WASHINGTON — Buoyed by their success at the polls Tuesday, marijuana backers say they’ll now try to get the drug fully legalized in 13 more states by 2017.
They’d join Colorado and Washington state, which voted last year to allow pot sales for recreational use.
The drive to legalize won considerable new momentum across the country on Election Day as voters in three states approved pro-pot measures.
Portland, Maine, became the first East Coast City to legalize marijuana. Colorado approved a 25 percent tax on pot. Voters in the Michigan cities of Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale decided to remove all penalties for possession.
Portland voters opted to allow residents to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The campaign ignited controversy after proponents spent $2,500 to buy pro-pot billboards on city buses and in bus shelters.
“Most Portlanders, like most Americans, are fed up with our nation’s failed marijuana laws,” said David Boyer, the Maine political director of the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group.
While the measure won easily in Maine’s largest city, it may be more difficult for pro-pot forces to win across the state. Legalization backers hope to get the issue on the statewide ballot in 2016.
Officials with Project SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana), an opposition group led by former U.S. Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I., said they planned to launch a statewide affiliate to gear up for the vote.
“Maine is on the brink of creating a massive marijuana industry that will inevitably target teens and other vulnerable populations,” Kennedy, the group’s national chairman, said in a statement. “Misconceptions about marijuana are becoming more and more prevalent.”
Kennedy said it was time “to clear the smoke and get the facts out about this drug.”
With a Gallup Poll released last month finding that 58 percent of Americans now back legalization, supporters are confident that more states will jump on the bandwagon.
Maine is among the 13 states targeted for full-scale legalization by the Marijuana Policy Project. The group said it would try to get legalization on the ballot in seven states and work to get state legislatures to pass it in the other six.
If a petition drive succeeds, Alaska voters are expected to consider legalization first, in 2014. In 2016, the group will try to get the issue on the ballot in Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada.
They’ll try to get state legislators to do the job in Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Tuesday’s votes were the first ballot initiatives since last November, when Colorado and Washington state approved tax-and-regulate sales plans that will take effect next year.
In Colorado, voters gave the green light to a 25 percent pot tax that comprises a 15 percent excise tax to pay for school construction and a 10 percent tax to pay for enforcement.
“Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to end marijuana prohibition and successfully regulate marijuana like alcohol,” said Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project in Denver.
Tvert said the measure would raise millions of dollars each year for the state’s schools, instead of having the money diverted to drug dealers. He said it was “only a matter of time” before other states would adopt similar plans.
Many cities in Colorado already are eyeing marijuana as a possible source of revenue and are considering ballot measures that would impose local taxes on retail pot sales.
So far, nine U.S. cities or towns have voted to legalize marijuana or to remove penalties for possession, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
In Michigan on Tuesday, voters in Lansing, Jackson and Ferndale joined Detroit and Flint, where residents decided last year to remove all penalties for adult possession.
In Colorado, the municipalities of Denver, Breckenridge and Nederland had voted to do away with penalties before the entire state voted last year to allow recreational use, beginning this Jan. 1.
To fight the efforts, Project SAM officials said they wanted to warn the public that legalization could create a “Big Marijuana” tobacco-style industry. They said it was time to have an “adult conversation” about health effects and the possibility of increased drug addiction among teens.
That discussion is already underway in Maine.
“This is not about demonizing or legalizing marijuana, but rather educating the public about the most misunderstood drug in the state,” said Scott Gagnon, who’ll serve as Maine’s coordinator for Project SAM.
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