With pot legalization taking hold in Colorado and Washington after Election Day, marijuana proponents are pushing to make weed legal in New York, Rhode Island, Montana, and a slew of other states. But they'll face stiff resistance from the feds — and ambivalence from growers.
This year, Colorado and Washington become the first states to legalize marijuana completely, joining the 17 states and one federal district where pot can be sold for medical use. Sensing a new momentum in the push for legalization, activists in Montana have filed constitutional initiative proposals to approve recreational use in the state. Efforts are being rehashed in New York's state legislature to legalize medical marijuana (though Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains opposed). The Marijuana Policy Project, a nonprofit dedicated to legalizing weed, is working with state legislators in Rhode Island, Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts to get full legal protection for smokers under state law. And experts say that "there is no doubt" about an initiative appearing on California's ballot to legalize pot "either in 2014 or 2016."
Other states may find legalization compelling after their neighbors decide to regulate pot and reap newfound economic benefits from taxing the drug. That's one of the main reasons why The Oregonian's editorial board is urging lawmakers to legalize after the state's voters shot down a measure similar to Colorado and Washington's earlier this month:
If business booms at Washington's pot shops, as expected? Our neighbor to the north will collect millions of dollars in new "sin" taxes, with much of the money coming from Oregonians who'd be happy to keep their business—and taxes—in state if given the opportunity. Losing out on all that revenue would be a pity.
But if they want to cash in on legalized marijuana, states will have to convince growers that it's in their best interest. Common sense would seem to suggest that growers would favor legalization, but the reality is a bit hazier. Some of the biggest growers operating in this burgeoning semi-legal industry oppose legalization altogether. New York's Benjamin Wallace-Wells recently spent time with growers in Northern California, finding that they tend to have mixed feelings over legalization efforts:
You speculate about whether legalization elsewhere will drive the prices down or create new customers. Your friends are arrested for driving the crop to market. At home, you keep a machete.
After all, even the most liberal legislation at the state level doesn't change the fact that the feds are sticking to their hard-line approach in the war on drugs. "The department's enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged," Justice Department spokesperson Nanda Chitre said just after the election. "In enacting the Controlled Substances Act, Congress determined that marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance."