The ballot initiative process is an effective way around skittish polititicians

To understand how important and effective the initiative process has been for advancing marijuana reform we need only look at two states recently in the news for the issue, New York and Oregon.

New York is actually more liberal than Oregon, according to Gallup, and voted heavily for Barack Obama in 2012. Obama carried New York with 63.4 percent of the votes but won only 54.4 percent in Oregon.

The people of New York are also arguably as supportive, or even more supportive, of marijuana reform as the people of Oregon. A Quinnipiac poll from February found 57 percent of New York voters support legally possessing small amounts of marijuana for personal use. The highest support any independent poll found for legalization in Oregon was 54 percent.

Yet this year New York is finally only getting a watered down medical marijuana law while Oregon has had medical marijuana since 1998 — and will likely fully legalize marijuana for adults this November.

The less liberal Oregon is effectively 16 years ahead of New York for the simply reason that it provides an initiative process for getting around reluctant politicians. It was a citizen initiative, ballot measure 67, that got medical marijuana legalized in Oregon back in 1998, and it is another initiative that will likely lead to the state legalizing adult use this year.

Marijuana reform is one issue where politicians are either out of touch with their constituents and/or almost comically afraid to do anything. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is a perfect example of just how needlessly awful many politicians are on this issue. Despite New York voters backing medical marijuana by an incredible 10-1 margin, Cuomo said at the last minute he would kill the already modest bill unless his absurd last minute demands further limiting the program were met.

Hopefully, things won’t move as slowly with full marijuana legalization. At the moment it looks like the lack of an initiative process could mean that even in states where a majority of voters already back marijuana legalization they may need to wait five, ten, or even possibly sixteen years long than they should for reform.

Jon Walker is the author of After Legalization: Understanding the future of marijuana policy

Photo by Sheila Steele under Creative Commons license