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Monday, February 19, 2018

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

In the euphoric aftermath of marijuana legalization victories in California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada last November, the marijuana blogosphere was alive with predictions about which states would be next to free the weed. Extract listed 10 states, MerryJane went big with 14 states, the Joint Blog listed five states, Leafly homed in on six states,  and Weed News went with seven states. AlterNet got into the act, too, with “The Next 5 States to Legalize Marijuana.”

But unlike the first eight states, which all legalized it via the initiative and referendum process, for legalization to win this year, it would have to be via a state legislature. Yet here we are, nearing the halfway point of 2017, and we’re not seeing it. And we’re unlikely to see it for the rest of this year. The states that had the best shots are seeing their legislative sessions end without bills being passed, and while bills are alive in a couple of states—Delaware and New Jersey—they’re not likely to pass this year either.

To be fair, we have seen significant progress in state legislatures. More legalization bills have been filed than ever before, and in some states, they are advancing like never before. In Vermont, a bill actually got through the legislature, only to fall victim to the veto pen. But actually getting a legalization bill past both houses of a legislature and a governor has yet to happen.

And while there is rising popular clamor—buoyed by favorable opinion polls—for state legislatures to end pot prohibition, the advocacy group most deeply involved in state-level legalization efforts, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), understands the difficulties and intricacies of working at the state house. While it has worked hard, it made no promises for victory this year, instead saying it is committed to “ending prohibition in eight more states by 2019.”

That MPP list doesn’t include initiative states, of which we could see a handful next year. MPP is already involved in Michigan, where legalization is polling above 50%, and first-stage initiative campaigns are already underway in Arizona, Arkansas, Missouri, and the Dakotas. It would be disappointing for reform advocates if they have to wait until November 2018 and the popular vote to win another legalization victory, and given the progress made in state houses this year, they hope they won’t have to. Still, legalization at the state house is proving a tough row to hoe.

AlterNet thought the best prospects were in Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, Rhode Island, and Vermont. Here’s what’s happened so far:

Connecticut. Legalization isn’t quite dead yet this year, but it is on life support. A legalization bill died in the General Assembly after getting several hearings this year, but failing to even get a vote in the judiciary and public safety committees. In a last-ditch move, Assembly Democrats this month included marijuana legalization in their budget recommendations as a means of addressing budget problems, but they conceded they don’t have enough votes in their caucus to pass it and said they added legalization merely “to spur conversation.” The dour figure of Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) and his hints of a veto didn’t help.

Maryland. A Senate legalization measure, Senate Bill 927, and its House companion, House Bill 1186, both got committee hearings, but neither could get a vote out of disinterred committee chairs. A bill that would have amended the state constitution to legalize personal pot possession and cultivation, Senate Bill 891, suffered the same fate. The General Assembly is now adjourned until January 2018.

New Mexico. Hopes for legalization this year in the Land of Enchantment crashed and burned back in February, when a measure to do just that, House Bill 89, died an ignominious death in the House Business and Industry Committee. Four out of five committee Democrats joined all five committee Republicans to bury it on a 9-1 vote. And the legislature killed a decriminalization bill, too, before the session ended. Again, a veto threat-wielding governor in the background, Susana Martinez (R), didn’t help.

Rhode Island.Although a full third of House members cosponsored the legalization measure, House Bill 5555, the House Judiciary Committee this month failed to vote on it, instead passing House Bill 5551, which punts on the issue by instead creating a commission to study marijuana legalization and report back in March 2018. That bill now awaits a House floor vote.

Vermont. The Green Mountain State became the first to see a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 22, approved by the legislature, only to see it vetoed last week by Republican Gov. Phil Scott, who cited concerns about drugged driving and youth access. Scott did leave the door open for a modified bill to win his approval this year, but that would require legislators to agree on new language and get it passed during a two-day “veto session” next month, which in turn would require Republican House members to suspend some rules. That’s looks unlikely, as does the prospect of a successful veto override. But it’s not dead yet.

For reform advocates, it’s a case of the glass half full.

