- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 31, 2017

President Trump’s victory may have been the big headline out of Election Day 2016, but a number of states also saw voters that same day approve ballot initiatives legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.

A year in, they’ve seen varying degrees of success.

In Nevada, voters approved Ballot Question 2 by a 54-46 vote. By the end of 2017, the pot economy had taken hold, with advertisements quickly springing up and Las Vegas’ famous Strip reeking of marijuana smoke on an average evening.

Maine, meanwhile, narrowly approved its new policy by just 4,000 votes, out of more than 750,000 cast. Since then, the Republican governor and Democrat-led State Legislature have feuded over how to carry out the voters’ instructions.

Voters in California and Massachusetts also approved marijuana policies that allowed for use beyond strictly medicinal purposes, with their implementation falling somewhere between Nevada and Maine.

“The biggest success we’ve had in legalization with implementation in Nevada. Sales have been going on since July,” said Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).

Mr. Strekal said Nevada is earning millions of dollars in additional tax revenue and could be getting a boost from marijuana tourism, after lawmakers worked quickly to build a regulatory system for marijuana sales, which even managed to start ahead of schedule.

The Cannabist, an industry publication, reported that sales in July, the first month for sales in Nevada, totaled $27.1 million and rose to $33 million in August. Sales for recreational use earned the state $3.35 million in taxes, while medicinal sales accounted for about $1.5 million more, the publication said.

One expert in the state said Nevada made a smooth transition because of its experience with other industries such as gambling and prostitution.

“Other states don’t have something like this,” said Chris Thompson, executive director of Las Vegas NORML. “We already have a highly regulatory system, like gaming, so it made sense to give cannabis similar regulations.”

Mr. Thompson also said that unlike other states, Nevada had the support of the governor and local police enforcement, who wanted to see the additional tax revenue and crackdown on the black market sales.

Across the country in Maine, though, officials are struggling with the transition. Lawmakers passed legislation setting up a regulatory system, but Gov. Paul LePage vetoed it in November, saying he worried that Maine was about to repeat mistakes other states made in legalization.

Mr. LePage, in particular, pointed to the confusing legal situation. The federal government still classifies marijuana as an illegal drug, and while the Obama administration signaled it would look the other way on states that pursued legalization, Mr. LePage noted that there are no such assurances from the Trump administration.

“Until I clearly understand how the federal government intends to treat states that seek to legalize marijuana, I cannot in good conscience support any scheme in state law to implement expansion of legal marijuana in Maine,” the Republican governor said.

He also said the new recreational use system the legislature proposed didn’t mesh with the existing medical marijuana system.

State Sen. Roger Katz, who chaired the special committee that wrote the marijuana-legalization bill, said the state now faces a situation of ongoing illegal sales.

“It’s a bit of chaos at the moment,” said Mr. Katz, a Republican. “Because it’s not legal, in some sense, the black market is flourishing.”

Although sales are set to start Feb. 1, there will likely be a delay until after the legislature reconvenes on the issue in January to further negotiate.

Mr. LePage’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

California, which approved recreational marijuana use 57-43, is slated to see sales begin Jan. 1. The state pioneered legal medical marijuana in the 1990s, and dispensaries are gearing up for big business.

Massachusetts approved legal use by 54-46 — but the battle has shifted to the local level, where communities are allowed to opt out of sales.

If a community voted against legal pot in the 2016 referendum, local councils or boards can opt out on their own. In localities where voters supported legal pot, though, officials must put the matter back to voters in another referendum.


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