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Marijuana reform grows up

Voters in Colorado and Maine reflect national trend toward legalization and taxation of marijuana.
/ Source: MSNBC TV

Voters in Colorado and Maine reflect national trend toward legalization and taxation of marijuana.

Advocates for relaxed marijuana laws saw dual victories Tuesday after voters in Portland, Maine, passed a ballot initiative to legalize recreational pot use and Coloradans approved a proposal to levy a 25% tariff on the drug.

The Portland ballot measure allows adults over 21 to acquire and possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana in Maine’s largest city. The referendum passed 9,921 – 4,823, making Portland the first municipality east of the Mississippi River to remove all criminal penalties from the plant. While marijuana has been legal for medical purposes in Maine since 1999, state law still imposes a $350 - $1000 fine for marijuana possession. Portland police officials have told the press that while they will continue to enforce the statewide prohibition, marijuana remains a low-priority.

The Portland measure is similar to the 2005 vote that decriminalized marijuana in Denver, and lacks the language establishing regulatory policies included in last November’s marijuana legalization initiative in Colorado. However, due to a state constitutional requirement that all new taxes are approved by voter referendum it was not until Tuesday night that Colorado voters approved a taxation scheme for marijuana sales. Proposition AA, which passed last night in a 65-35 landslide, levies a 15% excise tax on marijuana wholesales and a 10% sales tax on retail sales in addition to the existing 2.9 percent state sales tax. 

The proposition stipulates that the first $40 million of revenue generated by the excise tax will be dedicated to public school construction while 15 percent of the retail sales tax must remain at the city and county level.

On January 1, 2014 recreational marijuana stores will be allowed to open in Colorado. The state Marijuana Enforcement Division has so far accepted over three hundred applications for marijuana businesses.

Currently, a bill to decriminalize marijuana in Washington, D.C., is rapidly advancing through the city council. Alaska and Oregon may put recreational legalization on the ballot in 2014. In October Gallup reported that for the first time in the history of their polling a majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana.