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Marijuana legalization scores big wins in ballot measures across nation

Voters across the country broke drug policy milestones Tuesday, passing ballot measures to grant legal access to recreational marijuana in California and to give Americans in more than half the 50 states access to medical marijuana.

Marijuana legalization was projected to pass in California by the Associated Press, making the state the most populous in the nation to legalize use of the drug. Six years ago, California voters rejected a legalization initiative. In the time since, four states ventured into the legal pot market, approving initiatives to allow the sale and tax of the drug.

With marijuana now legal across the entire West Coast, legalization supporters saw the California victory as a monumental step toward broader drug policy reform. 

“This victory in California ensures another 12 percent of the United States population will wake up tomorrow in a state with the legalized adult use of marijuana,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “Combined with our other recent victories, federal prohibition is truly on its last legs and it is just a matter of time before federal policy is reformed to accept this new reality.”

Massachusetts on Tuesday was also projected by the Associated Press to become the first East Coast state to legalize recreational marijuana. Washington, D.C. previously did away with criminal penalties associated with possession of the drug and allowed residents to grow their own, but the city has not legalized its sale.

“Western states have led the way on legalizing marijuana but the victory in Massachusetts powerfully demonstrates that this movement is now bicoastal and soon to be national,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Indeed, I’d wager that the next states to legalize marijuana will also be in the Northeast – and they’ll be the first in the country to do so through the legislature rather than the ballot box.”

Voters in three other states – Arizona, Maine, and Nevada – also considered legalization this year. Tallies from those states were pending early Wednesday
Legalization wasn’t the only expansion of the marijuana market on Election Night – voters also expanded Americans’ access to medical marijuana. 

Ahead of Tuesday’s election, 25 states had approved medical marijuana programs. But Florida’s approval of an initiative to allow a medical marijuana program tipped the scales so that more than half of the 50 states now offer such medical programs.

The measure passed handily in Florida, with 71 percent support. It allows physicians to approve prescriptions of medical marijuana for patients who suffer from a variety of debilitating diseases – including cancer, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, and epilepsy – as well as for patients who suffer from similar types of ailments. 

Just two years ago, Florida voters rejected a nearly identical measure. 
Medical marijuana proposals were also projected to pass in Arkansas, making it the first state in the Bible Belt to do so, and North Dakota, a surprise to many drug policy reform advocates.

“To be candid, very few people in our movement expected this result, and it happened with almost no coordination or major assistance from national organizations,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “The fact that North Dakotans approved medical cannabis with an effort that was largely off the radar of most political operatives shows that truly any state could be the next to change its marijuana laws.”

The results were still outstanding on a medical marijuana initiative in Montana.

Source: www.washingtontimes.com stories: Politics

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