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On Tuesday, and with little fanfare (maybe that’s because smoke has a hard time wafting down from the Last Frontier to the Lower 48), Alaska became just the third state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana use. Oregon and Washington D.C. also approved recreational marijuana last year, joining Colorado and Washington State, which broke ground in 2012. D.C.’s law will likely go into effect by week’s end. Oregon law won’t change until later this year.
Voters approved the notion by a 52%-48% margin, but left it to lawmakers to work out the kinks in allowing adults to legally partake in the herb in private places. And under the category of can’t smoke ‘em if you don’t got ‘em: it’ll be a while before Alaskans will be making a purchase.
What to expect heading into the next election? Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada might take a run at legalization, as might Mississippi. But the most intriguing study will occur in California. Heres’ why:
1) Legalization will likely be on the Golden State’s November 2016 ballot (bad pun alert: another measure to legalize pot in California, 2010’s Prop 19, went up in smoke).
2) Will three new sets of voters who’ve come of age since the 2010 election turn the tide of opinion?
3) With more than 20 states now permitting marijuana to be prescribed for the sick — and law enforcement doing their best Captain Renault imitation — is legalization just a formal way of California admitting that it’s used to the product by now? (Living as I do in Northern California, I can attest to the “don’t ask/don’t investigate” approach — especially on summer weekends in the Bay Area).
4) The clash of the Democratic titans. California Governor Jerry Brown hates the idea (using words to the effect that “chronic marijuana smoking” and “overachiever adult” aren’t phrases oft-found in the same sentence). California Attorney General Kamala Harris, now an announced candidate for the Senate in 2016, says she has “no moral objection” (gee, that’s decisive). Maybe the most vocal pro-legalization proponent is Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, who’s already running to replace Brown in 2018.
5) Finally, the spin. Pot proponents could try selling it as a revenue enhancer. That’s hardly a novel approach, as we’ve already seen in Colorado. Newsom spins it along the lines of public safety: legalizing marijuana, he believes, will undermine drug dealers.