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As Goes Colorado, So Goes the Nation?

Posted on Jan 5, 2014
JMazzolaa (CC BY-SA 2.0)

A sign at legalization rally in New York City.

Andrew Cuomo, the governor of New York who has opposed any relaxation of anti-pot laws in his state, reportedly now backs limited use by medical patients, more evidence of a national thaw in attitudes since Colorado, most notably, and Washington state legalized marijuana.

To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia allow marijuana use in some circumstances, but only Colorado and Washington allow its recreational use—despite federal laws that continue to list pot as a controlled substance.

Expanding the relaxation of pot laws in New York could be a significant signpost in broader legalization of marijuana, given the state and the city’s role in determining what the national media cover. From Saturday’s New York Times:

Mr. Cuomo’s plan will be far more restrictive than the laws in Colorado or California, where medical marijuana is available to people with conditions as mild as backaches. It will allow just 20 hospitals across the state to prescribe marijuana to patients with cancer, glaucoma or other diseases that meet standards to be set by the New York State Department of Health.

While Mr. Cuomo’s measure falls well short of full legalization, it nonetheless moves New York, long one of the nation’s most punitive states for those caught using or dealing drugs, a significant step closer to policies being embraced by marijuana advocates and lawmakers elsewhere.

New York hopes to have the infrastructure in place this year to begin dispensing medical marijuana, although it is too soon to say when it will actually be available to patients.

The Times piece makes it seem like Cuomo is just trying to keep up with potential political rivals—Gov. Chris Christie signed a relaxation of New Jersey laws, and since his election as mayor, Bill de Blasio is the only Democrat New Yorkers seem to be talking about lately.

But the change in stance also reflects popular attitudes toward legalization. A recent Gallup poll found that 58 percent of Americans support legalization in some form, and California, which already allows medical use, may face a ballot initiative to have the state join Colorado and Washington in allowing recreational use. In fact, local and state governments are flooding to the pro-pot side, according to CNN:

In November, Portland, Maine, followed Washington and Colorado’s lead and legalized recreational use of the drug, while the Michigan cities of Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale resoundingly voted to let people older than 21 possess an ounce of marijuana on private property.

“We’re going to set an example for the rest of the nation and the rest of the world,” said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, the Washington, D.C.-based group that was the largest financial backer of the Colorado effort.

Tvert challenged media accounts that described Colorado’s new pot law as an experiment.

“In fact, the experiment was marijuana prohibition, and that experiment failed,” he said.

Advocates are pushing for recreational marijuana laws in Alaska, which could become the third state with such laws, Tvert said. And a campaign could start in Oregon this year or in 2016. In addition, pro-recreational marijuana Initiatives are expected in six other states in 2016: Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada, according to Tvert.

The Governing website has put together a map here of all the states and their openness to marijuana, a map, apparently, that will soon need updating. Once the smoke clears, of course. Now pass the snack chips, please. Kind of hungry all of a sudden.

—Posted by Scott Martelle.



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