Cannabis is set to become legal in Colorado and Washington after voters passed historic ballot initiatives on Nov. 6. In Washington voters approved Initiative 502, allowing possession and distribution of cannabis through a state licensing system of growers, processors and stores, where adults will be able to buy up to an ounce of dried cannabis; up to a pound of a cannabis-infused product, such as brownies; or up to 72 ounces of cannabis-infused liquids.. The Colorado initiative actually introduces Amendment 64 to the state constitution, allowing adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce and to privately grow up to six plants—although public use will be banned. In Oregon, the similar Cannabis Tax Act Initiative or Measure 80, failed by approximately 55-to-45% of the vote.
Medical marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts for the first time as over 60% of voters approved Question 3, allowing cannabis use by patients with "debilitating medical conditions" and permitting up to 35 medical marijuana dispensaries. But the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Act was rejected by voters in that state by approximately a 52-to-48% margin. The measure would have allowed doctors to issue a certificate to anyone with a "qualifying medical condition" to grow, process and use marijuana.
Also on the ballot in Montana was a referendum regarding a 2011 revision of a 2004 law that established medical marijuana use in the state. A "yes" vote for this measure supported tougher regulations passed by the legislature and a vote "no" supported repealing the stiffer regulations and reverting to more open medical marijuana rules passed by voters in 2004. With about 91% of Montana's precincts reporting, the initiative is passing with about 57% of the vote.
Montana voters also overwhelmingly approved measures that require parental notification for abortions by minors, deny services for undocumented immigrants, and forbid governments from imposing health insurance mandates. In a more hopeful note, a Montana initiative passed declaring that corporations are not people.
The Justice Department reacted to the Colorado and Washington measures by saying it is reviewing the initiatives but will not comment further on how it would respond to these first attempts by any state to legalize cannabis for use other than medicinal purposes. A spokesperson for the Drug Enforcement Agency said that its "enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act remains unchanged."
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper (D) signaled his awareness of the legal conflict with the Justice Department, cautioning voters that the initiative doesn't change federal law. "The voters have spoken and we have to respect their will," Hickenlooper said in a statement. "This will be a complicated process, but we intend to follow through. That said, federal law still says marijuana is an illegal drug, so don’t break out the Cheetos or gold fish too quickly." (Jurist, ABC, Harvard Crimson, WP, AP, NBC Montana, Nov. 7)
California voters approved Proposition 36, easing the state's "Three Strikes Law"—18 years after it was passed by the legislature and then toughened at the ballot box in the 1994 Proposition 184. Prop 36, which passed handily by more than a 20 point margin, revises the Three Strikes Law to impose a life sentence only under two circumstances—when the new felony conviction is "serious or violent,'' or for a minor felony crime if the perpetrator is a murderer, rapist or child molester. Under the existing Three Strikes Law, only California—out of 24 states with similar laws—allows the third strike to be any felony. (San Jose Mercury News, Peninsula Press, Nov. 7)