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Legalize It! Historic Night for Marijuana Reform as Colorado and Washington Take the Big Step

Massachusetts joins the drug reform current sweeping the nation.
 
 
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In an unprecedented popular vote, Colorado and Washington have approved ballot initiatives to legalize the sale of marijuana under regulations somewhat stricter than those for alcohol.

“These are not just the first two states to do this,” exulted Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance. “They’re the first two political jurisdictions in the world to do this.”

In Colorado, Amendment 64, which would “regulate marijuana like alcohol,” had 54 percent of the vote with more than 85 percent counted. (It was outpolling President Obama, who carried the state, by almost 50,000 votes.) The measure will let people 21 or older possess up to an ounce or grow six plants, and the state will license growers and retailers.

“We’re glad to be the first state to set it off,” said Art Way of the Drug Policy Alliance of Colorado. “We hope we’re the tipping point for the nation.”

He credits the state’s experience with regulating medical-marijuana dispensaries for the initiative’s success. “The conversation has been going on in Colorado for the past seven or eight years, so we’ve laid the groundwork,” he said.  

In Washington, Initiative 502 had 55 percent of the vote with more than half the ballots counted, buoyed by a 150,000-vote margin in Seattle. It will have the state Liquor Control Board license growers, processors, and stores. Buyers will pay a 25 percent sales tax, and stores can’t be within 1,000 feet of a school. It was somewhat controversial among marijuana users because it defines 5 nanograms per milliliter of THC in the blood as evidence of drugged driving.

“We’re ecstatic,” said Tonia Winchester, outreach director for the campaign. “Washingtonians are ready to try a new approach to marijuana. They realize that 75 years of the failed policy of prohibition have not worked.” She credits a “well-crafted initiative” that took into account public-safety concerns for its success.

The law allowing possession of up to an ounce—and larger quantities of cannabis food or drink products—goes into effect Dec. 6. There will be a one-year period to develop rules for a legal supply, during which, Winchester says, “we hope to have a dialogue with the federal government to implement the will of Washington voters.”

But Oregon voters rejected Measure 80, the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act, which won about 45 percent with about half reported. It would have set up a state cannabis commission to administer pot stores, paralleling Oregon’s state-run liquor stores. That campaign began later and had less funding and professional organization than the Colorado and Washington initiatives.

Three states also had medical-marijuana initiatives on the ballot, but only one won.

Massachusetts voters solidly approved Question 3, which would eliminate criminal and civil penalties for people using marijuana for a “debilitating medical condition,” and allow “nonprofit medical marijuana treatment centers.” The initiative won about 63 percent of the vote and carried every county in the state. It means that 18 states and Washington, DC, have now legalized medical marijuana,

But in Arkansas, the first medical-marijuana initiative to make the ballot in the South lost narrowly. Issue 5, which would have permitted it for people with a wide variety of serious ailments and allowed nonprofit medical-marijuana dispensaries, fell short, receiving about 48 percent of the vote.

Montana voters endorsed IR 124, which upheld the state’s 2011 law restricting medical marijuana. Montana had legalized it in a 2004 initiative, but the legislature enacted a measure that lets local governments ban dispensaries and limits the numbers of patients a caregiver can grow for and the number of patients a doctor can recommend it to without being investigated. The measure was confusing, as a “no” vote was for repeal. Repeal was behind by about a 57-43 margin with about 65 percent of the vote in.

 
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