“This is still a historic time,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “For the first time, we saw a state legislature pass a bill removing all penalties for the possession and consumption of marijuana by its citizens. We’ve had great victories in the past 10 years, but they’ve all been through the initiative process. Now, with the polls continuing to show majorities favoring outright legalization, legislators are feeling more emboldened to represent their constituents, but it won’t happen overnight.”

“We’ve seen bigger gains than any other year in history,” said MPP Communication Director Mason Tvert. “There’s never been a legislature in all our history that passed a law making marijuana legal for adults, and now one did. That’s pretty substantial.”

But Tvert conceded that legalization via the state house is a course filled with obstacles.

“In Rhode Island, the leadership is still holding it up, although it looks like it will pass a legalization study commission,” he said. “In Delaware, a bill passed easily in committee, but it needs two-thirds to pass the House, and that’s tough to do in the first year. In Vermont, last year, we had the governor, but not both houses of the legislature; this year we had the legislature, but not the governor,” he elaborated.

“That’s the nature of representative democracy and the structure of government in the US,” Tvert said. “It requires a lot of pieces to fall into place.”

“One of the biggest obstacles we face is the demographics of those chair those legislative committees,” said NORML’s Strekal. “They tend to skew toward older, more prohibitionist age brackets, but as these turn over to a new generation of legislators and elected officials, we should be able to get more of those bills out of committee, like we just saw in Delaware.”

Tvert pointed to an example of the committee chair bottleneck in the Lone Star State.

“It’s one thing to lose on a floor vote in the House,” he said. “It’s another thing to have a whip count showing you could win a floor vote, and you can’t get a vote. That was the case in Texas with both medical marijuana and decriminalization. They had immense support and couldn’t get votes.”

Despite the vicissitudes of politics at state capitals, marijuana reformers remain confident that history is on their side.

“This is a situation where times are changing and people are becoming increasingly impatient,” said Tvert. “When you have people’s lives negatively affected by prohibition and obvious solutions staring you in the face, it’s understandable that some people get antsy, but we’ve seen some pretty significant developments this year, and there will be more to come.”

Tvert compared the legalization situation now with medical marijuana a few years back.

“With medical marijuana, we won in five initiative states between 1996 and 2000 before Hawaii became the first legislative medical marijuana state,” he noted. “Since then, there’ve been nine more initiative states and 14 more legislative states. Now, we’ve seen eight states legalize in through initiatives in 2012 and 2016, Once this gets through one state legislature, the floodgates will open.”

NORML’s Strekal was taking the long view.

“In the grand scheme of things, this movement is chugging along much faster than other issues have advanced historically,” he said. “It’s important to keep in mind how far we’ve come.”

But marijuana legalization is still a work in progress, and we’ve still yet to see that first legislative state fall. Maybe next year.


Phillip Smith is editor of the AlterNet Drug Reporter and author of the Drug War Chronicle.

This article was made possible by the readers and supporters of AlterNet.

15 Responses to How Many States Will Legalize Marijuana This Year? It’s Not A Pretty Number

  1. Marijuana consumers deserve and demand equal rights and protections under our laws that are currently afforded to the drinkers of far more dangerous and deadly, yet perfectly legal, widely accepted, endlessly advertised and even glorified as an All American pastime, booze.

    Plain and simple!

    Legalize Marijuana Nationwide!

    It’s time for us, the majority of The People to take back control of our national marijuana policy. By voting OUT of office any and all politicians who very publicly and vocally admit to having an anti-marijuana, prohibitionist agenda! Time to vote’em all OUT of office. Period. Plain and simple.

    Politicians who continue to demonize Marijuana, Corrupt Law Enforcement Officials who prefer to ruin peoples lives over Marijuana possession rather than solve real crimes who fund their departments toys and salaries with monies acquired through Marijuana home raids, seizures and forfeitures, and so-called “Addiction Specialists” who make their income off of the judicial misfortunes of our citizens who choose marijuana, – Your actions go against The Will of The People and Your Days In Office Are Numbered! Find new careers before you don’t have one.

    The People have spoken! Get on-board with Marijuana Legalization Nationwide, or be left behind and find new careers. Your choice.

    Legalize Nationwide!

