Five US States That Could Legalise Cannabis in 2016
Vermont’s attorney general is predicting legalization in 2016. If the marijuana-friendly legislators pass recreational marijuana, they will be the first lawmakers with the political courage to directly challenge federal prohibition, rather than use a ballot initiative to legalize weed. The groundwork has been being laid for years, it has the support of key state political figures, including Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) and House Speaker Shap Smith (D), and legislative hearings on how—not whether—to legalize next year are already underway. The legislature failed to move legalization bills this year, but the stage is set for 2016.
Massachusetts opened its first medical dispensary this summer, and many believe the state will legalize weed by referendum in 2016. “Polls show voters are poised to pass full legalization next November,” says Angell. One recent poll had support for legalization at only 41%, but it had a small sample size and large margin of error. Polls from 2014 had legalization winning by anywhere from six to 13 points, and the voters previously supported medical marijuana and decriminalization initiatives with a 63% vote.
Maine’s legislators may have rejected recreational marijuana this summer, but the state’s voters have taken measures into their own hands. A signature drive to put legalization on the 2016 ballot is underway, and in the past two years, voters in two of its biggest cities, Portland and South Portland, went ahead and passed referendums in favor of legislation. Once there were two competing initiative campaigns in the state, but now there is only one. The Marijuana Policy Project-backed Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has quit signature gathering for its legalization initiative and joined forces with Legalize Maine in support of its slightly looser legalization initiative. Both campaigns had gathered about 40,000 raw signatures each before coalescing. The Legalize Maine campaign will need 61,000 valid voter signatures to qualify, and it has until February 1 to get them. That seems eminently doable, and if it makes the ballot, it should win: A poll in April had support for legalization at a whopping 65%.
Nevada will almost certainly go green. “Legalization in Nevada seems like a given,” says Amanda Reiman of the DPA. A legalization initiative has already qualified for the 2016 ballot and seems like a lock in a state where self-indulgence is a tourist attraction. Under state law, the legislature could have acted on the petitions and legalized weed, but it declined to do so, so now it goes direct to the voters. There are no recent state polls on legalization, but it had 54% support in 2013, and there is no reason to think it has declined since then.
California made history in 1996, when it became the first state to legalize medical marijuana; next November, it will vote to allow recreational weed, and polls indicate the amendment will likely pass. “Then we will have reached the tipping point,” says Angell, of the Marijuana Majority. “And with California having so many members in Congress, it will give a huge boost to our efforts to change federal law.”