This article was written in collaboration with AlterNet and originally appeared here.
Marijuana prohibition in the US is dying, but it isn’t going to vanish in one fell swoop. Even if Congress were to repeal federal pot prohibition, state laws criminalizing the plant and its users would still be in effect—at least in some states.
Meet the most bud-unfriendly states. (wikimedia.org)
And it’s probably a pretty safe bet that Congress isn’t going to act until a good number of states, maybe more than half, have already legalized it. That process is already underway and is likely to gather real momentum by the time election day 2016 is over.
Colorado and Washington led the way in 2012, followed by Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, last year. California, where one out of every eight Americans lives, is very likely to go green in 2016 via the initiative process, and so are a handful of other states, including Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada. Longer shots next year (or even this year, in Ohio’s case) are Arizona, Michigan, Missouri, and Ohio.
But just as the end of federal alcohol prohibition in 1933 didn’t mean the end of state-level prohibition—Mississippi didn’t end it until 1966, you couldn’t drink in a bar in Kansas until 1987, and dry counties remain in a number of states—ending federal marijuana prohibition isn’t going to magically make it legal everywhere.
There are two critical factors to consider in assessing how likely a state is to get around to freeing the weed: public opinion and access to non-legislative (read: initiative and referendum) political remedies.
Opinion polls consistently show stronger support for legalization in the West and the Northeast than in the Midwest and the South. But barring access to the initiative process—which only half the states have—means that even in states where public opinion strongly favors legalization, residents are going to be beholden to the legislature to get it done. Note that so far, every state that has legalized it has done it through the initiative process. That could change this year, but it seems unlikely at this point.
But even having the initiative process isn’t going to help if popular support is lacking. That’s why some states make the list even though they have the initiative process. And even having public opinion on your side isn’t going to guarantee victory in the legislature, …Read More