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As feds acquiesce on marijuana, might the South legalize? (+video)

Now that the Department of Justice has said it won’t interfere with state regulation of cannabis in Washington and Colorado, a number of other states are moving forward with legalization plans. Will that include the socially conservative South?

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More critically, the South is one of the country’s premier pot growing grounds, with Kentucky and Tennessee surpassing northern California in marijuana tonnage each harvest. Evidence also suggests that it’s used recreationally as much in the South as in other corners of the country. There’s even references to it in country songs. “Ain’t never too early to light one up,” singer Lee Brice croons in “Parking Lot Party.”

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And as with all things Southern, history weighs heavy on the pot issue.

While Southerners like George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp, a non-psychoactive cannabis plant, it was also a North Carolina Congressman, Robert “Farmer Bob” Doughton, who gave rise to the “reefer madness” movement and introduced the Marijuana Stamp Act of 1937 in Congress, which planted a seed that grew into the War on Drugs.

Yet on the other side of that prohibitionist coin operated a guerilla homegrown movement that also fed into what’s become the West Coast’s pot cultivation empire, suggests blogger “Southern Ohioan.”

“Generations of growers of east Kentucky, east Tennessee, extreme southern Ohio, West Virginia, eastern Virginia, western NC, northwest SC, northern Georgia and northern Alabama taught the hippies in the 60s, the Deadheads of northern California, how to cross breed,” he writes. “They learned [to grow pot] from Southerners.”

So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have passed medical marijuana laws, which allow the drug to be prescribed by a doctor and sold at dispensaries. Two – Colorado and Washington – have approved regulatory schemes that legalize private recreational use.

While New Hampshire joined the list of medical marijuana states last year, voters in Arkansas declined by a narrow margin. Organizers in Arkansas vow to come back with a ballot measure in 2014. Interestingly, over 100,000 more Arkansas voters cast ballots in support of medical pot than voted for Barack Obama in 2012.

For some, pot legalization in Texas, where the movie “Dazed and Confused” was filmed, seems a non-starter.

“Lots of changes would happen in Texas if everyone was getting high,” writes Nora Schreiber on KNUE.com, a Texas radio station. “Who knows what would really go on, but we can rest knowing that this … will not happen within our life time.”

Other polls suggest a shift in attitudes among at least some Southerners. Public Policy Polling showed earlier this year that 58 percent of North Carolinians, a solid majority, support medical marijuana. The same polling firm found a similar majority in West Virginia.

Texas, meanwhile, is home to the US Marijuana Party, and the South Texas College of Law will this fall offer a marijuana policy class aimed at helping states set up marijuana regulations.

So far, medical marijuana bills introduced in Southern states have all failed in legislative committees.

But that doesn’t faze pro-pot supporters like former US border agent Jamie Haase, who writes on the Daily Chronic website that “it’s inevitable that legalization will eventually make its way to the South.”

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