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    • That would be wonderful. However, I live in a stupid state. It won’t happen here. There was a tourist, from California, with glaucoma, who was prescribed marijuana by his doctor. When he came into Idaho, they caught him with the pot and arrested him.

  2. So, what’s gonna happen to the Cookie Elf once the majority of the States finally legalize the stuff? Will the old “State’s Rights” supporter suddenly find himself opposed to those selfsame rights, even though over half those states are reliably “Red”?

  3. The pharmaceutical companies have some of the biggest and most influential lobbyists in Washington. Of course they don’t want Marijuana cutting into their opoid profits. The Center for Disease Control says opoids are now our number one drug problem. Does congress address this? No. They cannot ruffle the feathers of some of their biggest donors. I don’t suppose the marijuana growers have the kind of money the makers of Oxycontin and hydrocodone have. My generations was not into drugs as much as the following generation. However, I have, among my friends and acquaintances , several who have said they smoked a little pot in college. They are not addicts nor are they smoking it now. One of them is a psychologist and two are scientists. They are assets to society. When my little brother, who was a psychologist, was dying in the hospital, of cancer, his pain was horrendous. This was before chemotherapy and there was limits on how much morphine could be prescribed. His friends were sneaking marijuana into him. I watched him go from stiff with excruciating pain to laughing and joking with us. This is being denied to those who would benefit from it, by loyalty to big pharma.

  4. Personally, I’m for legalizing it for medical use only…..not recreational use. We have enough problems with drunk drivers without adding drugged drivers to the list! Now, from what I understand, some states want to allow bars to stay open until 4 a.m. rather than closing at 1 p.m. So, that means more drunks on the road during rush hour traffic! Where are people’s brains. I understand being more lenient when it comes to criminal charges for possession of marijuana, but not legalizing it for recreational use (although many get it anyway, using a medical reason for an excuse). Maybe I’m just too old for this, but I just can’t see legalizing this for everyone.

    • Contrary to what prohibitionists are so desperately trying to get the public to believe wholeheartedly and without question, legalizing marijuana IS NOT adding anything new into our society that wasn’t always there and widely available already.

      Marijuana has been ingrained within our society since the days of our founding fathers and part of human culture since biblical times, for thousands of years.

      So, since marijuana has always been with us and humans already have thousands upon thousands of years worth of experience with marijuana, what great calamities and “Doomsday Scenarios” do prohibitionists really think will happen now due to current legalization efforts that have never ever happened before in all human history?

      Legalize Nationwide!

      • Did you know that they have even found cannibus in the systems of the pharaohs whose tombs they have dug up? It’s interesting to know it goes back that far.

    • Legalizing Marijuana will not create a massive influx of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

      It will not create an influx of professionals (doctors, pilots, bus drivers, etc..) under the influence on the job either.

      This is a prohibitionist propaganda scare tactic.

      Truth: Responsible drivers don’t drive while impaired on any substance period!

      Irresponsible drivers are already on our roads, and they will drive while impaired regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      Therefore, legalizing marijuana will have little impact on the amount of marijuana impaired drivers on our roads.

      The same thing applies to people being under the influence of marijuana on the job.

      Responsible people do not go to work impaired, period. Regardless of their drug of choice’s legality.

      • And you know this how? You have NO idea whether or not this will or will not create “a massive influx of marijuana impaired drivers” on our roads. That is, unless you can see into the future. And, the key word in your post is “responsible.” A lot of drivers who drink excessively or pot smokers who smoke excessively are NOT responsible in some cases. And, as you say, there are already irresponsible drivers out there, but do we have to make it easier for them.
        Brian, I’m not against legalizing marijuana, trust me, I’m just worried about the consequences. Maybe I don’t need to worry, but I can’t see into the future and neither can you. We can only hope that more responsible people will not, as you say, go to work impaired.

    • Fear of Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is unfounded. Not based on any science or fact whatsoever. So please prohibitionists, we beg you to give your scare tactics, “Conspiracy Theories” and “Doomsday Scenarios” over the inevitable Legalization of Marijuana Nationwide a rest. Nobody is buying them anymore these days. Okay?

