Pubdate: Wed, 23 Sep 2015
Source: Summit Daily News (CO)
Copyright: 2015 Summit Daily News
Author: Greg Ellison


Marijuana legalization may not be one of the top issues being 
discussed among Republican and Democratic presidential candidates for 
the 2016 election, but the fact it's being discussed at all is unprecedented.

Despite poll numbers showing a majority of Americans support 
decriminalizing cannabis, some candidates have come out strongly 
against it. New Jersey Governor and GOP presidential hopeful Chris 
Christie, in particular, has expressed publicly that he would "crack 
down" on states that have legalized marijuana.

Could a prohibitionist president reverse the progress marijuana 
advocates have championed in Colorado and other states?

Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy 
Project, said the scenario is unlikely. Founded in 1995, MPP is the 
largest organization focused exclusively on ending marijuana 
prohibition. The group has been involved with changing state laws 
surrounding cannabis since 2000.

"A new president could attempt to interfere in states that have 
bucked federal prohibition laws, but there is only so much they can 
do," he said. "National polls are consistently finding a majority of 
Americans believe marijuana should be legal for adults, and more than 
60 percent believe the federal government should refrain from 
interfering in state marijuana laws."


A Gallup poll last year found 51 percent of Americans support 
legalization of marijuana. The poll, conducted from October 12-15, 
2014, also revealed approval varied based on age and political 
affiliation. While 64 percent of Democrats want to see cannabis taxed 
and regulated, that figure drops to 39 percent among Republicans. In 
fact, the survey found less than one-third of conservative voters are 
on board to decriminalize cannabis.

Gallup data also reveals a generational division. The 2014 survey 
noted that 64 percent of 18-35 year olds support legal cannabis, 
while only 41 percent of those 55 or older were in favor. Marijuana 
advocates like Brian Vicente see the numbers as evidence the 
legalization movement is gaining momentum.

"This will be a nationally-legal industry within five years," he said.

Vicente, who along with Tvert, wrote Amendment 64 and directed a 
signature drive to introduce a ballot initiative, said a step 
backwards is definitely a scary possibility. He noted that after the 
2016 election, five more states could see marijuana be legalized.

Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, or the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said his group wants 
to support an anti-prohibitionist candidate.

"California, Nevada, Arizona, Missouri, Michigan and Maine are slated 
for legalization initiatives," he said. "Polls and surveys in all of 
those states show a majority of residents want legal marijuana."

Gallup data also reveals how public support has grown slowly, from 12 
percent in 1969 to 28 percent in the late 1970s. In 2003, only 34 
percent of respondents were in favor of legalization of marijuana. By 
2011 Gallup reported that support had reached 50 percent.


The majority of Colorado voters have supported legal cannabis, but 
would state officials cower if the federal government decided to 
aggressively enforce cannabis prohibition in states that have opted 
to regulate and tax the substance?

Skyler McKinley, deputy director for the governor's office of 
marijuana coordination, said the existing conflict between federal 
and state law could become an issue depending on the next president 
elect. "As state officials we're going to follow the state constitution."

In 2012, Colorado voters approved Amendment 64, which changed the 
state constitution to allow adults to legally consume cannabis. Tvert 
said this helps undercut any federal efforts to reverse progress.

"Yes, it makes the state's case against federal interference even 
stronger," he said. "It'd be more difficult for state officials to 
repeal the law. "

The 2016 Republican field has presented voters with a variety of 
perspectives on the issue, ranging from Rand Paul's libertarian 
support of states' rights to Christie telling he would shut down 
marijuana production in states that have opted to legalize.

"There are fissures within the Republican party," St. Pierre said

This range of opinions gives Republican voters more options, he said, 
while Democrats have narrower choices. He explained that both Hillary 
Clinton and Bernie Sanders believe in medical marijuana and have also 
espoused support for states' rights on the issue of cannabis. St. 
Pierre noted that, traditionally, states' rights has been a 
Republican talking point.

"We need incentives for both parties to come to the table," he opined.

There have been bi-partisan efforts to reach a national consensus. 
California Republican Dana Rohrabacher has introduced House Bill 
1940, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015. The legislation 
would amend the Controlled Substances Act to say that provisions 
related to marijuana would not apply to persons acting in compliance 
with state laws. The bill was referred to subcommittee in May.


Many pro-marijuana groups see legalization progress continuing 
regardless of the shifting political tides.

"2016 is the (ultimate) year for legalization of marijuana in the 
U.S.," St. Pierre said.

The feds cannot force states to make marijuana illegal under state 
law, Tvert pointed out. He also said the feds have clearly indicated 
they do not have the resources to police low-level marijuana offenses.

"The federal government could try to shut down the systems states 
have created to regulate the production and sale of marijuana," he 
said. "But marijuana would remain legal under state laws, and the 
federal government cannot stop that."

In August 2013, the Department of Justice issued a memo, which said 
it was an inefficient use of limited federal resources to prosecute 
lawful medical marijuana providers.

Although a new president could decide to treat the issue differently, 
McKinley said Colorado would continue on the same path.

"As state officials, we're going to follow the state constitution," 
he said. "At the end of the day, we want to carry out the will of the 
people of Colorado."

The gains made by the legalization movement in Colorado, Washington, 
Alaska and Oregon will likely not be reversed no matter who is 
elected president in 2016, according to Tvert.

"Rolling back the progress that has been made with marijuana policy 
reform would be just as difficult as rolling back the progress made 
on LGBT rights," he said. "A hostile new administration could 
potentially slow progress down, but it cannot stop it. The country is 
clearly heading in one direction on this issue - forward." 
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom