Five months ago, two states passed ballot initiatives to legalize small amounts of marijuana and regulate it like alcohol. Since then, public opinion and momentum have continued to build away from criminalization. New awareness about the failed War on Drugs, the violence that accompanies illicit marijuana sales, and overly harsh sentences have sparked a movement that saw its culmination this weekend, as legalization advocates around the country celebrated victories and vied for reform on 4/20, in spite of one unfortunate violent incident in Denver. The following are some of the developments that have occurred since the November 6 election:
- Washington and Colorado stopped arresting people for minor possession of marijuana, dropped hundreds of pending criminal charges, and reallocated their scarce resources. While implementation of the regulatory and licensing schemes for recreational marijuana will likely take more than a year, the two new state laws have already removed penalties for private, recreational use of the substance, with little documented negative consequence thus far.
- Members of Congress introduced several bills to square state and federal marijuana law. Last week, three Democrats joined three Republicans in the latest bipartisan bill that would exempt individuals complying with state marijuana laws from federal prosecution under the Controlled Substances Act. Other bills in Congress would regulate and tax marijuana in states where it is legal, and legalize hemp.
- Eleven more states introduced bills to legalize and regulate marijuana, five of which are still pending, according to the Marijuana Policy Project. Several other states are ramping up campaigns for ballot measures in the coming years, with Alaska already clearing the initial hurdles to get a measure on the ballot in 2014.
- 18 more states introduced medical marijuana bills, and a Maryland bill for modest legislation that would allow distribution through academic research centers is awaiting Gov. Martin O’Malley’s (D) signature. An Illinois measure that passed that state’s House Friday is supported by more than 250 of the state’s doctors.
- At least nine more states introduced bills to decriminalize possession of marijuana, and some have already cleared key legislative hurdles. Even an Alabama legislator has introduced a bill to legalize personal use of recreational and medical marijuana, and regulate hemp.
- Several new polls have found for the first time that a majority of Americans support legalization. Previous polls had shown overwhelming consensus that the United States is losing the War on Drugs, and that states should be allowed to decide whether marijuana is legal.
In spite of all these markers of progress, it is still unclear how federal officials will respond to state legalization measures. But their approach to state medical marijuana laws may be some indication. Just this week, the Drug Enforcement Administration raided several more Los Angeles marijuana dispensaries. Federal prosecutors have already shuttered dozens of city businesses that obtained local permits.