Marijuana Legalization May Win the West (and D.C.) in 2014

Alaska, Arizona, California, D.C. and Oregon residents may vote on referendums this year.

Employees roll joints behind the sales counter at Medicine Man marijuana dispensary, which is to open as a recreational outlet at the start of 2014, in Denver, Friday Dec. 27, 2013.

Employees roll joints at the Medicine Man marijuana dispensary in Denver, as it prepares to open as a recreational outlet.

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One week after the nation's first recreational marijuana stores opened in Colorado, Alaska activists submitted what appear to be enough signatures to put marijuana legalization before voters. The measure – which would go up for a vote Aug. 19 – is one of several 2014 efforts that could yield a good year for pot supporters, particularly in the West.

So far, voters have been at the vanguard of legalization, blowing past state legislatures. In November 2012, more than 55 percent of Colorado and Washington voters approved initiatives to legalize the drug and open state-licensed stores – and polls suggest those successes may be replicated elsewhere.

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A CNN/Opinion Research poll released Monday found 55 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, compared to 44 percent who do not. Support was highest in the West – where voter-driven initiatives often become law – and in the Northeast. An October poll released by Gallup put nationwide support for legalization at 58 percent.

Here's a rundown of the states where smoking weed may become legal in 2014:

Alaska:

The Alaska Campaign to Regulate Marijuana submitted 45,000 signatures – 15,000 more than needed – on Wednesday for a ballot measure that would legalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six plants by adults over age 21. The measure also would authorize the opening of recreational marijuana stores.

If enough signatures are validated, Alaskans will vote on the proposal Aug. 19, the same day as primary elections.

The pro-legalization campaigners carefully reviewed signatures before submitting them and are confident the initiative will appear on ballots.

For years, Alaska was the only state where marijuana was legal, following a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court decision that allowed adults to possess 4 ounces of pot and grow 24 plants. State voters criminalized the drug in 1990, but that law was overturned in 2003 by the Alaska Court of Appeals. In 2006, the state legislature approved a new law criminalizing pot.

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Organizers of the initiative campaign include a retired law enforcement leader and a University of Alaska Anchorage professor.

"Marijuana prohibition has been just as big a failure as alcohol prohibition," former Alaska Department of Corrections Deputy Commissioner Bill Parker, one of the initiative's sponsors, said in a Wednesday statement. "We are confident that voters will agree it is time for a more sensible approach that honors the ideals that unite us as Alaskans; protecting personal freedoms and a commitment to personal responsibility."

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) spokesman Mason Tvert tells U.S. News Alaska stands a good chance of becoming the third state to legalize marijuana.

"You can't be 100 percent confident about anything, but we're confident that if it qualifies for the ballot, voters will very likely make Alaska the third state to end marijuana prohibition," Tvert says.

A March 2013 poll by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found 60 percent support for marijuana legalization in Alaska.

California:

In California, there may be as many as four ballot measures for voters to consider in November. Each of the four would legalize the drug for adults over age 21 and authorize recreational sales.

The most radical proposal – the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative – would allow residents to grow 99 flowering marijuana plants and possess up to 12 pounds of cannabis.

Mark Newcomb, one of that initiative's organizers, tells U.S. News approximately 200,000 signatures have been collected so far. Organizers need to collect a total of about 500,000 by Feb. 24.

Newcomb says 1,000 volunteers and 300 paid canvassers are helping out. He sees California as a possible pioneer in cannabinoid medical research and scoffs at more timid legalization bids.

"Tell me you are going to keep Mother Nature from producing more than six plants," he says.

Supporters of the three other proposed initiatives – each offering different specifications – have not started to collect signatures.