Pubdate: Fri, 27 Feb 2015
Source: USA Today (US)
Copyright: 2015 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc
Author: Trevor Hughes


The District of Columbia has joined an exclusive American club: 
Residents of the nation's capital can now legally grow and consume 
recreational marijuana in their homes.

Some members of Congress are threatening to intervene. But as of 
Thursday the District had joined Colorado, Alaska and Washington 
state in permitting the general public to use marijuana. While 
Colorado and Washington are reaping the tax benefits of a regulated 
industry with hundreds of retail stores, D.C. residents must either 
grow their own or get it for free.

That lack of stores is a major difference setting the District apart 
from Colorado and Washington, which have stores up and running, and 
Alaska, which envisions retail outlets opening by early 2016. But it 
is by no means the only significant difference among the states that 
have legalized pot for either recreational or medical reasons.

"When we said regulate marijuana like alcohol, this is what we 
meant," said Mason Tvert of the Marijuana Policy Project, which 
worked on legalization efforts in Colorado and Alaska. "Different 
states have chosen to regulate alcohol in different ways, and we're 
seeing the same thing taking place with marijuana. And that's how it 
should be."

Frequent travelers know the nation has retained a patchwork of 
alcohol-sales laws even though Prohibition ended in 1933. Try buying 
liquor in a Colorado grocery store or alcohol of any kind in Searcy, Ark.

The patchwork of alcohol and marijuana laws reflects that the United 
States is an "is" and an "are," depending on the context. While the 
federal government sets broad national policy, individual states, 
counties and cities retain significant powers. Those freedoms are 
reflected in places like White County in Arkansas, home of Searcy, 
which has remained a dry county since Prohibition, and Colorado 
Springs, Colorado's second-largest city, which has entirely banned 
recreational marijuana sales.

In fact, despite recreational marijuana legalization in multiple 
states, hundreds of communities have chosen to ban sales. That's 
because legalization in Colorado, Washington and Alaska allows 
consumption and sales but doesn't require it.

The sometimes-subtle differences between legalized states, D.C. and 
the rest of the country reflect the fact that lawmakers have not 
approved the recreational marijuana laws. Instead, legalization has 
been achieved entirely at the ballot box by advocates making end-runs 
around legislatures and Congress.

"With the voter initiatives, we get to write the law we think will 
work the best and get approved," said Tom Angell of the Marijuana 
Majority. "But on the other hand, the legislative process allows you 
to identify shortcomings, to have a back and forth, to tweak things 
and to get it right."

The initiative process means legalization advocates write their 
proposed laws specifically to appeal to voters. In Colorado, for 
instance, the law calls for up to $40 million annually in marijuana 
taxes to be dedicated to school construction. But Alaska's law 
doesn't set out any specific destination for the taxes in a state 
that's already sitting on a $53 billion Permanent Fund generated by 
mineral royalties.

"Every program is an experiment in what will work with that state," 
said Karmen Hansen of the National Conference of State Legislatures. 
"It's really not that different than any other policy decision. It's 
just different because we're not used to it. It's a new topic." 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom