The United States experienced a huge victory in the realm of marijuana reform during last week’s general election: Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In addition, several cities across America decriminalized marijuana, while a federal law took effect that could provide freedom for the downtrodden victims of the drug war.
Federal: Sentencing Reform Takes Effect
Tens of thousands of prisoners are now eligible for early release, as a federal sentencing reform measure adopted in April by the US Sentencing Commission became effective on November 1. The new law diminishes the sentences for the majority of drug-related offenses. Federal prisoners can now begin petitioning the courts to have their sentences reduced. However, none of these reductions will fall below the mandatory minimums, which have not changed. Reports indicate that 46,000 prisoners are eligible for reductions in their sentences.
Alaska: Legalized Recreational Marijuana
Despite some skepticism, Alaska voters came through last Tuesday to approve Measure 2, making recreational marijuana legal for residents and tourists 21 and over. However, the election results are not expected to be certified until late November, which will put the new law surrounding the possession of up to an ounce, cultivation of six plants and transfer of up to an ounce into effect around February. Regulations for the retail market will be determined in about a year, with licenses distributed around May 2016. With that in mind, Alaska’s cannabis industry will probably launch in the summer of 2016.
Oregon: Legalized Recreational Marijuana
Oregon voters showed up at the polls last week and did exactly what the predictions indicated would happen – they legalized weed. Measure 91, which allows adults 21 and over to possess up an ounce of weed in public, up to eight ounces at home, as well as the home cultivation of four plants, was approved during the general election. However, the retail cannabis market is not expected to get underway until 2016. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission has until January 4, 2016 to begin the application process. There is speculation retail sales could begin the following summer.
Washington DC: Legalized Recreational Marijuana
Voters in Washington D.C. approved Initiative 71 last Tuesday with overwhelming support, legalizing the possession up to two ounces of marijuana, the cultivation of up to six plants, and the transfer of up to an ounce of weed without fear of prosecution. The new law will not come attached with a retail market, but lawmakers have been hinting around that one was right around the corner. Mayor-elect Muriel Bowser said in a press conference last week that she was making it a priority to develop a system to tax and regulate marijuana within the month. Yet, some believe she is jumping the gun because it still remains up in the air whether Congress will even allow Initiative 71 to become law. It must go through a 30 day evaluation. If all goes well, the new law will go into effect early next year.
However, there is speculation that the passing of a new bill aimed at establishing retail pot sales in the District would delay Initiative 71 until the middle of 2015, with retail sales beginning around the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017.
Maine: Decriminalization in South Portland, Defeat in Lewiston
Two Maine cities voted last week to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. However, while South Portland was successful, the proposed ordinance failed in Lewiston.
Michigan: Several Cities Decriminalize Marijuana
Eleven Michigan cities had initiatives to decriminalize marijuana on the ballot during last week’s general election: Saginaw, Mount Pleasant, Clare, Harrison, Frankfurt, Onaway, Port Huron, Lapeer, Berkley, Huntington Woods, and Pleasant Ridge, according to NPR affiliate WEMU. Unfortunately, only six were ambitious enough to actually tender their support: Voters approved measure in Huntington Woods, Berkley, Pleasant Ridge, Saginaw, Mount Pleasant, and Port Huron to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana.
California: The Passing of the Defelonization Bill
Voters approved Proposition 47 last week, which eliminates the possibility of receiving a felony conviction for minor drug possession charges. This measure will allow offenses involving most drugs to be tried as misdemeanors and will allow prisoners currently serving time for these crimes to be resentenced.
“This is a win for everyone in California,” said Los Angeles Deputy Police Chief Stephen Downing. “We’ll save millions keeping nonviolent drug offenders out of state prison, and those resources will be redirected toward public education, victim services, and mental health treatment programs that actually address the problems of addiction.”
New Mexico: Decriminalization in Two Counties
Voters in Santa Fe and Bernalillo County stood in support of measures last week to decriminalize marijuana. In both counties, it now considered a civil infraction to possess up to an ounce of weed.
“New Mexicans made history tonight by having the chance to cast a vote in favor of marijuana policy reform. We have made great strides over the last six months to ensure that New Mexicans understand the importance of decriminalizing marijuana statewide and we are very confident that this election has gotten us one step closer to that goal,” said Emily Kaltenbach with the Drug Policy Alliance in New Mexico. “We look forward to working with our local and statewide elected officials in bringing practical marijuana reform to New Mexico and are optimistic that the upcoming legislative session will be another step in the right direction.”
Ohio: Erase Pot Convictions
The city of Cincinnati has passed a law that allows people caught with less than 100 grams of marijuana to receive a $150 fine rather than spend 30 days in jail — regardless of how many convictions of person receives. In addition, people that have been convicted in the past for pot possession can have their records expunged.