      Furthermore, if all prohibitionists get when they look into that nice, big and shiny crystal ball of theirs, while wondering about the future of marijuana legalization, is horror, doom, and despair, well then I suggest they return that thing as quickly as possible and reclaim the money they shelled out for it, since it’s obviously defective.

      The prohibition of marijuana has not decreased the supply nor the demand for marijuana at all. Not one single iota, and it never will. Just a huge and complete waste of our tax dollars to continue criminalizing citizens for choosing a natural, non-toxic, relatively benign plant proven to be much safer than alcohol.

      If prohibitionists are going to take it upon themselves to worry about “saving us all” from ourselves, then they need to start with the drug that causes more detriment to our society than every other drug in the world COMBINED, which is alcohol!

      Why do prohibitionists feel the continued need to vilify and demonize marijuana when they could more wisely focus their efforts on a real, proven killer, alcohol, which again causes more detriment to our society than all other drugs, COMBINED?

      Prohibitionists really should get their priorities straight and/or practice a little live and let live. They’ll live longer, happier, and healthier lives, with a lot less stress if they refrain from being bent on trying to control others through Draconian Marijuana Laws.

    • There’s a simple saliva test that police can use to determine if you’re under the influence of weed when driving. It’s supposedly as effective and simple as a breathalyzer for alcohol. There have been stories on it where I live, as marijuana is about to be legalized soon.

      I understand your concerns but the problem is that a lot of police and justice resources are used in jailing pot smokers or brownie nibblers, while beer drinkers walk free. It just seems to me that jailing someone and giving them a criminal record for a little pot use on a Saturday night after a long week at work, seems like an awful use of justice system resources as well as maybe being immoral.

      I don’t have a horse in this race, as I don’t plan to ever use it after it becomes fully legal here. I just think that imprisoning people for munching on some edibles or smoking a joint isn’t the way to go. It just seems like there’s something wrong with that.

      • I have to agree with you about the problems with the legal aspects of marijuana; i.e., the ridiculous jail sentences and trials for people caught with minimal amounts of marijuana. That’s the biggest problem nowadays….our jails are full of these people who have been given outrageous sentences for simple possession of small amounts of pot! That’s my only doubt, DT. If we’re going to jail these people for having pot; we need to be a little more judicious in jailing people with DUI’s. We just had a man in California who was drunk (for the 4th time in a few years) who hit a pregnant woman and killed her unborn child (I’ve also heard that she just passed away herself). He had been fined, had his license suspended, gone to county jail for a couple of months several times, but he was still out there driving! Of course, now, he’s in jail for felony manslaughter, finally!!!
        I don’t really mind marijuana being legalized; the money coming in from taxes, etc. would be great for many cities and states…..I guess I just think it should be for medicinal reasons, but that’s just my opinion. I will not use it, but I don’t begrudge those that do. I just hope that they are careful about driving or doing anything that would hurt another human being.

        • You sound like the kind of person who backs decriminalization instead of legalization. You know, a fine for possession.

          I’ve never smoked in my life, and all forms of smoking should continue to be officially discouraged. It’s just that I wouldn’t be in favour of jailing tobacco smokers either as much as I hate tobacco smoke.

  5. The “War on Marijuana” has been a complete and utter failure. It is the largest component of the broader yet equally unsuccessful “War on Drugs” that has cost our country over a trillion dollars.

    Instead of The United States wasting Billions upon Billions more of our tax dollars fighting a never ending “War on Marijuana”, lets generate Billions of dollars, and improve the deficit instead. It’s a no brainer.

    The Prohibition of Marijuana has also ruined the lives of many of our loved ones. In numbers greater than any other nation, our loved ones are being sent to jail and are being given permanent criminal records which ruin their chances of employment for the rest of their lives, and for what reason?

    Marijuana is much safer to consume than alcohol. Yet do we lock people up for choosing to drink?

    The government should never attempt to legislate morality by creating victim-less marijuana “crimes” because it simply does not work and costs the taxpayers a fortune.

    Marijuana Legalization Nationwide is an inevitable reality that’s approaching much sooner than prohibitionists think and there is nothing they can do to stop it!

    Legalize Nationwide! Support Each and Every Marijuana Legalization Initiative!

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