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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State Attorney General Kamala Harris' office approved the wording of the Marijuana, Control Legalization & Revenue Act – which would allow residents to grow 12 plants – in December, saying it would save the state "in the low hundreds of millions of dollars annually." But organizers are refiling their wording, which may be reapproved by Jan. 31, the San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Another proposal, offered by the Drug Policy Alliance, is modeled on Washington state's law, but unlike in Washington - where possession is legal but personal cultivation is not - the initiative would allow six marijuana plants per residence.

[READ: Pot Opponents Predict 'Hogwild' Colorado Trainwreck]

California voters rejected a 2010 marijuana legalization measure by a seven-point margin, but recent polls show support is on the upswing. A December survey by Field Research Corporation found 56 percent support for legalization. A September Public Policy Institute of California survey found 52 percent support.

Some national pro-legalization groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union and the MPP, have urged Californians to wait until 2016 to pitch legalization initiatives. They cite the massive cost of a successful campaign and the greater likelihood of success in a presidential election year, when more young people vote.


Oregon voters rejected an initiative to legalize marijuana in 2012, but the issue likely will get another chance this November.

There are two routes for another ballot battle: Either state legislators can refer a proposal to voters or residents can petition for the question to appear on ballots.

Anthony Johnson, director of New Approach Oregon, a pro-legalization coalition, says activists will work to get an initiative on the ballot if the legislature fails to do so.

The possibility state legislators will refer a legalization proposal is "50-50 at best," he says.

If the legislature adjourns – in late February or early March – without referring the issue to voters, Johnson says his coalition will immediately begin collecting the required 87,000 signatures.

[DATA: Police Made One Marijuana Arrest Every 42 Seconds in 2012]

"We're confident we can collect the signatures" before early July, Johnson says. His coalition is working closely with the Drug Policy Alliance and plans to use paid and unpaid petition-gatherers.

New Approach Oregon's initiative language would legalize marijuana for adults over 21 and allow state-regulated stores to open. Residents would be permitted to keep 8 ounces of pot at home and grow four plants.

"There's enough momentum and enough support for an initiative in Oregon to pass," Tvert of the MPP says.

Polls seem to confirm that optimism: A Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research poll of likely 2014 voters in May found support for legalization at 63 percent.


In Arizona, grassroots activists hope they can pull off a voter-driven victory for legalization in 2014, even though many national marijuana advocates are keeping their distance.

Safer Arizona is attempting to gather 300,000 signatures by July 3 to get its legalization measure before voters in November.

Robert Clark, chairman of Safer Arizona, tells U.S. News the campaign has netted about 30,000 signatures.

"We're a long ways off from getting it on the ballot right now," he acknowledges.

[WATCH: McCain Tells Constituents 'Maybe We Should Legalize' Marijuana]

Unlike nearly every other state-level legalization proposal, the Arizona initiative would set the marijuana age at 18. Clark says if 18-year-old adults can vote, enlist in the military and sign contracts, they should be allowed to smoke marijuana.

If the initiative scores ballot access, polls suggest it will have significant support. A January 2013 poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) found 59 percent support among Arizonans for legalizing marijuana for adults over 21.

Clark says the group is beginning to see an uptick in interest and has signed up 35 new volunteer canvassers since Jan. 1.

"We figure we have another three months to get this all put together until [ballot access] is out of reach," he says. In the meantime, the group is soliciting political endorsements and asking paid petition-gatherers to voluntarily carry around the initiative petition.