Yesterday the number of states that have approved marijuana legalization doubled, and they were joined by the nation's capital, where voters overwhelmingly rejected pot prohibition. Even in Florida, where a medical marijuana initiative fell two points short of the supermajority needed to approve a constitutional amendment, 58 percent of voters agreed that patients should be allowed to use cannabis for symptom relief. Meanwhile, voters in Guam approved medical marijuana, making the Western Pacific island the first U.S. territory to do so. Drug policy reformers were thrilled by the results, which exceeded expectations. Prohibitionists were less delighted. Here is a roundup of reactions.
Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority: The marijuana majority is a truly global phenomenon. People all across the world are ready to move beyond failed prohibition laws, especially when seriously ill patients are criminalized just for following their doctors' recommendations. With these election results, U.S. territories stretching from Guam—where America's day begins near the International Date Line—to Hawaii and Alaska have sensible laws that let patients use marijuana without fear of arrest.
Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance: Guam is quite conservative politically, and home to a significant U.S. military presence, so this resounding victory is a confirmation of medical marijuana's broad support across the political spectrum.
Angell: With marijuana legal in the federal government's backyard, it's going to be increasingly difficult for national politicians to continue ignoring the growing majority of voters who want to end prohibition. I've been saying for a while that 2016 presidential candidates need to start courting the cannabis constituency, and now the road to the White House quite literally travels through legal marijuana territory.
Bill Piper, DPA's director of national affairs: This was the first legalization campaign in which the racial disproportionality of marijuana enforcement played a major role. Initiative 71 sets the stage for the D.C. Council to create a new model for legalizing marijuana—one that places racial justice front and center.
Neill Franklin, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition: Each Congressperson must choose how he or she wants to be remembered in history: as someone who respected the people's wishes and worked to end one of the most pernicious problems of the 21st Century, or as an anachronism, like those prohibitionists who refused to see the writing on the wall in the 1930s.
Angell: It's clear that Colorado and Washington voting to legalize in 2012 was no anomaly. The trend is clear: Marijuana prohibition is coming to an end. As 2016 approaches, we can expect to see many more ambitious national politicians finally trying to win support from the cannabis constituency instead of ignoring and criminalizing us.
Nadelmann: Oregon proved that Colorado and Washington were no flukes….It's always an uphill battle to win a marijuana legalization initiative in a year like this, when young people are so much less likely to vote, which makes today's victory all the sweeter. The pace of reform is accelerating, other states are sure to follow, and even Congress is poised to wake from its slumber.
Angell: Now that it's been shown that putting marijuana legalization on the ballot can succeed even in midterms, we can expect to see a huge surge of additional states voting to end prohibition during the 2016 presidential election. And because the issue has been proven to be mainstream as far as voters are concerned, we may even see lawmakers in several states jumping ahead to legalize marijuana legislatively in the meantime.
Chris Rempert, political director of Alaska's legalization campaign: People are seeing through the fear mongering and misinformation that have been used to keep marijuana illegal for so many years. One of our campaign's primary messages was that marijuana is less harmful than alcohol, and that adults should not be punished for making the safer choice.
Angell: Tonight's result does show that a clear majority of voters in the Sunshine State support a new direction. We didn't get the 60% needed to pass medical marijuana as a constitutional amendment, but patients and their supporters will keep pushing until the law reflects what most voters want. The campaign this year faced several key challenges, including that it took place during a midterm election in which turnout dynamics don't favor marijuana reform. Next time medical marijuana is on the ballot, organizers should put patients and medical professionals at the forefront of the campaign rather than relying on a well-meaning but much less sympathetic political donor as the chief spokesperson.
John Morgan, leader of the medical marijuana campaign: We may not have passed Amendment 2 tonight, but make no mistake, tonight was a victory in the fight for medical marijuana in Florida. Our next governor will take the oath of office having won less than a majority of Floridians' votes. The idea that marijuana is medicine and that those suffering and in pain should not be made criminals, received a larger share of the vote than the winner of the last 6 gubernatorial elections…and every presidential campaign in Florida for decades.
Calvina Fay, executive director of the Drug-Free America Foundation: The people of Florida strongly and wisely rejected efforts to make Florida the next front in the push to legalize marijuana nationwide….By rejecting this misguided amendment, they chose to safeguard our communities and ensure a safer and more prosperous future.
ON THE OVERALL RESULTS
Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project: The results are in, and marijuana prohibition is on its way out….The folks trying to keep marijuana illegal are relying on the same scare tactics today that they have relied on for decades, but voters just aren't falling for it anymore. The results are particularly encouraging since voter turnout during a midterm election is typically smaller, older, and more conservative. Clearly, support for ending marijuana prohibition spans the political and ideological spectrums.
Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML: The majority of voters in these states, like a majority of voters nationwide, agree that a pragmatic regulatory framework that allows for the legal, licensed commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults best reduces the risks associated with the plant's use or potential abuse.
Patrick Kennedy, co-founder of the anti-pot group Project SAM: Even though we did not do as well as we wanted to, these slim margins of victory show that we are beginning to slow the legalization freight train down. This has been a David and Goliath battle.
Kevin Sabet, president of Project SAM: This was not the complete slam-dunk the legalization groups expected. Alaska barely voted to legalize, and several cities [in Colorado] rejected marijuana retail stores outright. We are confident the more people know the truth about marijuana and the Big Tobacco-like marijuana industry, the more opposition to marijuana legalization will continue to grow. We will redouble our efforts to educate the public about the harms of legalization.
U.S. Department of Justice (via Free Beacon reporter C.J. Ciaramella): When we developed our department priorities over a year ago, we intended to set out a consistent enforcement approach that would be applicable across the country. As our Aug. 29, 2013, guidance memorandum laid out, the department's enforcement resources will continue to be aimed at the most significant threats to our communities. This approach relies on jurisdictions instituting strict regulatory regimes to adequately protect public safety.