As we’ve discussed here before at The Daily Leaf, the varying forms of democracy practiced in different states have direct implications for the likelihood of marijuana legalization. In most states where medical marijuana has been legalized, the move has come through citizen initiatives. And that’s been the route for all-out legalization in each of the eight “green states” across America’s West and Northeast. But while those of us in Oregon have long been accustomed to voting directly for the laws which will govern us, that practice doesn’t exist in many states.
The reason that loosening marijuana regulation tends to come from direct citizen democracy has to do with the political incentives involved. Lawmakers don’t like to be on the losing side of an issue, and have reason to fear a conservative backlash in their next election should they vote yes on a legalization bill that fails to pass. Legalization bills that actually become law, on the other hand, are unlikely to face extensive backlash as voters see what the reality of legal marijuana looks like.
Connecticut, a relatively progressive state with a number of prominent fiscal conservatives that espouse liberal social views, may be the first state to buck the trend of legalization through ballot initiative. The state has no provision for direct democracy, but with legalization is all Pacific states as well as neighboring Massachusetts, the socially tolerant New England state is a logical next step for the green wave.
And it seems the green wave is coming. Connecticut’s House Judiciary Committee is now reported to be holding hearings on marijuana legalization. With the state facing a $1.7 billion dollar budget shortfall for the upcoming fiscal year, legislators are opening their minds to the potential for tax revenue that legalization could bring.
Now, committee hearings are only committee hearings, and this may yet go nowhere. But it’s a strong sign that the legalization movement still has steam, as states look beyond citizen democracy as a way to rethink our cannabis legislation.