Portland, OR – “Marijuana use is a serious, expensive and persistent challenge in our society. And it’s time for a new approach,” notorious travel host Rick Steves said in an op-ed he wrote for the Oregonian. He is putting his name and clout as a well-known public television host and produces behind Measure 91, a law that would make Oregon the next state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.
Alaska and Washington D.C. also have initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use, meaning this we’ll get a clearer picture of how Americans feel about recreational marijuana as millions of people cast their votes.
In Oregon, Measure 91 would make it legal for adults over the age of 21 to legally purchase marijuana for recreational use. That means no one will go to jail for partaking in the most widely used illicit drug in the U.S., which is no more dangerous than alcohol or prescription drugs.
“Measure 91 is not pro-marijuana. Rather, it’s anti-prohibition,” Steves said in his op-ed. “I believe that, like the laws that criminalized alcohol back in the 1930s, our current laws against marijuana use are causing more harm to our society than the drug itself.”
According to the Drug Policy Alliance, 749, 825 people were arrested from marijuana law violations in 2012. Eighty-eight percent of those arrests were for possession only, not selling or trafficking, just simple possession. Sadly, even though whites consume and sell pot at the same rates as African-Americans and Hispanics, they are incarcerated at a much lower rate. Sixty-one percent of Americans incarcerated for drug offenses are black or Latino.
Marijuana prohibition may a boon for law enforcement agencies and private prison companies, but for the accused, a drug conviction, even an arrest, will adversely affect them in the present and the future. Retaining a criminal defense attorney can temper the consequences, but many people shouldn’t even have to fight that battle.
Like in Washington State and Colorado, if the measures pass in Alaska, Oregon and Washington D.C., it could be a windfall in tax revenue. As of early June 18th, according to the Huffington Post, Colorado collected $18.9 million in taxes from the sales of recreational marijuana alone, that doesn’t account for the increased revenue from marijuana tourism. That’s huge chunk of cash to add to the state coffers, making the notion of recreational marijuana more palatable to the naysayers.
Voters in Florida will also have a choice to make this fall. If voters say “Yes” on Amendment 2, the state would be the first in the South to approve medical marijuana. Support for medical marijuana in the state has slipped but, advocates are still hopeful it will pass. If it does, it could break the medical pot impasse on the South.
Fortunately, even though some states are reluctant to legalize medical or recreational marijuana, more and more cities are moving towards decriminalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana. This doesn’t mean criminal defense attorneys knowledgeable about marijuana policy won’t be need, it just means less people will spend time in jail for a very minor offense.