Amid the slew of Republican victories in yesterday's midterm elections, another big winner emerged: weed! In Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., voters decided to legalize pot for recreational use, joining the Coloradans and Washingtonians who legalized in 2012. Here's how.
How it happened: John Kitzhaber, Oregon's newly-reelected Democratic governor, and Dennis Richardson, his Republican challenger, both opposed legalization. Fortunately for pot-smokers, it wasn't up to those guys. The state's voters, possibly under the influence of a contact high from their neighbors to the north, voted Ballot Measure 91 in with about 54 percent support, according to early returns. Oregon has always had a fairly liberal attitude toward pot: in 1973, it became the first state in the U.S. to decriminalize, and in 1998 it legalized the home growing, possession, and use of medical marijuana.
How to smoke weed in Oregon: Anyone 21 and over will legally be able to smoke weed, possess up to a staggering eight ounces—eight times the limit in Washington and Colorado, or several hundred dime bags—and grow up to four plants in their homes. In Oregon, like Washington, the state liquor authority will regulate the pot industry, which will include growers, processors, wholesalers, and retail shops. Smoking in public places like parks and sidewalks will remain illegal, so keep it inside your house. The law does not take effect until July 1 of next year, and until then current rules remain enforceable.
How it happened: Alaskans, like Oregonians, legalized via a ballot initiative—Ballot Measure 2—deciding 52 percent in favor and 48 against. Also like Oregon, the state is historically liberal about pot: Alaskans decriminalized possession in the 1970s, approved medical marijuana for a host of conditions in 1998, and voted unsuccessfully for full legalization in 2000 and 2004. The state, you may recall, is also home to Charlo Greene, the pot-supporting local news reporter whose on-air resignation lit up the internet for a few days back in September.
How to smoke weed in Alaska: Smokers 21 and over will have to wait until ninety days after the law is certified—probably later this month—before it takes effect. Then, they'll be able possess up to one ounce and grow up to six plants in their homes, three of which may be flowering at a time. Buying weed in stores will take a little longer: the state has nine months to draft up rules for businesses, which will include growers, extract manufacturers, testing sites, and retailers, and will be regulated by the state liquor authority. However, Alaska's legislature has the power to create an independent marijuana control board, like the one Colorado has, if it chooses to do so. Smoking in public will remain prohibited, punishable by a $100 fine.
How it happened: The road to legalization in our nation's capital has been complicated. Despite big support from voters—65 percent voted "yes"—it may not happen at all, but we'll get to that in a minute. Eighty percent of D.C. residents said they supported legalization or decriminalization in a January 2014 poll, and in March, mayor Vincent Gray signed a bill reducing punishment for possession to a $25 fine. Congress, however, retains a feudal control of the District's government, and in June, Republican Maryland Rep. Andy Harris attempted to stymie the decriminalization effort. Fortunately, that went nowhere.
How to smoke weed in D.C.: If Initiative 71 is allowed to become law—and that's a considerable if—D.C. residents 21 or older will be legally allowed to purchase and possess up to two ounces of pot and grow up to six plants in their homes. Paradoxically, it will not legalize the sale of cannabis, leaving residents in the curious position of being allowed to buy and smoke pot but having no one to buy it from. This will manifest itself in a black market that remains essentially unchanged, except cops will be able to arrest the sellers, but not the buyers. Recognizing how silly that is—and a missed opportunity for tax revenue—D.C. City Council may eventually pass a law allowing pot businesses to operate.
And about that if: Just like Congressional Republicans tried to stop decriminalization from coming to D.C., they'll likely try to stop legalization as well. All D.C. laws are subject to a 30-day Congressional review period, during which time they may be overturned or amended in ways that prevent them from taking any real effect. Andy Harris, the guy who led the House charge against decriminalization, vowed to do the same for Initiative 71.
But legalization supporters have one Barack Obama on their side. In response to Harris' decriminalization amendment, the White House issued a statement in strong opposition to language "preventing the District from using its own local funds to carry out locally-passed marijuana policies," calling decriminalization a "states' rights" issue that Congress shouldn't tamper with. The decriminalization bill ended up passing despite Harris' best efforts, but now that Republicans control both houses, legalization might meet a different fate.
[Image via AP]