WASHINGTON, D.C. - Marijuana supporters made a clean sweep Tuesday as voters in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C., approved measures to legalize the drug.
The two states and the District joined Colorado and Washington as places where marijuana use and purchasing are now legal.
Washington had the least competitive result. Pre-election polls showed District voters supporting Initiative 71 by almost a 2 to 1 margin and the measure ultimately passed with 69.4 percent of the vote. Oregon passed its initiative with 54 percent of the vote, and Alaska was headed for passage with 53 percent at 2 A.M. EST.
D.C.’s measure is a decriminalization measure. The local city council still needs to devise and implement a regulatory system before marijuana can be sold and distributed in the city. And the city will still have to wait and see whether Congress chooses to step in and challenge the bill.
The measure will remove any penalty on a person possessing small amounts of marijuana or giving the drug to others in D.C. Earlier this year, D.C.’s city council lowered penalties for the possession of small quantities of cannabis to an infraction with a fine of $25.
In Oregon, legalization passed handily, bringing marijuana to the state that rejected a similar measure in 2012. Passage means that Oregon will likely follow in Colorado’s tax regulation footsteps. It already has developed a fairly tough regulatory system for the drug and plans to tax marijuana at a lower rate than either of its predecessors. The measure also will allow for home growing up to four plants and a non-commercial exchange.
Legalization advocates considered the across-the-board win a resounding success.
“Voters in Oregon, D.C., and what looks to potentially be Alaska have delivered another crippling blow to the war on marijuana consumers,” said Erik Altieri of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “By a strong margin voters in these places rejected the failed policy of prohibition and chose to pursue a new approach to marijuana, one that has so far been successful in Colorado and Washington and will prove successful in these new locations.”
Marijuana wasn’t as successful in the Sunshine State, though.
A ballot measure in Florida that aimed to legalize medical marijuana in the state failed to pass. It generated a 57.6 percent yes vote for Amendment 2, but that was 3 points shy of the 60 percent threshold needed to pass the measure into law.
The state faced extreme opposition from anti-marijuana groups such as Drug Free Florida that raised great sums of money to support their campaigns. Much of the money came from out-of-state backers like Las Vegas Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson.
"While it's disappointing that patients in Florida won't be able to find legal relief with marijuana just yet, tonight's result does show that a clear majority of voters in the sunshine state support a new direction,” said Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority. “We didn't get the 60 percent needed to pass medical marijuana as a constitutional amendment, but patients and their supporters will keep pushing until the law reflects what most voters want.”
The reason why the marijuana legalization movement has picked up speed in the last few is a result of changing public opinion.
“Public opinion is changing—people who really think of marijuana as the devil are dying off and younger people really support the issue,” said John Hudak, a governance fellow at the Brookings Institution. “As people grow up they are supportive of the issue—and even people opposed to it, even they don’t see it as a serious negative —at least no worse than alcohol and tobacco.”
What are the next steps for the legalization movement? Looking to 2016, pro-marijuana groups have their eyes set on California, Massachusetts, Maine and perhaps, one more go, in Florida.