Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia Should Legalize Pot
By THE EDITORIAL BOARD
The decision by California voters in 1996 to legalize medical marijuana produced a wave of similar initiatives around the country. Less than two decades later, over half the states allow at least limited medical use. Now it looks as though recreational use of the drug may follow the same path.
In 2012, Washington State and Colorado legalized recreational marijuana. This November, voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia will decide whether to do the same – effectively disregarding the misguided federal ban on a drug that is far less dangerous than alcohol. Decades of arresting people for buying, selling and using marijuana have hurt more than helped society, and minority communities have been disproportionately affected by the harsh criminal penalties of prohibition.
Since Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia already allow medical marijuana, taking the next step makes good sense. There are some differences in their proposed initiatives, but they are all worthy of passage.
ALASKA Ballot Measure 2 would make the use and purchase of marijuana legal for those 21 and older, create a marijuana control board and tax the drug at $50 per ounce wholesale. It is already legal for Alaskans to possess small amounts of marijuana in their homes, and surveys indicate that 18 percent of Alaskans smoke marijuana. Ballot Measure 2 would mean that Alaskans could buy it from a store instead of resorting to the black market.
OREGON Measure 91 would also set a minimum age of 21. It would give the Oregon Liquor Control Commission the power to regulate marijuana as it does alcohol, and would direct it to review tax rates regularly. The tax – initially set at $35 per ounce for flowers and $10 per ounce for leaves – should allow for prices low enough to compete with street dealers. Since it is already extremely easy for adults in Oregon to obtain medical marijuana cards (almost 65,000 Oregonians have one), recreational legalization will not be a big change. As The Oregonian editorialized in August, the measure would “be worth supporting for reasons of honesty and convenience alone.”
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA Initiative 71 would repeal all criminal and civil penalties for personal possession of marijuana and allow limited, private cultivation of the drug. People 21 and older could grow up to six plants at home and give away up to one ounce. Because the District of Columbia Home Rule Act does not allow a tax to be imposed by referendum, Initiative 71 would not set up a mechanism for regulating retail sales of the drug.
Opponents of legalization warn that states are embarking on a risky experiment. But the sky over Colorado has not fallen, and prohibition has proved to be a complete failure. It’s time to bring the marijuana market out into the open and end the injustice of arrests and convictions that have devastated communities.
Careful regulation of the drug could very well make it safer to consume, and proper taxation could bring in new revenue for states. This year, from January through June, Colorado collected about $18.9 million.
Ideally, the federal government would repeal the ban on marijuana, so states could set their own policies without worrying about the possibility of a crackdown on citizens violating federal law. Even though a majority of Americans favor legalization, Congress shows no sign of budging. So it’s better for the states to take the lead than to wait for an epiphany on Capitol Hill that may never come.
A version of this editorial appears in print on October 6, 2014, on page A22 of the New York edition with the headline: Yes to Marijuana Ballot Measures.