Marijuana Initiatives in the Upcoming Election

By Leslie P. Francis

In a year of a presidential election, initiatives are likely to get lost in the shuffle unless they have implications for the race at the top–as did the state efforts to ban same-sex marriage did some years ago. This election season features a number of efforts to legalize marijuana.

Several of these would legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, whether or not for medical use.  Colorado Amendment 64 is a constitutional amendment to legalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana by state residents over the age of 21.  Oregon Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, would legalize growing and selling marijuana.  Washington I-502 would create exceptions to state law enforcement for adults possessing less than an ounce of marijuana.  Growers and sellers would be required to obtain state licenses, and sales would be taxed–with revenue going to state drug prevention programs.It would also establish a 5 nano-gram/millileter of blood limit for adults driving and a zero tolerance policy for those under 21.

Massachusetts has a medical marijuana statute on the ballot, which would eliminate state civil or criminal penalties for medical use of marijuana.  It would also create state-regulated centers and in certain hardship cases allow patients to grow their own marijuana for personal use.  In Arkansas, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act (Issue 5) would suspect state penalties (including those relating to licensure) for qualifying patients with debilitating illnesses, establish a system of dispensaries, and permit locations to enact zoning restrictions.

Unusual lineups are emerging with respect to these efforts.  In Washington, the sheriff of King County (Seattle) has endorsed the initiative.  Although the initiative is supported by groups seeking to legalize marijuana, it is opposed by groups supporting Washington’s existing medical marijuana law.  In Colorado, religious groups are reportedly divided, law enforcement opposes the measure, and the NAACP favors it.  There are appeals to states’ rights conservatives to support the measures, too.

There are some signs that controversy over these measures is spilling over into the presidential race, especially in Colorado.  Opponents of the measures are calling on Attorney General Holder to come out against them.

[Cross-posted from HealthLawProf Blog]



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