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State by state, medical marijuana legalized

A few months ago, Congressman Jared Polis told the Colorado Independent that he thought it would take a majority of states legalizing medical marijuana or otherwise liberalizing their laws before Congress would be likely to do anything at the federal level.

Currently, 16 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical marijuana. Now it looks like at least one more state is moving in that direction, with two different measures moving toward a vote in Ohio.

From The Columbus Dispatch:

While Cleveland billionaire Peter Lewis already had sent up smoke signals about organizing and funding a medical-marijuana ballot issue, another group quietly has been laying the groundwork for a constitutional amendment.

If approved by voters, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Act of 2012 would establish a regulatory system modeled after the Ohio State Liquor Control system. There would be an Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control, plus a state division and superintendent to run it. Marijuana purchases would require a doctor’s prescription and would be subject to state and local sales taxes.

Peter Lewis is the chairman of the board of Progressive Insurance Company, a company founded by his father. He has donated almost a quarter of a billion dollars to Princeton University, at least $15 million to the ACLU and $3 million to the Marijuana Policy Project, an organization that, among other things, tracks marijuana policy in the states.

Karen O’Keefe, of MPP, says she sees a scenario by which 27 states have legalized medical marijuana by 2014. In addition to Ohio, other states apparently on the cusp include Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, Arkansas, Idaho, North Dakota and New Hampshire.

Once a majority of states have passed laws, she says it becomes much more likely that Congress will pass a bill like the one recently introduced by Rep. Barney Frank, D-MA, Rep. Jared Polis and others that would actually legalize marijuana federally, leaving it to each state to either keep it illegal at the state level or to legalize, regulate and tax it.

She said that even if a bill like that doesn’t pass, with each new state that legalizes medical marijuana it becomes more likely that congress will address the issue by at least instructing federal law enforcement agencies not to prosecute anyone who is in compliance with state laws that legalize and regulate medical marijuana.

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