Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Pot Advocates Look to California Next

Marijuana advocates, fresh off victories for legal recreational pot in Oregon, Alaska and the nation's capital, are already preparing for their next target, and it's a big one: California.

They are aiming to ask voters in the nation's largest state to legalize marijuana for recreational use in 2016, hoping to draw on a more liberal and larger electorate during a presidential election to help them avoid a repeat of their 2010 failed pot measure.

The victories in Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia came in a midterm election that saw a low turnout and a conservative electorate hand Republicans back control of the U.S. Senate for the first time since 2006.

The results emboldened them - even from a loss in Florida, where a medical marijuana proposal earned 58 percent of the vote, just shy of the 60 percent required to pass.

The pot votes were considered by many to be the first real test of marijuana reform's popularity since Washington state and Colorado passed the nation's first legal pot laws in 2012, boosted then by the higher turnout among young people typical of presidential election years.

After the wins in Colorado and Washington, a coalition of activists considered rushing a tax-and-regulate measure to this year's ballot in California. Their polling showed solid support, but they remained chastened by 2010, when a legalization proposal there polled well but fell short.

Early this year, given the huge expense of a serious statewide campaign in California, they opted for what they considered a safer bet: waiting until the presidential election year in 2016, with its anticipated bumper crop of younger voters.

The Marijuana Policy Project, which was heavily involved in Colorado's campaign, has formed a committee to begin fundraising in California, where it again plans to urge voters to regulate marijuana like alcohol.

Activists also hope to bring legal pot to Massachusetts, Maine and other states.

Tuesday saw voters in the District of Columbia approving the possession of up to two ounces of pot and up to three mature marijuana plants for personal use, but the proposal did not provide for the legal sale of marijuana. That's left up to the D.C. Council.

The measures in Oregon and Alaska follow Colorado and Washington state in setting up regulation and taxation systems.

Advocates, opponents and the U.S. government have closely watched Washington and Colorado to gauge the impact on the black market, drug use among teens and impaired driving, among other areas.

In both states, adults over 21 can purchase marijuana, including potent extracts and edibles, at state-licensed dispensaries.

Colorado is on track to bring in about $84 million this year from medical and recreational pot taxes and fees. In Washington, where recreational pot sales began in July, the tax collections have totaled more than $7 million.

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