USA Today reports:
Voters in Colorado, Washington state and Oregon face proposals to change state laws to permit possession and regulate the sale of marijuana — though the plant with psychoactive properties remains an illegal substance under federal law.
Approval in even one state would be a dramatic step that most likely would face legal challenges but could also bring pressure on the federal government to consider modifying the national prohibition on marijuana that has been in place since 1937, backers say.
"One of these states crossing that Rubicon will immediately set up a challenge to the federal government,'' says Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Independent polls have shown proponents leading in Washington and Colorado a month or more before the election, but the outcome remains in doubt, and both sides are aware of what happened in California in 2010: The similar Proposition 19 lost 53.5% to 46.5% after an early lead in favor disappeared.
"It's a similar trajectory here,'' says Laura Chapin, spokeswoman for a group opposing Colorado's Amendment 64, who predicts the proposal will be defeated.
John Matsusaka, a professor of law and business who is president of the Initiative & Referendum Institute at the University of Southern California, says the ballot questions on recreational use reflect growing acceptance of marijuana.
A Gallup poll in October 2011 showed support for legalization of marijuana at 50%, the highest since Gallup began asking the question in 1970, and 46% opposed. Seventeen states have permitted marijuana use and possession for medical reasons since 1996, when California became the first, and many cities have instructed police to make pot a low priority for enforcement.
"Public opinion is trending in this direction,'' Matsusaka says. "It's a matter of time before one of these passes.''
Medical-marijuana proposals are on the ballot in three states: Arkansas, Massachusetts and Montana.