By my estimation, Congress has held only five hearings on marijuana policy in the 20 years I’ve worked to end marijuana prohibition in Washington, D.C. I testified at two of these hearings, which former Congressman Mark Souder (R-Indiana) largely staged as forums for he and I to do battle with each other.
The fifth hearing, held Tuesday by the Senate Judiciary Committee, was the most important, because it marked a new high-water mark for the movement to regulate marijuana like alcohol in the U.S.
Just 12 days after the U.S. Justice Department announced that it wouldn’t challenge Colorado’s and Washington’s new laws that regulate marijuana like alcohol, Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Connecticut), and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-Rhode Island) indicated that they agree with DOJ’s position. And two key witnesses representing the governors of Colorado and Washington also agreed.
And the American people also agree: According to a Gallup poll in November 2012, 64 percent of American adults believe “the federal government should not take steps to enforce federal anti-marijuana laws in states where marijuana use is legal.”
So now that the public, the U.S. Justice Department, a fair number of U.S. senators, and state government officials are in happy alignment, what’s the plan for actually ending marijuana prohibition?
To mark the significance of the Senate hearing, the largest marijuana-policy-reform organization in the country, the Marijuana Policy Project –of which I am executive director — unveiled its “five plus five” plan.
We’re launching a major campaign to pass at least five statewide ballot initiatives from 2014 to 2016, while simultaneously passing bills through at least five state legislatures between 2014 and 2017. All ten measures will be similar to the new Colorado law, which will soon allow adults 21 and older to buy marijuana in establishments that operate similarly to liquor stores.
The first of the five initiative states will be Alaska, which will vote on a legalization measure during the August 2014 primary election.
The next four initiative states will be Arizona, California, Maine, and Nevada, with all four states voting on marijuana in November 2016 — the same day as the presidential election.
More than 50 percent of voters support legalization in four of these five states, and Maine is hovering at around 50 percent. As such, we expect to win in all five states.