On Jan. 1, 2014, Colorado became the first state to fully legalize the recreational use of marijuana and regulate it in specialty retail stores.
History was made that foggy Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. when the first regulated marijuana sales were conducted. Colorado residents can now purchase up to an ounce of marijuana and non-residents can purchase up to one quarter of an ounce at one of 37 specialty stores that now exist across the state.
Colorado and Washington were the first states to pass laws regarding recreational marijuana in November. The law regulates marijuana distribution to only licensed retailers and sales to people over the age of 21-years. Intoxicated driving is covered in the law– drivers found with 5 nanograms or more of THC per millimeter in their bloodstream will be cited for impaired driving.
Full legalization in Colorado has already created change in neighboring states like Kansas and Missouri, where marijuana is still illegal. The Kansas Highway Patrol “may see an influx” of marijuana, “but we are telling our people to operate as normal,” Lt. Josh Kellerman told the Kansas City Star. According to the Associated Press, the Kansas Highway Patrol made 468 felony trafficking arrests and seized nearly 7,000 pounds of marijuana in 2012. In Kansas, a personal baggie will bring a misdemeanor charge, but a larger amount suggesting distribution will result in a felony and jail time.
Marijuana still remains federally illegal and fully illegal for recreational purposes in 48 other states. At the time voters legalized recreational marijuana in Colorado and Washington, 18 states had some sort of medical marijuana legislation. Since then New Hampshire and Illinois have joined.
“It’s certainly a step forward. They’re paving the way for other states to find a workable model for regulation,” said Amber Langston, board member of Show-Me Cannabis. “We’re able to see that the sky hasn’t fallen and that they are earning tax revenue.”
Show-Me Cannabis is a Missouri organization formed with the belief that cannabis prohibition is a failed policy, and marijuana regulation in a manner similar to alcohol would better control the production, distribution and consumption of cannabis than the currently not regulated and ‘criminal’ market system does. Show-Me Cannabis worked in 2012 to introduce a petition and collect signatures supporting full recreational legalization in Missouri. The campaign fell short of its 150,000 signature goal, but a solid 70,000 signatures were collected. Currently, Show-Me Cannabis is working on collecting poll numbers to determine whether running a signature drive for a full legalization bill in 2014 would be worth the effort.
“Right now we have submitted petitions to the secretary of states and we got those back and we’re basically waiting to get polling numbers to see where voters stand on this,” Langston said. “The numbers we get back are likely to be less because it’s not a presidential year so it will be a conservative population voting. Once we get those numbers back we’ll have a good idea whether we’ll want to get signatures this year. Sixty percent is kinda the golden number. To be honest we could have 55 percent and still be looking good.”
Langston got involved with Mizzou’s NORML chapter and then SSDP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, while in college. She worked as the campaign manager for the 2004 Columbia Medical Marijuana Initiate and worked for SSDP in Washington D.C. on the board of directors from 2008-2010. In 2010 Langston worked as a media liaison for Proposition 19 in California. After that she settled in Kansas City and worked as the campaign director for Show-Me Cannabis in 2012.
“Our goals as always are to control and regulate marijuana like alcohol. So our goal would be to get this on the ballot in November regardless, even if we don’t have 60 percent,” Langston said. “If we convince the legislature to put it on the ballot for us we wouldn’t have to gather as many signatures.”
In order to gather the number of signatures required to put the bill to public vote, Langston estimated that half a million dollars would need to be raised.
“We also have two bills in the house. One’s a marijuana decriminalization and one’s medical marijuana,” Langston said. “They have not yet been assigned to committee and the law reads similarly to Columbia’s decriminalization law. We expect a full legalization bill to be introduced.”
Missouri is still steps behind Colorado in the process. Colorado is setting an example for many states to examine and determine what in the law is working and what is not. During a pre-session panel discussion on Jan. 12 three Kansas lawmakers were asked if they would consider legalizing marijuana this year and they said no. Whether or not lawmakers locally support or oppose the issue, major changes are being made to end prohibition and Richard Nixon’s war on drugs in the United States.
Even Barack Obama is speaking out about the issue. In an interview published on Jan. 27 with the New Yorker Obama said, “As has been well documented, I smoked pot as a kid, and I view it as a bad habit and a vice, not very different from the cigarettes that I smoked as a young person up through a big chunk of my adult life. I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol.”
Though the journey may just be beginning in Missouri, the path to the end of marijuana prohibition in the United States has begun at a state level with the legalization of recreational marijuana use and regulation in two states.
Author: Ashley Lane