The Austin Chronicle

Legalize it! Tax it!

By Jordan Smith, November 6, 2013, 2:21pm, Newsdesk

It may be an off-year election, but voters are still high on pot measures, with key votes Tuesday night in two states signaling to reformers that the War on Marijuana is certainly down in the polls.

In Colorado, a handy 65% majority of voters yesterday approved a new tax on legal marijuana sales across the state. Colorado voters in November 2012 were among those to make history by approving a popular measure to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana cultivation and recreational use by adults. (Voters in Washington approved a similar measure.) Now, voters have weighed in again, heavily in favor of the proposed 15% tax on wholesale pot transactions – the first $40 million of which, annually, will be put into the state's school construction fund – and of an additional 10% tax on retail sales. The state's first retail pot shops are set to open in January.

"Colorado is demonstrating to the rest of the nation that it is possible to end marijuana prohibition and successfully regulate marijuana like alcohol," said Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, which backed the successful 2012 legalization, and this taxation, measure. "It's only a matter of time before voters and lawmakers in other states recognize the benefits and adopt similar policies."

Indeed, voters in Portland, Maine, voted overwhelmingly Tuesday (reportedly, nearly 70% in favor) to legalize recreational marijuana use and possession of up to 2.5 ounces of pot by adults in that city, making it the first on the East Coast to do so. How the law will play out in the short term is unclear: pot possession and use is still illegal under state law, though possession of up to 2.5 ounces is subject to a fine only. Still, unlike in Colorado and Washington, there are no legal sources of marijuana and folks with pot packaged for sale are subject to criminal charges regardless the amount. (According to the Portland Press Herald, the city's police chief, Michael Sauschuck explains it like this: "If you smoke a joint, it's a civil violation; if you pass it to the person next to you, it's a criminal violation for furnishing; and if that person pays for the joint, it's a criminal charge for selling marijuana," the paper reported.)

Nonetheless, the overwhelming vote in favor of legalization in Maine's largest city is encouraging to the MPP, which will support a statewide legalization measure in 2016. Indeed, MPP reports that it will support passage measures to legalize, tax, and regulation marijuana in 13 additional states by 2017 – including in Alaska in 2014, and California, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, and Nevada in 2016.

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