Victories Spur More State Lawmakers to Consider Marijuana Legalization Measures

November 15, 2012

by Jeremy Leaming

Following on the victories for limited legalization of marijuana in Colorado and Washington, advocates for legalization are gearing up for more state action. Andrew Sullivan in a post, “The Legalization Tipping Point,” notes that lawmakers in Rhode Island, Maine, Massachusetts, and Vermont are contemplating legalization legislation.

Legislators from Rhode Island and Maine during a teleconference today conducted by the Marijuana Policy Project discussed their plans to introduce measures that would decriminalize marijuana and allow the states to tax and regulate it “in a manner similar to alcohol.” The MPP statement about the call said lawmakers in Massachusetts and Vermont were planning on introducing similar legislation.

In the MPP press announcement, Robert Capecchi, the group’s legislative analyst lauded last week’s victories, noting both ballot initiatives passed with about 55 percent in favor. He also declared, “We are passing the tipping point when it comes to this issue. Unfortunately, lawmakers have traditionally been behind public opinion when it comes to marijuana policy reform. With these thoughtful legislators in at least four states planning on introducing sensible proposals to remove criminal penalties and regulate marijuana in their states, it’s clear that ending marijuana prohibition is gaining momentum.”

A string of states – 17 – and the District of Columbia already have laws permitting varying uses of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Denver’s medical marijuana industry, even with the efforts by the federal government to impede it, has become robust. But we still do not know how the Department of Justice will respond to the measures approved in Colo. and Wash.

As University of Denver law school Professor Sam Kamin wrote yesterday there are a string of possibilities the government could take. The Controlled Substances Act, which the states must abide, considers marijuana among its Schedule I narcotics – meaning they are “strictly prohibited.”

Kamin said, he believes the federal government may seek a middle ground, “hoping to stave off marijuana decriminalization as long as possible.” Nevertheless, Kamin said he believes the nation is moving toward “a tipping point with regard to marijuana policy in the United States,” similar to how it has moved on marriage equality.

Rhode Island Rep. Edith Ajello, D-Providence, one of the lawmakers who participated in the MPP call, said, according to the AP that state regulation of the sale of marijuana would wipe out the underground market and likely raise $10 million for the state. She added, the AP reported, that the state could save $20 million year on busting and imprisoning people for marijuana crimes.

Matt Cook, a former narcotics officer who helped craft the Colorado’s medical marijuana law, told “60 Minutes,” that the medical marijuana industry helped the state through the Great Recession. He said the most current figures he has seen show the industry brought in more than $20 million in revenue.

It appears a growing number of progressive lawmakers are ready to move beyond the demonization of marijuana and toward sensible regulation of the substance. But as Kamin suggested we are only approaching a so-called tipping point. Much depends on whether the federal government is ready to embrace progress.