By Ronald Fraser
New York voters may not have the opportunity to approve or reject ballot items on Nov. 6, but citizen lawmakers in six other states will vote up or down a variety of marijuana ballot initiatives that may, in the long run, have a major impact nationally and even here in New York.
• Medical marijuana: Voters in Massachusetts and Arkansas will decide if marijuana can be used for medical purposes with the advice of a licensed doctor. If passed, Massachusetts will join nearby states – Connecticut, Vermont, Maine and Rhode Island – where the drug is already used to ease pain caused by cancer and other serious conditions.
In Arkansas, the stakes are much higher. The state could become the first in the South to break down the medical marijuana barrier. If voters in Arkansas approve, other Southern states could very well follow in the coming years.
The third state with a medical marijuana ballot initiative, Montana, is a bit different. The State Legislature recently acted to remove parts of a 2004 citizen-approved medical marijuana law. The proposal on the ballot in November asks Montanans to repeal the Legislature’s action and reinstate the law as originally enacted in 2004.
• Recreational marijuana: New York voters should also keep an eye on potentially trend-setting ballots in Colorado, Oregon and Washington state, where marijuana is currently legal for medical purposes. Now, in all three states, propositions to legalize and regulate the use of marijuana for any purpose will be decided by the people. Passage in just one of these states will surely set off a major expansion of the marijuana policy debate nationally and in New York.
Initiative supporters stress the potential benefits of legalizing the drug. In Colorado, Amendment 64 proposes a regulatory system for marijuana, much like that for alcohol products, and promises to reduce law enforcement costs and increase tax revenues.
Initiative Measure 502 in Washington will not only legalize and tax marijuana sales, it will also prohibit driving under the influence of the drug.
The purpose of the Oregon Cannabis Tax Act of 2012, according to its supporters, is to protect children and youths and increase public safety by regulating the sale of cannabis.
State-level ballot initiatives also provide a much-needed means for the people to challenge one-size-fits-all federal policies such as the federal ban on medical marijuana. Seventeen states and the District of Columbia now allow medical uses of marijuana – a direct rebuttal to federal laws that claim marijuana has no medicinal value. And, by inviting the voters into the decision-making process, ballot initiatives become important public education events.
The first state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana will become a closely watched policy experiment.
Ronald Fraser, Ph.D., writes on public policy issues for the DKT Liberty Project.