Who's Next? Liberalization of marijuana laws not likely to stop with Washington

  • Article by: JONATHAN J. COOPER , Associated Press
  • Updated: July 8, 2014 - 8:40 AM

SALEM, Ore. — Advocates seeking more lenient marijuana laws have no intention of stopping with Colorado and Washington. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have allowed marijuana for medicinal purposes, and more could follow. Here's a look at five of the states that may be welcoming more permissive marijuana laws in the near future:

ALASKA (legalization)

Alaska may seem like an unlikely place to follow the lead of liberals in Colorado and Washington, but the state's libertarian electorate may provide a good look at how a different breed of voters will respond to marijuana legalization.

It's early, but proponents have a big head start on fundraising and organization, led by the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C.

Marijuana legalization failed in Alaska in 2000 and 2004, but advocates say the landscape has changed markedly since then.

If the measure is approved, adults could use marijuana legally and purchase it at state-licensed stores, but use in public would still be illegal.

OREGON (legalization)

Oregonians rejected legalization just two years ago but are all but certain to have a chance to reconsider this November.

State elections officials haven't yet validated the signatures turned in last week, but advocates submitted far more than they needed.

Oregon has long been on the leading edge of the decades-long push to loosen marijuana laws. It was the first state to decriminalize small-scale marijuana possession in 1973 — a step that's been taken in more than a dozen other states. Marijuana use remains illegal, but possession of a small amount of the drug is punished with a citation and fine rather than a criminal charge. Oregon was also among the first states to approve medical marijuana.

Unlike Oregon's 2012 effort, the team behind the current initiative has strong backing from many of the groups and individuals who helped bankroll the successful campaigns in Colorado and Washington.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (legalization)

The D.C. Cannabis Campaign says the group submitted 55,000 signatures for a legalization initiative on Monday — twice the number required to put the issue before voters.

The measure would allow possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in the nation's capital.

But the effort could be frustrated by Congress, which reviews all new laws in the District and has moved to block its other recent efforts to ease up on marijuana laws. Last month, the Republican-controlled House took a big step toward blocking a decriminalization bill passed by city lawmakers. That measure would make marijuana possession a civil offense subject to a $25 fine, one of the lowest in the nation.

Congress used a similar amendment to block the District from implementing its medical marijuana program for 10 years.

FLORIDA (medical)

The push for more liberal marijuana laws is not limited to full legalization of the drug. Florida voters will be deciding whether to allow the drug for medicinal use.

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