Marijuana Legalization: 11 States On the Cusp Of Going Green


It looks like Miley Cyrus might not be the only recent advocate of legalizing marijuana. In her recent interview with Rolling Stone, Cyrus said, “I think alcohol is way more dangerous than marijuana — people can be mad at me for saying that, but I don't care… I've seen a lot of people spiral down with alcohol, but I've never seen that happen with weed." Cyrus joins the ranks of recent marijuana legalization supporters, some of which may surprise you.

Legislators from 13 states (including Washington and Colorado) and the District of Columbia have pledged their support and co-sponsorship for a House of Representatives bill, the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2013,” which will prohibit the federal government from interfering with a state’s marijuana laws. While this will not legalize marijuana in these states, it will remove the federal barriers to legalization and allow them to freely write their own marijuana laws, from personal decriminalization to (eventually) legalization.


Marijuana Policy Project’s map of current state marijuana laws


Which states are these sponsors from? Is your state on the list? Some of them will surprise you. From most weed-friendly to least, here they are:

Washington: Rep. Jim McDermott (D) and Adam Smith (D) have co-sponsored the bill. Hardly surprising, since Washington is one of two states that has already legalized marijuana for adults’ use, both recreationally and medically.

Colorado: Rep. Jared Polis (D) co-sponsored the bill for many of the same reasons as Washington. He sponsored a bill earlier this spring to End Federal Marijuana Prohibition.

California: Rep. Sam Farr (D), Barbara Lee (D), and Janice Hahn (D), as well as the author of the bill, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R), support an end to federal intervention in California’s marijuana policy. Today, California has legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized personal possession of marijuana. While their medical marijuana laws are quite progressive, they are subject to federal regulations and still have strong punishments for non-medical marijuana users (while it is not a criminal charge, individuals caught with marijuana still have to pay a $100 fee for the infraction). It’s likely that California would be more open to marijuana legalization if the federal government weren’t in the picture anymore.

Oregon: Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D) was an original co-sponsor of the bill. Today, Oregon is on the brink of legalizing marijuana for adult leisure consumption – HB 3371 is going through the House, which will tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol. Oregon has already legalized medical marijuana and decriminalized simple possession.

Vermont: Rep. Peter Welch (D) co-sponsored the bill right before an impressive victory earlier this month for Vermont – the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana! On June 6, Vermont’s governor signed the bill to decriminalize marijuana for personal consumption. With legal medical marijuana and now decriminalization, Vermont is on the path to full legalization in the future.

Alaska: Rep. Don Young (R) could make waves in Alaska by co-sponsoring this bill. Marijuana legislation has made no progress in 2013, but Rep. Young’s support and pressure from his constituents could put some legislation on the ballot for the latter half of 2013. Alaska’s constitution states that less than four ounces of marijuana in a person’s home is “protected from criminal sanction by the state constitution's right to privacy,” and medical marijuana is legal. Rep. Young’s support and citizen activism could help Alaska continue their drug policy liberalization for the rest of 2013.

Arizona: Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D) co-sponsored the bill despite a difficult atmosphere for marijuana legalization in Arizona. Arizona legalized medical marijuana in 2012, but social conservatives in the state have been trying hard to shut down dispensaries. Taking away the additional threat of “the feds” coming after dispensaries, as this bill would do, will make Arizona a more hospitable environment to individuals looking for medical relief or college students just looking to smoke some dried plants.

District of Columbia: The District of Columbia has some of the most draconian marijuana laws and (not coincidentally) some of the highest rates of marijuana use. Rep. Eleanor Holmes-Norton (D) co-sponsored the bill and the District opened its first medical marijuana dispensaries earlier this year. Holmes-Norton’s support and the opening of dispensaries could accelerate D.C.’s path towards legalization, which has dragged on for long enough, considering that D.C. residents have had favorable views towards marijuana legalization for years.

Michigan: The Republican duo of Rep. Justin Amash and Dan Benishek co-sponsored the House bill, and the tide is slowly turning in Michigan. Medical marijuana is now legal, and there is a bill on the floor to decriminalize personal marijuana possession. Prohibiting the federal government’s intervention in Michigan’s policy can only be a good thing – they are on the gradual path towards legalization, and less federal intervention could get them there faster.

Virginia: Rep. James Moran (D) co-sponsored this bill to support an end to federal intervention in Virginia’s marijuana policy legislation. His support can only be a good thing for the state: Although the Virginia Legislature adjourned its 2013 session without making any progress on marijuana laws, Moran’s support is encouraging and shows that even more conservative states like Virginia are open to marijuana policy reform. Moran’s continued support and citizen activism could help reform Virginia’s marijuana policy laws even quicker.

Illinois: Illinois, surprisingly, has quite harsh penalties for marijuana and (not surprising) a swollen number of marijuana convictions, especially in the Chicago area. Rep. Janice D. Schakowsky (D) co-sponsored this bill despite Illinois’ hostile environment to marijuana legalization. There is an important pending state bill awaiting the governor’s approval that could legalize marijuana throughout the state — which, along with Rep. Schakowsky’s support, could be instrumental in bringing Illinois closer towards legalization.

Florida: Florida wins no awards for being marijuana-friendly, but Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D) does. Despite the uphill battle in the Florida legislature, Hastings co-sponsored the bill to vouch for state autonomy to make their own laws without federal intervention. Two medical marijuana bills have been defeated so far, but citizen activism and the support of Rep. Hastings to keep Florida free from the feds could influence marijuana policy changes in Florida.

Wisconsin: Rep. Mark Pocan (D) also co-sponsored the bill, leading a march towards a more tolerant Wisconsin. Wisconsin has had every significant piece of marijuana legislation defeated, and 2013 has made little progress. While legalization may be a long time coming for Wisconsin, it is encouraging that representatives like Pocan speak out for state autonomy in marijuana laws, and could be a sign of more to come.

Tennessee: The courageous Rep. Steve Cohen (D) of Tennessee was an original co-sponsor of this bill and has been a vocal advocate about the injustices in the penal system and criminalization of drugs. While Cohen is years ahead of some of his peers in Tennessee, this is no reason for Tennesseans to despair: Evert movement needs a leader. Cohen plays on the Tea Party’s affinity for “state’s rights” while trying to sway fellow Tennesseans to reconsider their antiquated marijuana policy, claiming that they support decriminalization (but just don’t know it yet). Even the more conservative states like Tennessee might be reconsidering their drug policy.

Was your state on the list? Do you want it to be? While these states are varied in their progress towards full marijuana legalization, they have one thing in common: Legislators on the national level have recognized that state policies should be honored and are taking a stand. Regardless of this bill’s success in the House, this broad support indicates that marijuana legalization might come sooner than we believe.