From 'no' to 'yes,' how Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana
A day many thought they would never see has come and gone. In November, after years of, 'Just say no,' Colorado and Washington state both voted to legalize small amounts of marijuana for adults over 21.
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Colorado's measure didn't have the big-name endorsements that Washington's did, but the state had other things going for it. For one, it already had the most highly regulated medical marijuana market in the country. There, organizers were careful to appear before news cameras in suits and ties. Ads featured middle-aged women, or schoolchildren who could benefit from marijuana taxes.Skip to next paragraph
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Opponents tried to fight back, mounting a $543,000 campaign in Colorado, with backing from a Florida-based anti-drug group and an evangelical Christian group.
In Washington, a small group from the medical marijuana community raised $6,800 to oppose I-502. They criticized the DUI standard as arbitrarily strict and said the measure didn't go far enough because it wouldn't allow home-growing.
Instead, Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy adviser, served as a counterpoint to the legalization campaigns. The ills of prohibition — the racial disparities in who gets busted, the lifelong consequences of a conviction for landing jobs or student loans — could be solved without legalization, which would increase the availability of marijuana for teens who are most susceptible to becoming addicted, he contended.
Yet such arguments found little support.
"When you hammer away at that message, saying we can save education and make better use of police resources and get rid of cartels, and there's nothing to oppose that, that sounds sensible to people who aren't hearing the other side," Sabet says.
On Nov. 6, I-502 passed with nearly 56 percent. Colorado's Amendment 64, which allows home-growing and does not include a drunken driving standard, passed with 55 percent.
Oregon's Measure 80 ultimately failed. But even with little campaigning behind it, that proposal got nearly 47 percent of the vote.
As they await word about whether the Justice Department will try to block the measures from taking effect, national drug-law reform groups are salivating over their chances in 2014 and 2016.
"Something is happening, and it's not just happening in Washington and Colorado," says Andy Ko, who leads the Campaign for a New Drug Policy at Open Society Foundations. "Marijuana reform is going to happen in this country as older voters fade away and younger voters show up. Legislators see this as something safe to legislate around.
"They see the writing on the wall."
Johnson can be reached at https://twitter.com/GeneAPseattle
Kristen Wyatt contributed from Denver