Who’s Next to Legalize Marijuana in the US?

CANNABIS CULTURE – Now that Justin Trudeau and the Liberals are set to legalize cannabis nationally in Canada, those of us south of your border are feeling a twinge of jealousy.

Your parliamentary system is far quicker to reflect the changing attitudes of the electorate, while our republican system of government (especially with gerrymandering) ensures that our fight to end prohibition will continue at a comparatively glacial pace.

As we look toward 2016, we have another five states with the strong possibility of legalizing cannabis. First up would be Nevada, which is already on the ballot next November. Their initiative is sponsored and written by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has branded their 2016 efforts as “the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol”, or “CRMLA”.

Nevada CRMLA establishes a marijuana market, but severely curtails the right of adults to grow their own cannabis. The Nevada legislature passed a law in 2013 instituting a dispensary system for medical marijuana patients who’ve gone without since 2000, when medical marijuana passed in Nevada. But as a negotiation point, the legislature insisted that any patients who live within 25 miles of a newly-established dispensary would forfeit their right to home grow.

This “25-Mile Halo” rule was something MPP created when they passed a medical marijuana initiative in Arizona in 2010. As their representative explained it, the halo was instituted to ensure the dispensaries are viable and to give them a market (because, you know, selling weed is such a risky business). As it now stands, 97.2 percent of all Arizona residents live within 25 miles of dispensary, effectively making medical home growing illegal there.

Nevada CRMLA institutes the same “25-Mile Halo” for its recreational marijuana market as Arizona has for its medical market. If an adult in Nevada lives within 25 miles of a pot shop, of which there may be at least one per county and up to eighty in Clark County (home of Las Vegas), he or she may not home grow cannabis.

Arizona also has a CRMLA fighting to make the ballot. In this one, MPP did not establish any “25-Mile Halo”. This time, MPP inserted language that allows localities to “restrict the smoking, production, processing or manufacture of marijuana and marijuana products when it is injurious to the environment or otherwise is a nuisance to a considerable number of persons.” The initiative doesn’t define how many people count as “considerable”.

Arizona’s MPP CRMLA faces competition from Arizonans for Mindful Regulation (AMR), which offers greater protection for grow rights and legalizes an ounce of concentrate, compared to CRMLA’s mere 5 grams. But AMR faces the same problem all grassroots and usually-superior marijuana legalization initiatives face – a lack of funding.

Massachusetts has a similar battle, with MPP’s CRMLA facing off against the grassroots Bay State Repeal (BSR). The CRMLA here has no such threats to personal home grow rights – public possession of an ounce, private cultivation of up to 12 plants per household and possession of ten ounces of harvest at home. BSR proposes no limits on personal possession and cultivation and offers better protection for workplace and family rights of cannabis consumers.

In Maine, there was a similar battle between MPP’s CRMLA and a grassroots group called Legalize Maine. But in a shocking twist, Legalize Maine outperformed MPP in the signature gathering phase, leading MPP to fold their campaign and get behind the grassroots effort. Maine would legalize 2.5 ounces of possession, allow cultivation of 6 mature and 12 immature plants per household and possession of the harvest, and would establish marijuana social clubs, subject to local approval.

In addition to these states with the power of initiative, which only 24 US states possess, two other states, Vermont and Rhode Island, are likely to take up the issue of marijuana legalization within their legislatures. Also, Florida and Missouri may make the 2016 ballot with medical marijuana proposals. But no matter how you slice it, the United States of America is going to be a patchwork of marijuana laws for some time to come, ranging from the freedom to smoke weed in the West and Northeast to the guaranteed jail time for weed smoking in the South and Midwest.

Read more articles by Russ Belville on Cannabis Culture.

Russ Belville
Russ Belville

Russ Belville is a long-time cannabis activist, host of "The Russ Belville Show" radio program and a regular contributor to Cannabis Culture.