisions will take effect. Under the D.C. Home Rule Charter, the Congress has 60 legislative days to review the measure once it has been approved by the Council, before it becomes law.
Florida Amendment 2
Only in Florida, where 60 percent support is required to enact a voter initiative, did a state-wide marijuana-related initiative fail to gain approval. Amendment 2, which would have legalized the medical use of marijuana for seriously ill patients, won the approval of an impressive 58 percent of the voters, but fell slightly short of the required 60 percent level. Even in defeat, that was an impressive showing for a southern state, and suggests the issue will not go away in the Sunshine State.
What This All Means
On an election day that brought a major victory for Republicans nationwide, and a crushing defeat for Democrats, one might have expected the issue of marijuana legalization would have run into a strong headwind, but that was clearly not the case. Voters made clear their disappointment and disillusionment with the Obama Administration, but they nonetheless continued to demonstrate their support for ending marijuana prohibition as well as legalizing and regulating marijuana-use for adults.
The legalization issue has clearly come of age, and is now an accepted part of the national agenda, to be discussed and debated at the highest levels of government and in the national media. Legalizing marijuana is no longer a fringe political position, but rather one side of a debate that now occupies a prominent position in the national consciousness. The days of having to fight for even modest media attention have passed.
And that has not always been the case.
For much of the last four decades, the drug warriors have maintained the status quo largely by defining legalizers as operating on the fringes of society and outside the area of legitimate public debate. No prominent elected officials were willing to allow themselves to be labeled as a “legalizer,” as that would have likely assured their defeat at the next election by an opponent who would accuse them of being “soft-on-drugs.”
The only candidates willing to publicly support marijuana legalization were third-party candidates who were not considered serious candidates, or “write-in” candidates, hoping to exploit their pro-legalization position to get at least some media coverage (usually reinforcing the fringe nature of their candidacy).
But with our victories two years ago in Colorado and Washington, now reinforced by our victories in Alaska, Oregon and DC, the issue of marijuana legalization has come front and center, and we will now be seeing an increasing number of state and national elected officials climbing aboard the legalization train.
Of course, the drug warriors will continue to defend prohibition and to try to slow the progress of reform, to protect their jobs for as long as possible, but the writing is clearly on the wall for all to see; a majority of the country has abandoned the drug war mentality, and favor legalization.
We are perfectly positioned for an even more impressive array of victories in 2016. There’s no stopping us now!