Who's Next? Pot changes won't stop with Washington - KXNet.com - Bismarck/Minot/Williston/Dickinson-KXNEWS,ND

Who's Next? Pot changes won't stop with Washington

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By JONATHAN J. COOPER
Associated Press

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Advocates seeking more lenient marijuana laws have no intention of stopping with Colorado and Washington. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia have allowed marijuana for medicinal purposes, and more could follow. Here's a look at five of the states that may be welcoming more permissive marijuana laws in the near future:

ALASKA (legalization)

Alaska may seem like an unlikely place to follow the lead of liberals in Colorado and Washington, but the state's libertarian electorate may provide a good look at how a different breed of voters will respond to marijuana legalization.

It's early, but proponents have a big head start on fundraising and organization, led by the Marijuana Policy Project based in Washington, D.C.

Marijuana legalization failed in Alaska in 2000 and 2004, but advocates say the landscape has changed markedly since then.

If the measure is approved, adults could use marijuana legally and purchase it at state-licensed stores, but use in public would still be illegal.

OREGON (legalization)

Oregonians rejected legalization just two years ago but are all but certain to have a chance to reconsider this November.

State elections officials haven't yet validated the signatures turned in last week, but advocates submitted far more than they needed.

Oregon has long been on the leading edge of the decades-long push to loosen marijuana laws. It was the first state to decriminalize small-scale marijuana possession in 1973 - a step that's been taken in more than a dozen other states. Marijuana use remains illegal, but possession of a small amount of the drug is punished with a citation and fine rather than a criminal charge. Oregon was also among the first states to approve medical marijuana.

Unlike Oregon's 2012 effort, the team behind the current initiative has strong backing from many of the groups and individuals who helped bankroll the successful campaigns in Colorado and Washington.

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA (legalization)

The D.C. Cannabis Campaign says the group submitted 55,000 signatures for a legalization initiative on Monday - twice the number required to put the issue before voters.

The measure would allow possession of up to two ounces of marijuana in the nation's capital.

But the effort could be frustrated by Congress, which reviews all new laws in the District and has moved to block its other recent efforts to ease up on marijuana laws. Last month, the Republican-controlled House took a big step toward blocking a decriminalization bill passed by city lawmakers. That measure would make marijuana possession a civil offense subject to a $25 fine, one of the lowest in the nation.

Congress used a similar amendment to block the District from implementing its medical marijuana program for 10 years.

FLORIDA (medical)

The push for more liberal marijuana laws is not limited to full legalization of the drug. Florida voters will be deciding whether to allow the drug for medicinal use.

A poll by Quinnipiac University in May found overwhelming support for medical marijuana in Florida, where it will require support from 60 percent of voters to pass in November. Nearly 9 out of 10 voters said they support allowing adults to use the drug for medical purposes. Support was over 80 percent for all age groups.

State lawmakers voted this year to legalize a strain of low-potency marijuana to treat epilepsy and cancer patients.

NEW YORK (medical)

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill over the weekend making his state the 23rd to allow medical marijuana, though his state will have one of the most restrictive programs in the country.

The drug isn't expected to be available for at least 19 months while the state works out regulations.

Patients with one of 10 diseases will be allowed to use the drug, but it must be ingested or vaporized; smoking it will remain illegal. Some advocates argued it is too restrictive but called it an important step.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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