This Election Day, presidential candidates aren’t the only thing on the ballot. In Washington, Oregon, and Colorado Initiative 502, Measure 80, and Amendment 64, respectively, propose to legalize the growth and consumption of marijuana and hemp products. For those who don’t know, marijuana is the drug, and hemp is a related plant that is good for making textiles and food. These initiatives would make the sale and possession of cannabis legal for citizens over age 21, tax the sale of marijuana, and set DUI limits analogous to those for alcohol. These aren’t entirely new proposals — California voted on legalizing marijuana in 2010, but something is different this time around: they just might pass.
While things aren’t looking great for Measure 80, polls put support in Washington at a double digit lead, and Colorado citizens support the amendment 53 to 43. While there is infinite room for Cheech and Chong jokes on the subject of legalization, and weed in general, there are serious issues on the table here. Legalization of marijuana would have an impact on prison overcrowding, state policing budgets, and state revenues from taxation. It would also stand as a further indictment of the black and white policies of the war on drugs, which was announced in 1971 and operated under the outdated notion that drug use could be fought by putting people in jail. Money from taxation of the drug would be put toward substance abuse prevention programs, education and health care, so we could see a much more nuanced and educated approach to substance abuse issues, or at least a better funded one. There is a side of economics here, as well. If marijuana is legalized in these states, broader availability could push prices down and take money out of the pockets of the violent cartels and smugglers.
This is uncharted territory, however, and these propositions would run counter to federal policy with respect to drugs. There could be more run-ins like those seen in some medical marijuana clinics where federal forces raided legally operating pot shops and arrested suppliers. If one or more of these measures pass, it will be some time before they really go into action, and there will, no doubt, be some awkwardness as everyone adjusts.
All in all, things are looking good for legalization. The new face of the movement isn’t your local burnout, it is doctors, lawyers, business people and parents. Check New Approach Washington’s list of endorsements and you’ll find mayors, sheriffs, senators, and judges. It’s looking likely that the people of Washington, and maybe Colorado, are ready for a change. Whether or not the rest of the country is ready to accommodate that change will have to wait until after the election.