The 2014 midterm elections were critical for marijuana legalization policy and the validation of the voter-passed ballot initiatives in Colorado and Washington in 2012. This past election cycle saw a number of other states begin to recognize the benefits of legalization both socially and economically. As of June 2015, Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington have all legalized marijuana for recreational use; other states including Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York and Vermont have all legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes. This leaves 27 states where the use of marijuana remains illegal under any circumstance. With the tides slowing turning in favor of legalization, upcoming elections and ballot measures in 2015 and 2016 are shaping up to change the national landscape of marijuana prohibition.
Ohio is the only state that will vote on a ballot measure regarding the sale, use and growth of marijuana in 2015. The Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative is a constitutional amendment that will be on the ballot this November and seeks to allow the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes. If passed, this initiative would make Ohio the fifth state in the nation, and the first Midwest state, to legalize marijuana.
2016 will be a national tour de force for legalization across the country with 17 states planning on hosting ballot measures relating to legalizing marijuana. Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming will see ballot initiatives relating to legalizing medical marijuana. Arizona, Arkansas, California, Georgia, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada and New Mexico will see full recreational legalization initiatives.
Many initiatives hinge on regulating marijuana like other legalized controlled substances. The Marijuana Policy Project is an advocacy group that works solely on marijuana policy reform in the country by sponsoring ballot initiatives and running ballot initiative campaigns. The Marijuana Policy Project is currently coordinating ballot initiative campaigns to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol in Arizona, Massachusetts and Nevada. A coalition of groups is also coordinating a similar ballot initiative campaign in California. Along with the “Community Act to Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis of 2016,” California has eight other ballot initiatives dedicated to marijuana legislation. If California passes any of these legalization measures in 2016 the entire west coast will have legalized marijuana for recreational use.
Other types of marijuana initiatives focus on cultivation of the marijuana plant itself rather than the consumption. The Arizona Industrial Hemp Farming Act Initiative is a ballot measure that is pending approval to be included on the 2016 ballot. The measure would establish an industrial hemp committee with the Arizona Department of Agriculture and allow industrial hemp farming by permit and registered persons. This measure would also allow for registration and cultivation of industrial hemp for research and development and commercial purposes. In Arkansas, the Arkansas Hemp and Marijuana Legalization Amendment is a constitutional amendment that is also pending approval for the 2016 ballot. This measure would legalize the cultivation, production, distribution, sale, possession, and use of the cannabis plant and all products derived from the cannabis plant.
As the political acceptance surrounding marijuana legalization continues to shift and more and more states are taking up marijuana legalization as an issue, it will be interesting to watch how many more states legalize marijuana in these next election cycles and even more so how they handle regulation without federal government interference.