Pot proponents claim victory, set sights on national legalization

"We are going for the jugular on this issue," says Drug Policy Alliance's national affairs chief.
Image: Voters Across The Country Head To The Polls For The Midterm Elections
Thousands of mail-in ballots are processed by election workers on Tuesday in Provo, Utah. A proposition to legalize medical marijuana in Utah appeared headed for approval early Wednesday. George Frey / Getty Images

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By Dennis Romero

Marijuana proponents were elated Tuesday after major cannabis measures passed in Michigan and Missouri and Democrats took control of the House.

The victories — for recreational cannabis in Michigan and medical marijuana in Missouri — have emboldened some leaders in the prohibition reform movement to declare that they'll push for legalization in the House.

"We are going for the jugular on this issue," said Michael Collins, interim director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Voters in Utah endorsed a measure that would provide access to medical marijuana despite opposition from the powerful Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

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Michigan's initiative will tax and regulate sales of marijuana for those 21 and older. Missouri will allow medical use for doctor-approved patients who have certain conditions.

Pot proponents were also claiming victory in key congressional races. Longtime incumbent Rep. Pete Sessions, R-Texas, was defeated Tuesday by Democrat Colin Allred. As chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions repeatedly blocked pro-marijuana legislation.

Candidates considered friendly to the movement, including incumbent Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and newcomer Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a New York Democrat, were winners in House races Tuesday.

"The bench is deep now," Collins said of pro-decriminalization legislators. "The debate over should we legalize is over, and it's now how should we legalize."

Kevin Sabet, founder of anti-legalization nonprofit Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said proponents are getting ahead of themselves.

Sabet noted that some pro-marijuana candidates, including Texas' Beto O'Rourke, were defeated, and that Missouri shot down other cannabis proposals, even though it legalized medical pot. North Dakota voters defeated a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational cannabis.

"Tonight showed that legalization is not inevitable," he said.

According to the Drug Policy Alliance, Michigan represents the tenth recreational marijuana state. "Missouri also became the 32nd state to approve medical marijuana," according to a DPA statement.

Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement that Tuesday was "yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition.

"Marijuana has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, so I think it's safe to say federal laws are in need of an update," he said. "We hope the results of this election will inspire Congress to finally start addressing the tension that exists between state and federal marijuana laws in our nation."