Over the last several years, many U.S. states have quietly adopted laws decriminalising the possession of marijuana or legalising medical marijuana.
Now, a flurry of activity over the last few weeks appears to signal that – perhaps like same-sex marriage – marijuana policies have also reached a tipping point in the U.S.
On Jun. 1, Connecticut legalised medical marijuana, making it the seventeenth U.S. state, in addition to Washington, D.C., to do so.
On Jun. 12, Washington’s government announced four dispensaries eligible to distribute medical marijuana in the nation’s capital. While medical marijuana was already legal there, the dispensaries are new.
Three days later, Rhode Island decriminalised small amounts of marijuana, making it the fifteenth U.S. state to do so.
Also in early June, the governor of New York announced his support for decriminalising marijuana in public view (currently it is decriminalised in private view).
Legislation is pending in Illinois and New Hampshire, ballot initiatives have already qualified in Colorado and Washington, and the collection of signatures for additional ballot initiatives is also underway in several states.
Under the Marijuana Policy Project’s “28 by 2014” campaign, the organisation seeks to legalize medical marijuana in more than a majority of U.S. states by 2014 (half of the 50 U.S. states would be 25).
“For medical marijuana, I think the prospects are pretty good” in terms of reaching the goal, Morgan Fox, communications manager for MPP, told IPS.
“If there is the same activity next year, I don’t think it will be a stretch at all to say 28 by 2014,” Fox said.
Fox noted there are important differences between medical marijuana laws and decriminalisation.
“Decriminalisation is far, far different that a medical marijuana law, in which there is a regulated system to provide medical marijuana to patients,” Fox said. “Decriminalisation doesn’t have to do with the supply side, it only deals with small possession. It doesn’t affect the market.”
Colorado and Washington, which both already have medical marijuana laws and decriminalisation of possession of small amounts, are considering legislation to take it a step further, which is to tax and regulate marijuana like alcohol or cigarettes, meaning that it could be sold in stores.
“We have reached a tipping point – more than half of Americans think marijuana should be treated similar to alcohol or tobacco. By regulating it, we’ll be able to ensure criminals won’t control the marijuana market,” Fox said.
Indeed, recent polls by Gallup and Rasmussen have found more than a majority of U.S. residents support the taxation and regulation of marijuana.
One-third of the U.S. population currently lives in a state where medical marijuana is legal.
Meanwhile, more legislative initiatives for medical marijuana are still pending in Illinois and New Hampshire.
In New Hampshire, the legislature passed medical marijuana legislation, although the bill was vetoed earlier this month by Gov. John Lynch, a Democrat.
Advocates there are currently working to find two more state senators to support the bill; at least two more will be necessary to override the veto.
For one co-sponsor of the bill, the issue is not just political. It’s personal. State Rep. Evalyn Merrick, a Democrat from Lancaster, New Hampshire, who suffers from a type of blood cancer called multiple myeloma, credits marijuana with saving her life.
“I was given a short time to live if I didn’t have a bone marrow transplant,” Merrick told IPS.
“I had to take heavy-duty chemotherapy for three straight months in preparation for a transplant. They kill my immune system, they go in and kill as much of the cancer as they can, they harvest clean cells, then they gave me back my cells. The hope is my body will accept and re-grow its immune system,” Merrick said.
“The chemo is so intense. The transplant was successful. But the impact on my digestive system, I couldn’t eat. I started starving to death. I could not eat, I could not drink,” she said.
A family friend suggested that Merrick try smoking marijuana to stimulate her appetite, as no traditional pharmaceuticals were working.
“My husband (a doctor) had everything to lose by introducing marijuana into our home. Within 10 minutes, it seemed almost instantaneous, I asked for something to drink,” she said. “My body was like, hey, we know what this (water) is. We need this.
“It’s time to stop denying our sickest citizens what I feel and other people know is a life-saving medicine. We have recognised since the beginning of time the value of this natural medicine,” Merrick said.
“We have to be able to make it available. We have to look beyond the political issues, because quite honestly, I feel it’s no longer a scientific controversy – I think it’s still, inappropriately, a political controversy.”