“Everything’s definitely changed, I mean there’s no doubt about it,” said Steve Fox, the national political director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington.
When he began his job 10 years ago, Fox said he grew accustomed to laughs whenever he asked to meet with members of Congress. Now, he said, he goes to the Capitol to take part in once-a-month meetings with congressional staffers to figure out how to advance legislation. More telling, he said, is that he has yet to hear a single member of Congress criticize the landmark legalization votes of 2012.
Bills to tax and regulate marijuana for recreational use have been introduced by state lawmakers this year in Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont. The legislation is dead for the year in Hawaii, Maryland and New Hampshire.
“None will pass, but if you’re looking at tea leaves, seeing something like that is another clear indication of the upward political pressure that’s coming from the states and being put on federal lawmakers,” St. Pierre said.
He called the votes in Washington state and Colorado “huge beyond belief” and said they marked the biggest moment in the push for legalization since California approved the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes more than 16 years ago.
“These states are at the vanguard of what looks like probably a 15- to 20-state run in the next two to four election cycles,” St. Pierre said.
Pot lobbyists are counting on big success in the next presidential election, when voter turnout is high and the demographics could make it easier to win. Fox predicts California will be among three to seven states that vote on legalization in 2016. Lobbyists are considering trying for a vote in Alaska in August 2014, only because there’s no advantage in waiting since all ballot initiatives there go on the primary-election ballot.
The legalization efforts are worrisome for Joyce Nalepka, president of Drug-Free Kids: America’s Challenge, based in Silver Spring, Md. The public is awash in misinformation because the media has not done its job in warning the public about carcinogens in marijuana and other health risks, she said.
“Isn’t that what their job is?” Nalepka asked. “I’ve always thought the media gets the facts and spreads it to the public.”
Nalepka said the media should not even be using the term “medical marijuana” because the drug has never been approved by the Food and Drug Administration and it does nothing but confuse kids, who think marijuana has medicinal qualities and are more likely to use it.
Marijuana advocates, though, say it sends the wrong message to kids to have uncompassionate laws that criminalize ill patients who want to relieve suffering.
Both sides can point to competing studies.
Opponents have ammunition in a report released by the National Institute on Drug Abuse in December, which said that regular marijuana use by young people can have a long-lasting negative impact on the structure and function of the brain.
More teens now smoke marijuana than tobacco, the report said. And pot use among young people has risen since 2007, corresponding to diminishing perception of the drug’s risks, the institute said.