After Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana last year, 2014 may be the year that accelerates that trend as four more states and the District of Columbia gear-up for their own campaigns to legalize the substance.
A majority of Americans believe marijuana use should be legalized nationwide, according to a CNN/ORC survey
released Tuesday, with 55 percent saying they support legalization compared to 44 percent who believe it should remain illegal.
With the tide of public opinion on their side, supporters of legalization in Alaska, California, Arizona, Oregon and Washington, D.C. are seizing on the mood with voter-driven initiatives that would bypass state legislatures and secure ballot measures for the 2014 elections, according to a report by U.S. News and World Report.
On Wednesday, Alaska's quest to legalize marijuana took a step forward after an advocacy group submitted more than 46,000 signatures to the state election office to push for a voter referendum.
If passed, Alaska would be the third state
to legalize the drug, which would also authorize the opening of recreational marijuana stores.
"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," former Alaska Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Bill Parker, one of the initiative's sponsors, said according to U.S. News.
"We are confident that voters will agree it is time for a more sensible approach that honors the ideals that unite us as Alaskans; protecting personal freedoms and a commitment to personal responsibility."
In California, there may be as many as four ballot measures on the issue, each of which would legalize use of the drug and its sales, but vary in the amount of marijuana residents would be able to grow and possess, according to U.S. News.
One of the initiatives already has 200,000 backers, but will need 500,000 signatures by Feb. 24. Organizers are using about 1000 volunteers and 300 paid canvassers to reach the goal. Though voters in the state rejected a 2010 marijuana legalization measure, recent polls indicate support is on the upswing.
Meanwhile, in Oregon, voters rejected a measure to legalize marijuana in 2012, but activists are working to resurrect the initiative in November either by having state legislators refer a proposal to voters or by generating support for a petition to get a measure on the ballot.
Advocates, however, suggest there's just a "50-50" chance that state legislators would refer a legalization proposal, in which case, Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon, a pro-legalization coalition, told U.S. News, "We're confident we can collect the signatures" before early July.
Grassroots activists in Arizona are also pursuing a voter-driven campaign for legalization, and the group, Safer Arizona, is attempting to gather 300,000 signatures by July 3 to get the issue on the ballot for November, according to U.S. News. To date, however, they only have 30,000 signatures.
Arizona's initiative is unique in that it would set the legal marijuana age at 18 instead of 21. Early polls indicate that if the issue does get on the ballot it will have significant support among voters, U.S. News reports.
Activists in the nation's capital, lead by D.C. Cannabis Campaign, are also hoping to secure a vote on legalization in November. Leaders plan to submit draft ballot language Friday to the city's election board which proposes to legalize possession of two ounces and six plants by adults over 21.
If the draft language is approved, campaigners plan to begin gathering signatures for a petition in late February or early March. Though support for legalization is at 63 percent according to an April survey, it is believed that a decriminalization bill will more likely be successful.
"There's going to be an increase in demand with decriminalization, but there isn't going to be anywhere safe for people to go purchase marijuana," Councilman David Grosso, told U.S. News after he introduced a legalization bill in September.
"They're still going to be on the street corners, we're still going to have problems with violence on the street, with people getting arrested for nonviolent offenses."
Even if referendum is approved by voters in November, Congress has the power to block the legislation and did so for years after city voters approved medical marijuana use, U.S. News reports.
In addition to voter-driven initiatives, legalization bills have also been proposed in at least 13 state legislatures, and some experts suggest 2016 will be the watershed year for legalization, according to U.S. News.
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