Voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada approve recreational use of marijuana

By Jen Christensen

Voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada have decided that marijuana should be legal to use recreationally.

On election day, voters in five states were asked to decide whether the recreational use of marijuana should be legalized and so far, three have said yes.

The number of adults who have smoked weed has nearly doubled in three years, according to a Gallup poll released in August.

It is the No. 1 illicit drug of choice for Americans, according to the 2014 National Survey on Drug Use, although only one-third of users reported an addiction to the substance, unlike most all the other illicit drugs used.

Prior to the vote, it was legal to use recreational marijuana only in four states and in the District of Columbia. Colorado and Washington state voted to OK it in 2012. Alaska and Oregon voters approved it in 2014.

Medical marijuana is legal in half of US states and was on state ballots this year in Montana, Florida and North Dakota. It was on the ballot in Arkansas with two initiatives, but the results won’t count for one of them, after the state Supreme Court struck the issue in October, due to invalid signatures.

For the states where recreational use is legal, it seems to have been a boost to the economy. The marijuana industry created more than 18,000 full-time jobs last year and generated $2.39 billion in economic activity in Colorado, according to an analysis from the Marijuana Policy Group.

There have also been some health consequences. Emergency rooms have seen a significant increase in adult marijuana-related exposure cases.

The number of calls to poison control centers involving Colorado children has gone up, as has the number of children who’ve been taken to the hospital for treatment due to unintentional marijuana exposure, studies show. There have also been more school suspensions, marijuana-related traffic deaths, pet poisonings and lab explosions.

Here’s what was chosen at the polls.

California: Approved

The people of California voted to make the recreational use of marijuana legal.

Being the country’s most populous state and the world’s sixth-largest economy, the decision could have the biggest impact on the national scene.

In 1996, the state was the first to make medical marijuana legal.

The “yes” on Proposition 64 will now make it legal for people 21 or older to use it recreationally. There would be a 15% sales tax, and its cultivation will be taxed. The money will be used in part to study drug research, to study treatment and to help with enforcement of the law.

The state’s two largest newspapers backed the measure, as did the California Democratic Party, while Republicans were against it.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told the Los Angeles Times Friday that she planned to vote in favor of it. That makes Pelosi the highest-ranking, sitting elected official in either political party to support legalizing a drug the federal government currently considers a Schedule 1 narcotic. A Schedule 1 narcotic is a drug with no currently accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse. The category also includes heroin.

Massachusetts: Approved

Massachusetts also voted to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Massachusetts already had some marijuana-friendly laws in place before the decision. Medical marijuana became legal in 2012, and a 2008 ballot measure replaced criminal penalties with civil penalties on adults who possess an ounce or less.

Question 4, as the recreational use measure is called, will legalize it and allow the commonwealth to tax and regulate its use and sale, much like the way alcohol is handled. That means people 21 and older could use it, possess it or grow it. They can have under 10 ounces in their home and under 1 ounce in public and be allowed to grow six plants.

A number of politicians there support it, as does the American Civil Liberties Union.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, opposed legalization, as did Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, a Democrat. Baker who argued that passage would exacerbate the state’s opioid epidemic.

Roman Catholic bishops in Massachusetts also argued against legalization, saying it is “not a path civil society should chose to take.”

The Boston Globe wrote in support of the ballot measure, arguing, “legal marijuana is coming. Let’s get on with it.”

Nevada: Approved

In Nevada, it was a yes.

This “yes” on Question 2 will make recreational use of 1 ounce or less legal or one-eighth of an ounce or less of concentrated marijuana legal for people age 21 and older.

Medical marijuana was legalized in Nevada in 2000.

The new law will allow stores, manufacturers and distributors to set up shop in the state.

People can also grow six plants for personal use as long as it was in an enclosed area with a lock. The law will create fines for growing marijuana within public view. You could also get fined for smoking it in a public place or in a moving vehicle.

No marijuana businesses will be allowed to set up shop within 1,000 feet of a school and 500 feet of a community facility.

Nevada will also put a 15% excise tax on it. The money will go to support schools and the regulation of the drug.

A number of legislators and unions have voiced support for the measure. Conservative megadonor and casino owner Sheldon Adelson was against it. A number of legislators voiced support for legalization, suggesting that it could bring additional tourist revenue to the state.

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