While the battle to control Congress is getting most of the pre-election ink, voters in several states will also be deciding how to handle the touchy issue of marijuana's legal status. Fourteen states already have medical marijuana laws on the books, and more are likely to vote in doctor-approved pot use this year or in 2012. (Click here to read The Week's latest coverage: "Will California's Proposition 19 pass?") Here are six states that could take a major step down the path toward decriminalization — or even legalization — on Nov. 2:
Passage of Proposition 19 by Golden State voters would create by far the most permissive marijuana law in the nation. The ballot measure would legalize — at the state and local level, anyway — recreational amounts of marijuana and allow local goverments to tax and regulate sales of the drug. The contentious battle over Prop 19 is creating some strange political dynamics, says NPR's Mandalit del Barco. For instance, many growers and "stoners" are opposed to the new taxes and government oversight, while some cops and mothers' groups support Prop 19 as a way to take profits out of the hands of drug dealers and Mexican cartels. None of that may matter, says Nate Silver in The New York Times, since support for the measure appears to be "going up in smoke" as the election nears. Today it stands no better than a 50-50 chance of passing.
More than one in every 100 Oregonians already smokes marijuana legally for medical purposes, and Measure 74 would let them purchase their pot from state-licensed growers and nonprofit retailers, called dispensaries. (Under current law, card-carrying smokers have to grow their own marijuana, or designate someone to grow it for them.) The problem with the measure, says The Portland Mercury in an editorial, is it has no regulation mechanism to assure "all pot is safe and legal," as with other medicines. Oregon should learn from the mistakes in California and Colorado, "and do ours better." But Oregon has already taken "the main step" of legalizing medical marijuana, says the Albany, Ore., Democrat-Herald in an editorial, and "if something is legal to use — such as liquor and tobacco — it's not unreasonable to authorize places where it may be sold."
Proposition 203 would allow Arizonans with a host of diseases to possess up to 2.5 ounces of pot with a doctor's recommendation. They would be allowed to buy medical marijuana from nonprofit, state-licensed dispensaries, or grow it themselves if the nearest outlet is more than 25 miles away. "Opponents worry it will bring more crime, substance abuse, and corruption to our state," says Lori Jane Gliha at ABC News 15. But with polls showing it the most popular measure on the ballot, with 54 percent support, "we'll go out on a limb and say [it] will probably pass" anyway, says Ray Stern in the Phoenix New Times.
Measure 13 is a do-over for South Dakota medical-marijuana proponents, after a similar measure in 2006 fell short by about 15,000 votes, or 4 percentage points. Activists "think they can get over the top this time around," says Phillip Smith in Drug War Chronicle, with restrictions carefully tailored "to win over a skeptical and conservative prairie electorate" — to wit, the proposed law limits people with specific conditions to 1 ounce and only upon the recommendation of a doctor with whom they have "bona fide relationship." But not all skeptics are convinced: "I just think it's a total scam being done by people interested in legalizing marijuana," says Yankton County, S.D., Sheriff Dave Hunhoff. "If they want to legalize marijuana ... they should just stand up and use that argument."
The Democratic candidate for governor of the Green Mountain State, Peter Shumlin, publicly advocates the decriminalization of marijuana, says Ron Kampia in The Huffington Post. And if he beats Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie (R), who is "ultra-hostile to decriminalization," Vermont — which already has a medical-marijuana law — "has a good chance of decriminalizing the possession of marijuana," too. But Shumlin can't count on getting every pro-pot vote, says Brad Sylvester in Yahoo News, since he's also facing Liberty Union candidate Ben Mitchell, whose platform calls for making Vermont into the "Amsterdam of the U.S."
In November, 73 Massachusetts towns and cities will vote on a nonbinding ballot measure instructing state lawmakers "to vote in favor of legislation that would allow the state to regulate the taxation, cultivation, and sale of marijuana to adults" — in short, to legalize pot. Although only 13 percent of the state's voters will see the ballot initiative, its sponsor, the Massachusetts Cannabis Reform Coalition, says majority approval would lay the foundation for a statewide, binding ballot measure in 2012. State voters have already approved decriminalization, says Michael Cutler in Wicked Local, and "the sky hasn't fallen." Full legalization would better limit access to the drug and raise revenue.