Marijuana advocates aren’t wasting any time in the wake of November’s massive electoral victories.
Voters legalized recreational weed in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C., on Nov. 4. Those wins came just two years after Colorado and Washington State first passed legalization measures.
Activists in Massachusetts waited less than a month after Election Day before announcing they’ll push for legalization in that state in 2016. Similar efforts are already underway in California, Arizona, and a handful of other states.
In Massachusetts, advocates are writing draft legislation that would legalize weed by way of the state Legislature. If that doesn’t work, they plan to take the issue to voters during the 2016 elections.
“If the Legislature doesn’t do anything, we’ll go to the voters in 2016,” said Richard Evans, who chairs pro-pot coalition. “We want to give lawmakers the opportunity to enact it. Voters shouldn’t be making laws like this, lawmakers should. But when the lawmakers won’t, voters must.”
It’s unlikely they’ll get their way in the legislature, at least not in the next two years. Voters there just elected a Republican governor, and the GOP’s position on legalization in Massachusetts is hostile at best. Incoming Gov. Charlie Baker has vowed to fight legalization.
That’s one of several reasons why weed proponents tend to prefer public referendums to legislation. Public support for reform is very strong, but many politicians owe allegiance to outdated viewpoints, giving them motive to block reform the public wants.
Activists in Massachusetts and elsewhere are hopeful, though, and they have good reason to be: There wasn’t a single state whose voters opposed reform. A medical marijuana initiative lost in Florida, but only because it failed to win 60 percent of the vote; it got 57 percent.
“It’s no longer a question of whether it will be legalized in the state, but when and how,” Evans said.
About half a dozen states are considered likely battlegrounds for legalization in 2016. California will almost certainly vote on the issue, and could be joined by Nevada, Arizona, Rhode Island, Maine, and Massachusetts. Other states are possible, including long shots such as Texas and Wyoming.
In California, the lieutenant governor is working with the ACLU and other reform groups to prepare a winning ballot proposal for 2016. Four similar efforts failed to make the ballot this year, largely because big-dollar campaign donors decided to wait for a presidential election year.
Not only will there be an open race for the presidency in two years, marijuana will likely play a major role in that election. One major contender, Democrat Hillary Clinton, has already said she supports medical weed, though she hasn’t backed legalization. Another, Republican Chris Christie, has vowed to fight reform.
Presidential elections tend to draw a younger crowd of voters, exactly the type who are most likely to support legalization. As the next year passes, expect to see new campaigns across the country, including efforts in some unlikely places.