Ballot measures to legalize marijuana either for medical or general adult use in eight states this fall provide opportunities to take significant steps toward nullifying federal prohibition in effect.
A handful of states will consider full legalization of cannabis for adults over 21, while others will consider legalizing marijuana for medical use. According to Ballotpedia, this is the largest number of states that have considered nullifying marijuana prohibition in a single election cycle. The ballot measures for this fall are as follows.
Marijuana legalization proponents have a 2nd chance to get the job done in California. Proposition 64, the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act,” was approved for the ballot this November. If passed, the state would tax and regulate recreational cannabis in a similar manner as alcohol. Individuals aged 21 or older could possess and grow small amounts of marijuana. It would mandate a state excise tax of 15 percent on retail marijuana sales with additional state cultivation taxes of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves. Additional provisions contained within the referendum include the possible expungement of the criminal records of prior marijuana offenders and banning the direct marketing of marijuana products to minors. More information about the ballot initiative can be found at yeson64.org.
Although North Dakota is not quite ready to broach the issue of recreational cannabis, voters do have the opportunity to legalize the plant for medicinal use this year. Initiated Statutory Measure 5, the “North Dakota Compassionate Care Act” will be put to the voters in November. If approved, it would allow individuals suffering from “debilitating medical conditions, such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma, and epilepsy” to access up to three ounces of medical marijuana at a particular time. The North Dakota Department of Health would be tasked with administrating a registry of patients and regulating the new medical marijuana program. More information about the ballot initiative can be found at the Facebook page for North Dakotans for Compassionate Care.
In November, Nevada voters will consider Question 2, the “Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana,” to make it legal for individuals aged 21 and above to possess up to one ounce of cannabis. If approved, the measure will enact a 15 percent excise tax on wholesale marijuana sales as well as applying the already existing sales tax onto retail marijuana sales. Tax revenues would go to support the public educational system. Local governments would have the ability to zone marijuana facilities, and retail shops would be forbidden to operate near schools, child care centers, churches and other special community facilities. For more information, visit regulatemarijuanainnevada.org.
Massachusetts is trying to follow in the footsteps of states like Colorado and Oregon, and fully legalize recreational cannabis in 2016. The ballot initiative that would completely nullify marijuana prohibition in the Bay State. Question 4 will be put to the voters in November, and it would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in a similar manner as alcohol. Individuals aged 21 and above could possess up to ten ounces of recreational cannabis under this proposal. The state sales tax would be applied to retail marijuana sales along with an additional excise tax of 3.75 percent. Municipalities would be allowed to zone marijuana shops to their specifications, and regulations would be written and enforced by a Cannabis Control Commission created by the state Treasurer. More information about Question 4 can be found at regulatemassachusetts.org.
Maine is another state that is considering full-blown legalization in the general election this year. Maine voters will have the opportunity to approve Question 1 in November, which would legalize, tax and regulate marijuana in a similar manner as alcohol. It would allow individuals to grow, use and transfer marijuana if they are aged 21 or older. Qualifying individuals would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces of usable cannabis products and grow up to six mature, flowering cannabis plants. A sales tax would be levied of 10 percent upon retail marijuana and retail marijuana products. Individuals caught smoking in public would be subject to fines up to $100 dollars. The state Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry would be responsible for administrating rules and regulations regarding the plant. For more information, visit regulatemaine.org.
Yet again, Florida will have a chance to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 2016. After a similar measure failed by a heartbreakingly slim margin in 2014, cannabis freedom activists have re-doubled their efforts, and those efforts could pay off in November. If approved by 60 percent of the voters, Amendment 2 would alter the Florida state constitution to permit the usage of medical marijuana for patients suffering from “cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” For additional information on Amendment 2, please visit unitedforcare.org.
The state of Arkansas is also looking to legalize medical marijuana in 2016. The Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act will be on the ballot for the November general election. If enacted, it would allow patients with a wide variety of ailments including AIDS, HIV, cancer, anorexia, autism, chronic insomnia, and many more to access medical marijuana. Qualifying patients would be allowed to possess 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana, and they would be able to designate a caregiver to grow plants on their behalf as well. Caregivers are not permitted to possess more than 10 flowering plants, and 2.5 ounces of usable marijuana. Nonprofit Cannabis Care Centers would be established to dispense the marijuana as well. The state Department of Health would oversee the entire program. For more information, visit arcompassion.com.
The final state looking to nullify federal marijuana prohibition is Arizona. The Grand Canyon State is set to fully legalize the plant in 2016. Proposition 205, the “Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative,” would allow individuals aged 21 or above to possess recreational cannabis. Additionally, it would create a 15 percent tax on retail marijuana sales with the proceeds going to public health and education funding. A state Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control would be created to regulate the new recreational marijuana program. In addition, local governmental agencies would have the autonomy to regulate and limit marijuana businesses to their liking. For more information on Prop. 205, feel free to visit regulatemarijuanainarizona.org.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Legalization of marijuana in these eight states would remove yet another layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of cannabis, but federal prohibition would remain in place.
Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
While successful state referendums would not alter federal law, it would take a step toward nullifying in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By essentially ending state prohibition, these eight states could essentially sweeps away part of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
These eight states could join a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and more than two-dozen states now allow cannabis for medical use. With half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically nullifying the ban.
“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” Tenth Amendment Center founder and executive director Michael Boldin said.
Mike Maharrey contributed to this report.