By Jeremy Daw
The landslide vote to legalize the adult possession of cannabis in Portland, Maine caught many commentators by surprise. While the ballot initiative, Question 1, polled well, few expected such a blowout victory in an off-year election in state not usually associated with cannabis policy reform.
The good news is that Maine’s largest city will probably not be the only surprise reform victory notched in coming years. Here’s a snapshot of five surprising states which are poised to beat expectations and pass significant cannabis reform by 2016:
Missouri came out of seemingly nowhere to become the surprise hit of the International Drug Policy Reform Conference in Denver last month. The legalization group Show Me Cannabis impressed even seasoned drug policy activists with a surprisingly strong performance to date: through a series of “town hall”-style meetings, the reform group has generated considerable momentum by bucking the common wisdom. Instead of pushing for decriminalization or a medical initiative, the group has pushed for a full-throated adult legalization bill which could go before the voters of the Show Me state as early as the midterm November 2014 election. Initial polling, showing support well over 50%, has taken the national movement by storm; if they can keep up the momentum for another year, Show Me Cannabis may soon be showing the whole world what a small group of concerned and dedicated citizens can accomplish in a very short time.
Arkansas came within inches of shocking the entire world when a ballot initiative to legalize medical marijuana last November won a respectable 49% of the vote. The measure, known as Issue 5, would have notched a hugely symbolic victory as the first medical marijuana reform to come to a southern state. Even though Arkansas’ state legislature adjourned in April without passing any cannabis reform, the Natural State remains poised to once again take up the mantle; in the wake of a major shift in public opinion toward legalizing marijuana in nearly every state of the nation, the next attempt to reform cannabis laws in Arkansas stands a strong chance of succeeding.
UPDATE: According to ASA, a new signature-gathering drive has just begun for the new version of the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act, to be put before voters in 2014. The campaign is hosting a music festival this Saturday, Nov. 9th, from 2pm to 2am, at the Silverado Club in El Dorado, Arkansas.
Kentucky may not represent the forefront of cannabis reform in the minds of most Americans, but historically no other state has ever benefited from a thriving cannabis economy as much as the Bluegrass State, long the heart of America’s industrial hemp economy. Neither the history lesson nor the economic potential of a revitalized economy have been lost on the state’s Senate delegation, with both Senator Rand Paul and Senator Mitch McConnell counting themselves among the community advocating for hemp reform. Indeed, the Kentucky state legislature already passed industrial hemp reform through Senate Bill 50 this summer, and both Sens. Paul and McConnell have been vocal advocates on Capitol Hill for a change in federal law, which is the last obstacle to the legal hemp renaissance waiting in the wings. With an amendment to the federal farm bill authorizing the experimental production of hemp passing the US House in the spring, that renaissance may come more swiftly than most Americans would expect.
Florida failed to pass medical marijuana reform this year when SB 1250, the “Cathy Jordan Medical Cannabis Act” died in committee in the state Senate. So why, then, are activists so hopeful about the Sunshine State? One reason is polling: 70% of voting Floridians (and 56% of Republicans) declared earlier this year that they support medical marijuana laws coming to their home state. Shifting attitudes have already registered at the ballot box, with residents of Miami Beach voting this week to approve a nonbinding resolution in support of medical marijuana. Meanwhile, outreach efforts specializing in reaching Florida’s unique demographics are only now getting started in earnest, between the efforts of groups like the Silver Tour (a senior-led group which aims to spread education on the benefits of medical marijuana for the elderly) and Veterans for Cannabis. If senior citizens, which as a group vote at higher rates than other demographics, can put political pressure on their representatives to allow them to have the medicine they need, then medical marijuana reform may only be a few months around the corner.
Texas may be the last state anyone ever thinks of to pass major drug reform, but in fact the Lone Star State has already done just that. Through a somewhat obscure parallel “drug court” system which operates alongside the traditional punitive measures which make the state famous, the Texan judicial system has so effectively reduced the prison population that the state closed an entire prison for the first time in its 150-year history in 2012. In fact, the program’s focus on drug addiction treatment over punitive prohibition as been so effective at reducing the state’s prison population (and the large tax bill which accompanies it) that more reform may be just around the corner. Although HB 594, a bill which would have provided an “affirmative defense” to Texans caught with marijuana who can show a legitimate medical need for it, failed to advance out of committee in the last legislative session, it’s clear that Texan voters demand a return of the debate over marijuana policy. Perhaps that is why Miriam Martinez, a Republican candidate for Texas governor, has announced her support for both decriminalization and medical marijuana reform. It is a classic case of the politicians following the people. According to a poll commissioned by the Marijuana Policy Project this year, a surprising 58% of Texans support taxing and regulating marijuana in a way similar to alcohol. The results confirm a truism about Texas politics which many nationwide find surprising: although the state’s residents love punitive justice, they love their cherished liberties and low taxes even more.