These Five States Could Legalize Marijuana in 2016

Nevada’s vote is set and advocates believe they can get similar measures on the ballot in four other states

This past Friday, Nevada lawmakers closed out without voting on a petition given by residents to legalize cannabis and regulate it the saw way as alcohol. That means the initiative is going on the ballot in 2016, making Nevada the first state to officially be voting on legalizing marijuana in the next election.

“Voters will have the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition next year and replace it with a policy that actually makes sense,” Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), released in a statement. “Law enforcement officials will be able to spend their time addressing more serious crimes, and adults will no longer be punished simply for using marijuana.”

If voters allow the initiative, Nevada will then become the fifth state—after Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska—to have a legalized cannabis market. But chances are it won’t be the only state contemplating that option. Here are the four different states that cannabis law reformers are saying will have legalization votes on the ballot in 2016:

California: Groups like Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance are working hard on crafting the language for a ballot program in the Golden State. Concerns like production limits and whether cultivating from home is allowed can divide voters and established medical cannabis businesses. For supporters, framing the program for success is really important given California’s influence as a regulatory laboratory.

“California was the first state to adopt a medical marijuana law and it inspired states around the country to adopt similar laws,” Tvert says. “It’s a state that carries a lot of weight nationwide. It’s a massive population center and it’s a very diverse state.” While California is congested with liberal politicians, California also has traditional strongholds that have mobilized on ballot program in the past. If a program passes there, supporters will trumpet it as evidence that legalization has wide bipartisan appeal.

Arizona: As of right now, legalization has taken root in Western liberal coastal states and libertarian mountain states. Traditional voters, which put liberals as the minority in Arizona, are less likely to back recreational marijuana. However they are moving down that path. A recent poll from progressive firms SKDKnickerbocker and Benenson Strategy Group discovered that 61% of people in the US support legalization nationwide, as well as 71% of Democrats and 48% of Republicans. Last year, Gallup found that 51% of individuals in the US support legalization, down from 58% the year before. “The federalism argument is starting to see traction,” stated by the Drug Policy Alliance’s Malik Burnett.

Young Republicans are driving the charge, with 6 in 10 of them leaning towards those who want to make pot legit. Generally speaking young voters  turn out in a presidential election year like 2016. “That only bodes positive for the initiative,” Burnett stated.

Maine: In 2012, Ron Paul won the most of the Republican delegates in the state of Maine, a state which is next door to where Mitt Romney was governor. Which is to say: the libertarian vein runs deep. Voters in two Maine cities have also proved willing to legalize cannabis in large historic votes in recent years. The state’s largest city, Portland, and South Portland, voted to make it legal for adults to have in their possession a minimal amount of marijuana. The vote in Portland commenced in 2013, making it the first area on the East Coast to pass such regulations.

The smaller city of Lewiston voted against a similar situation last year. However Tvert states that the most important result of the city-level campaigns is that people in the state of Maine are thinking about legalization and at least hearing the arguments from their their point of view. “There’s been an ongoing public dialogue,” he states. “I’ve always believed that the more people learn about marijuana and the fact that it’s not as dangerous as they’ve been led to believe, the more likely they are to support treating it that way.”

Massachusetts: Voters in Massachusetts also have marijuana fresh in their minds. In 2012, residents voted to legalize medical marijuana, after decriminalizing the drug in 2008; both measures passed with over 60% of the vote. In 2014, more than a dozen districts in the state supported non-binding ballot measures indicating support for legalizing marijuana, and the state legislature has heard testimony on a legalization bill.

As a conclusion, supporters are focusing their efforts in the Commonwealth. Organizations are getting ready to spend money and mobilize signature-gatherers once they have settled on the choice of words for the ballot. It will not be a cakewalk. Some state lawmakers have shared views of skepticism that the people there are prepared to legalize recreational cannabis while their market for medical pot is still building up, despite the state’s liberal bent. “I’m not sure people in the state are ready for that and I’m certainly not sure I’m ready for that,” a Democratic lawmaker said to the Boston Globe.

Legalization advocates, of course, are betting that they can convince a majority of people heading to the polls that the time is right. “In any state we’re up against 80 years of marijuana prohibition and efforts to demonize marijuana,” Tvert says. “Our goal remains the same and that’s to educate voters.”

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