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Jan. 2, 2014 01:57

A Banner Year

The 2014 Legalization Forecast is optimistic and action-packed all year-long

Experts say 2014 will be a year for the legalization history books, with at least three states regulating adult use of marijuana, and several more trying.

On Jan. 1, Colorado and Washington begin the first, legal, recreational sales of marijuana in the U.S. since 1937.

Hundreds of thousands more medical cannabis patients will be able to access the pain and nausea botanical for the first time at regulated dispensaries in places like Arizona, Illinois, and Nevada.

And slew of bills to legalize the herb will circulate in the capitals of states like Maine, New York, and Massachusetts — adding to the crescendo calling for reform.

Fifty-eight percent of Americans now support cannabis legalization, Gallup reports.

“I think it’s going to be a banner year for reform,” said Tom Angell, founder of the Marijuana Majority advocacy group. “This is real. It’s not going away. It’s only going to expand.”

LIBERAL TRIFECTA

Alaska

Alaska joins Oregon and Rhode Island as the three best bets for pot legalization in 2014. Alaskans already enjoy decriminalization of under four ounces, and polls suggest 54 percent of Alaskans favor outright legalization. As of press time, the highly capable reform group Marijuana Policy Project was gathering the final 4,000 signatures needed to put the legalization question before Alaska voters in August.

Oregon

Oregon has decriminalized one ounce of marijuana and legalized medical marijuana. Now, activist groups have filed three ballot measures - 21, 22, and 37 - to legalize weed in the beaver state. About 57 percent of Oregonians support ending pot prohibition and in 2012, legalization Measure 80 failed 53-47. An Oregon legalization bill died in 2013, and a group called New Approach Oregon is urging the legislature to pass it this year, or else the voters will.

In 2013 Oregon became the 14th state with a dispensary program, which they roll out this year. PTSD was also added to the list of medical marijuana indications in the state.

Rhode Island

Unlike Alaska and Oregon, Rhode Island stands to be the first state to legalize weed through the state legislature. Rhode Island has had medical marijuana for seven years and in 2012 decriminalized personal possession of pot. About fifty-two percent of state residents support legalization. Marijuana Policy Project leads the lobbying effort in the statehouse. A legalization bill failed in 2013, but received Senate and House hearings. “It had a lot of support this past year,” said Mason Tvert, MPP Communications Director.

The bill will be back in 2014, but it’s much harder to predict legislative victories as opposed to ballot initiatives, said Troy Dayton, CEO of marijuana investment firm The ArcView Group.

“All it takes is one person in the wrong committee and you’re done for the year,” he said.

DARK HORSE

California

The Golden State is going to be another three-ring circus in 2014, with legalization looking like a long-shot despite strong public support.

About 56 percent of Californians are ready to legalize it, and three legalization groups have filed three different initiatives with the Secretary of State. None of the groups have shown they have the war chest - about $10 million - to bring home a victory. Ongoing divisions between legalization camps is keeping the big money out.

Proposition 19 failed 53-47 in 2010, and failed to carry key counties like the pot-growing epicenter of Humboldt. Consumers, cops, dispensaries, and growers remain at odds.

Experts have been planning a 2016 push, but there is a growing unease about squandering the movement’s momentum. “Who knows what could happen between now and 2016?” said Angell.

California is nearly out of time for a 2014 bid, however. “It’s a short lead,” said Dayton. “Can we raise the money? Can we put together a political machine? Can we create a way to unite the varying parties and make it work? That’s a big question.”

Tvert said MPP is focusing on 2016 in California. “While 2014 is possible, … it’s a sure thing in 2016.”

MARKET MOVERS

Arizona

A number of states implement varying forms of regulated access to cannabis and this year’s crop of medical cannabis dispensaries will bring unprecedented levels of access to Americans.

ArcView estimates about $2.34 billion in legal cannabis sales will occur in the U.S. in 2014, and Arizona is “ where we’re going to see the most excitement,” Dayton said.

The state is still in the process of licensing retail medical marijuana centers and the few open in 2013 were “just the tip of the iceberg,” he said.

About 56 percent of Arizonans support legalization, and the Grand Canyon State is on the short list for 2016 legalization.

Nevada

Activist are also shooting for 2016 legalization in the gambling mecca after a similar bid failed in 2006. Nevada is a medical marijuana state and approved dispensaries in 2013, and they open their doors this year.

Massachusetts

The Bay State has had medical marijuana since 2012 and rolls out its heavily regulated dispensary system this year. “These growing centers are going to be huge,” said Dayton. Massachusetts legislators will again float a legalization bill in 2014, but it faces very long odds. Like most East Coast states, Massachusetts bans direct democracy.

Illinois

The key midwestern population center of Illinois sees a small dispensary system come online in 2014, though ArcView estimates just $2.5 million in gross sales. Chicago approved decriminalization in 2012. Connecticut, and Vermont also have small medical marijuana programs under development this year.

Maine

Maine’s medical cannabis dispensary system - around since 2009 - will continue to mature in 2014 while lawmakers again float an adult-use bill. In 2013, the Maine city of Portland legalized marijuana, and marijuana is decriminalized throughout the entire state. Under two and a half ounces is a ticket with max fine of $600. Maine has granted medical marijuana patients legal immunity since ’99.

Washington D.C.

The heart of the U.S. Drug War is also a hotbed of defectors. The District also has a tiny, heavily restricted medical marijuana program that grows in 2014. Some 11 out of 13 D.C. council members are co-sponsoring a decriminalization bill.

“It seems like it’s going to happen one way or the other,” said Angell.

UNFINISHED BUSINESS

Michigan

The Michigan House approved dispensary legislation Dec. 12, and the Senate in the medical marijuana state is set to debate the system in January. In 2013, Michigan capital Lansing, as well as the cities of Ferndale and Jackson voted to end pot prohibition in town limits.

New York

The populous media capital of the world remains a backwater for cannabis law reform. A new legalization bill in the statehouse is virtually dead-on-arrival. Watchers expect New York City Mayor-elect DeBlasio to pursue partial decriminalization as a way to lessen the injustice of the Big Apple’s notoriously racit stop and frisk policy. The Empire State will also debate medical marijuana again this year.

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