WASHINGTON, Oct. 29 (UPI) -- Voters in Alaska and Oregon will decide next Tuesday whether to join Colorado and Washington in legalizing -- and taxing -- recreational marijuana.
An initiative in the District of Columbia would remove all criminal penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana and for sharing it with others. While critics and supporters of Initiative 71 call it legalization, the measure does not regulate sales or tax them.
Recreational marijuana sales became legal this year in Colorado and Washington State after successful referenda in 2012. The outcome of this year's votes could determine whether the movement will stall or potentially gain national momentum.
Ballot Measure 71 in Oregon would extend the state's current regulatory system for medical marijuana to recreational sales. The tax would be set at $35 per ounce, undercutting the $50 tax in neighboring Washington.
Voters in Oregon, who rejected legalization in 2012, are split on the issue. A poll for the Oregonian and KGW-TV surveyed 403 likely voters and found 44 percent favor legalization and 46 percent oppose it.
Democrat Jeff Merkley has become the first sitting U.S. senator to support legal marijuana, although he is not an enthusiast. He told Talking Points Memo he is leaning towards voting for the initiative.
"I think folks on both sides of the argument make a good case," Merkley said. "And there is concern about a series of new products -- and we don't have a real track record from Colorado and Washington. But I feel on balance that we spend a lot of money on our criminal justice system in the wrong places and I lean in favor of this ballot measure."
The Alaska measure would tax marijuana at $50 an ounce. The Marijuana Policy Group, an organization formed this year to provide research on regulatory policy, predicted that sales would bring in $7.1 million in new tax revenue in the first year, increasing in subsequent years. That was based on estimates of sales to Alaskans and not on marijuana tourism, which has lured many visitors to Colorado.
The District of Columbia's decriminalization measure appears almost certain to pass with polls showing voters support it 2-1. Congress could spike it or allow the city council to move ahead and set up a regulation and tax framework.