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4/20: A Look at Marijuana Reform Advances This Year

With today being the unofficial holiday for cannabis in the United States, it is a good time to look back at the advances the marijuana reform movement has made in the past 365 days.

Popular Opinion – Perhaps the single biggest development for the marijuana legalization movement in the last year is that it finally started winning the war of popular opinion. For the first time in forty years Gallup found more American adults thought marijuana should be legal than illegal. Gallup’s October poll was the first time it found that 50% of Americans thought marijuana should be legal.1969-2011 Trend: Support for Making Use of Marijuana Legal

Legislative front – The movement has scored some solid victories in the state legislatures since the last April 20th. In Vermont. Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed a new law that will permit the creation of medical marijuana dispensaries last June. In Connecticut, Gov. Dannel Malloy (D) signed law that decriminalized possession of a small amount of marijuana last July.

Rescheduling – Another huge development for medical marijuana in the past years is that several sitting governors decided to actively petition the federal government to reschedule marijuana to make medically prescribed marijuana legal under federal law. The petition was filed by Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire (D) and Rhode Island Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I). Since it was started Vermont Gov. Shumlin has also joined the effort.

At the Ballot – Potentially the most important thing to happen for the movement this year for the long term is that marijuana legalization initiatives have qualified for the November ballot in two states. In Washington state Initiative 502 qualified for the ballot in January, and in Colorado Amendment 64 qualified for the ballot in February. In both Washington and Colorado, the initiatives have received support from their respective state Democratic parties. This should not only help the campaign’s appeal to undecided voters but is a sign that the proposal is becoming part of the political mainstream. In addition, the first round of signatures for a medical marijuana initiative was certified in Massachusetts, so it is almost assured to appear on the ballot this November.

The Bad News – The big dark spot in an otherwise solid year has been the Obama administration’s aggressive multi-agency war on medical marijuana. President Obama’s recent behavior on this issue is worse than George W. Bush’s ever was. Federal agencies have even recently targeted the home and business of Richard Lee, a leading marijuana legalization advocate and the primary backer of California’s Proposition 19in 2010. Another unfortunate development is that despite promises to change, the New York City police again set a new record for marijuana arrests, most of whom were minorities.

While at times it appears slow, there is clear and steady progress made to reform America’s illogical and unjust marijuana laws. The next 365 days could be some of the most monumental in the history of the movement. Given that we are experiencing a demographically driven huge swing in popular opinion about marijuana legalization, if voters in one or both states approves legalization this November it could serve as a tipping point for a wave of reforms nationally and internationally in the coming years.

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Jon Walker

Jon Walker

Jonathan Walker grew up in New Jersey. He graduated from Wesleyan University in 2006. He is an expert on politics, health care and drug policy. He is also the author of After Legalization and Cobalt Slave, and a Futurist writer at