State of Play

Summertime is generally a slow timefor politics, except in election years. I anticipate that next summer will be the craziest that we’ve seen in 50 years, an oscillating creep-show curve guaranteed to make grown men weep and children use language that will get them slapped. I don’t really blame them, though, because the future—their future—is very much in doubt. Their predicament was the subject of my favorite viral tweet of the year: “Baby Boomers did that thing where you leave a single square of toilet paper on the roll and pretend it’s not your turn to change it but with a whole society.” (Thanks, @ItsDanSheehan!)

But that’s next summer. Right now, much of the political action has cooled down in the sweltering heat. The cannabis issue is simmering on the back-burners of state legislatures around the country. The upward trend of legal laxity is not as pronounced as it was last year, but that’s largely because so much significant ground has already been gained. New Mexico recently became the latest state to decriminalize marijuana, effective July 1. It’s not technically legal, but the penalty for possession of a half-ounce or less now carries a mere $50 fine. Hawaii is expected to follow suit—or, rather, lack of suit—any day now.

New Mexico is the 14th state to embrace decriminalization, which for decades was touted as a fair compromise between activists who would prefer full legalization and the moralists who still insist on the state standing in formal opposition. NM’s governor has already begun laying the groundwork for a legalization push next year. Several other states are doing the same.

There are currently 11 states in the legal category. The most recent initiate was Illinois, whose governor signed the law into effect on June 25. Even better, not only does the legislation legalize, it also expunges all prior convictions for possession of 30 grams or less, while those caught holding more than 30 grams but less than 500 can seek redress by petitioning the courts. This is probably the most solidly progressive revision of the existing laws yet seen in this country, and it will be really interesting to see how this does (or doesn’t) affect the situation on the ground in places like Chicago.

As we’ve seen, there are basically two approaches to pursuing the cannabis agenda on the state level. States with progressive electorates—like New Mexico and Illinois—can coax bills through their legislatures, then have Democratic governors sign them. This isn’t happening anytime soon in Florida. The best option is to use the petition process to get legalization on the 2020 ballot, where observers anticipate a flood of left-leaning voters brought in by the presidential election.

The only problem: As noted recently in this column, petitioneers are way, way behind, in part because of changes to the petition process (changes designed to this very end) and in part because the business interests associated with the cannabis industry have been suspiciously slow to help fund these efforts. Feel free to speculate on why that is.