After U.S. swings Conservative in the midterm elections, surprise vote in Oregon and Alaska says yes to legalizing marijuana
Oregon and Alaska have legalized marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington as states permitting recreational use of the drug. Voters in both states passed ballot initiatives to create commercial systems for the production, distribution, and sale of marijuana. Other states, such as California, Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and Arizona are looking to follow suit in 2016, with similar initiatives being put forward to voters. Pro-legalization activists were thrilled with the victories, seeing them as a good sign of things to come.
“It’s always an uphill battle to win a marijuana legalization initiative in a year like this, when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes today’s victory all the sweeter,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber.”
The success of the initiatives came as a surprise, especially with the recent conservative shift in Congress and the Senate, both of which now hold a Republican majority.
Even more unexpected was the fact that marijuana legalization took place in Alaska, a traditionally conservative state.
Now that Alaska has opened the door to legalization, other red states will follow, demonstrating that there is an interest in regulating the drug outside of its usual liberal havens.
An initiative to allow marijuana for medical use in Florida was shot down. The bill needed at least 60 per cent support to pass, but only managed to garner 58 per cent. Nonetheless, it shows the surging nationwide support for the legalization and regulation of the drug. Support will only continue to grow as other states look towards Colorado and Washington and see the revenue potential. Colorado is set to distribute a $30.5 million rebate to its taxpayers as a result of marijuana taxation.
Washington D.C. also passed a similar popular initiative, although as D.C. is a district, and not a state, all of its laws are subject to the authority of congress.
“With marijuana legal in the federal government’s backyard,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, “it’s going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition.”
However, even with states passing these laws, the consumption of marijuana is still against U.S. federal law.
This creates a peculiar situation where individuals are protected from state law enforcement, but susceptible to federal law enforcement agencies, such as the FBI. Although federal laws supersede state ones via the constitution, the Obama administration has said that they will not challenge state laws as long as distribution is regulated. A recent Pew Research poll found that 54 per cent of Americans support legalization.
This number is only poised to increase in the future.
The question of nation-wide legalization is clearly no longer an issue of ‘if ’, but ‘when’.