Cannabis reform sweeps the states. Is the UK next?
Well it was a long night for NORML UK poll watchers, but we wouldn’t have missed a second of it for anything. Americans made history when voters in Colorado and Washington voted to legalise marijuana full stop by sizable margins, while medical marijuana legislation triumphed in a veritable landslide in Massachussets. Although cannabis reform did receive some setbacks this year, the historic nature of our victories only hastens the inevitable–and puts the squeeze on our own politicians to justify their recalcitrance.
Let’s look at the final tallies and what’s next in the battle for reform.
Colorado became the first state in the nation to fully legalise cannabis, six years after voters rejected similar legislation. The final vote settled at 53.3% to 46.7%, a significant improvement over 2006’s 60-40% defeat. Amendment 64 allows Colorado to regulate cannabis like alcohol and sets out provisions for marijuana facilities including industrial grows and commercial shops. Adults 21 and over will be able to purchase cannabis with a valid picture ID, exactly like alcohol, while providing cannabis to minors remains a crime.
Personal grows of up to six mature plants are now legal, as is the possession and gifting of up to one ounce of cannabis. Driving under the influence remains a crime.
An excise tax will be placed on wholesale cannabis sales, and the first $40 million raised annually are required to go to building public schools. “Think of the children” indeed!
Read the full text of Amendment 64 here.
Fast on Colorado’s heels came Washington’s passage of Initiative 502, ringing in at an impressive 55% to 44%. This was a pleasant surprise given a decriminalisation intiative failed to even make the ballot in 2010. However, I-502 is more controversial among reformers than Colorado’s Amendment 64, as well as being more restrictive. While personal grows are now legal, “marijuana producers” must purchase a $250 license; unlicensed grows are still considered criminal. Cannabis producers and processors may not run retail operations, in a move modeled on the division of hard liquor producers, processors, and retailers.
The most controversial aspect of I-502, Part V, criminalises the operation of a motor vehicle by someone with a blood alcohol content above 5.00 in the case of 21+ drivers and 0.00 for minors. These “driving under the influence” provisions have been wildly unpopular in the past, but did not deter voters this year.
While the initiative gives the Washington State Liquor Control Board authority over most aspects of cannabis regulation, it also requires that the board justify its decisions in accordance with the best scientific evidence available. Part IV earmarks tax revenues in the following proportions: 25% for drug abuse treatment and education, 55% for health care, 19% for the general state fund, and (most interestingly) 1% for marijuana research at the University of Washington and Washington State University. That’s definitely a bonus!
I-502 is a very dense law, and only time will tell how its provisions play out in practice. Will its many provisions trip up reform, or spare Washington from the dearth of effective regulations that has often plagued California? NORML UK will be following this one closely for indications of how UK reforms should proceed.
Read the full text of I-502 here. Sensible Washington has an extensive critical review of the law’s potential weaknesses.
Unfortunately Oregon’s Measure 80, which would have regulated cannabis like alcohol as well as establishing a regulated hemp industry, was defeated 55% to 45%. Arguably the most progressive of the cannabis ballot measures, and the only one to promote industrial hemp, Measure 80 always faced an uphill battle. After qualifying in July, leaving little time to convince voters, the campaign only managed to raise $38,000 since then. Campaign head Paul Stanford cut a controversial–and apparently untrustworthy–figure, having been accused of bilking his cannabis nonprofit and marijuana donors to deal with a variety of tax and finance issues. Alas, it was not to be in 2012.
Read the full text of Measure 80 here.
Massachusetts became the 18th state to legalise medical marijuana with its passage of Question 3. This was a true blow out at 63% to 37%, a huge win for the MMJ movement. The measure allows patients diagnosed with “debilitating” medical conditions to obtain a doctor’s recommendation that will allow the possession of up to 60 days worth of cannabis (to be determined by the Department of Public Health), the designation of caregivers, and the formation of nonprofit treatment centres which can grow, process, and distribute medical cannabis.
Read the full text of Question 3 here.
Sadly, two states defeated or set back medical marijuana on Tuesday. Montana’s Referendum 124 to gut the state’s medical marijuana programme passed 57% to 43%. Arkansas narrowly rejected medical marijuana by defeating Issue 5 by just 2% of the vote, although such a tiny margin does offer a glimmer of hope in an otherwise severely conservative state. Neither loss comes as a surprise in either conservative state, but the figures are definitely surmountable.
All in all, the 2012 Us elections proved historic and also frustrating. Gains for medical marijuana patients were lost in Montana and rejected in Alabama, while Oregon seems to be waiting on better legislation and a more organised campaign. Nevertheless, Colorado and Washington did what many thought impossible: legalised the production, sale, and consumption of cannabis for ALL adults. According to a Mexican study released days before the election, these two ballot measures alone could cost Mexican drug cartels as much as $3.265 billion. If that isn’t reason to cheer, we don’t know what is!