Marijuana Legalization on this Year’s Ballot

Six states have marijuana legalization referendum questions on the ballot in this year’s election. Philip Smith has a good summary of them on the Stop the Drug War website [HT: Tom Angell]. Colorado, Oregon, and Washington will vote on initiatives to legalize marijuana generally, though all three would impose fairly extensive regulation on the new marijuana market. I wrote about Colorado’s Question 64 in this post. Arkansas, Massachusetts, and Montana will be voting on the legalization of medical marijuana only.

None of these six initiatives go as far as I and many other opponents of the War on Drugs would ideally want. But, if they pass, all would be noteworthy improvements over the status quo, especially the three that would legalize marijuana generally.

State-level initiatives obviously cannot repeal federal laws banning marijuana. But they can make enforcement of federal law more difficult by withdrawing state support for it, and also help create political momentum that could eventually lead to repeal of the federal law. Both public and elite support for drug legalization has grown in recent years, with support for the legalization of marijuana hitting 50% for the first time last year. If all or most of these initiatives prevail, it could strengthen the political momentum of legalization and help promote additional reform at both the state and federal level.

Much of the remaining political opposition to drug legalization comes from political conservatives, who polls show are far more likely to support the War on Drugs than liberals and moderates. I summarized the conservative case for legalization here. Skeptical conservatives may also want to check out William F. Buckley’s important 1996 article on the subject.