Skip to main content

2014, a make-or-break year for legal pot

By John Hudak
updated 1:59 PM EST, Mon December 30, 2013
There appears to be a shift in the United States in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, a topic that has dipped in and out of the national conversation for decades. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana. There appears to be a shift in the United States in favor of relaxing marijuana laws, a topic that has dipped in and out of the national conversation for decades. Public perceptions about pot have come a long way, from the dire warnings of "Reefer Madness" to growing acceptance of medical marijuana.
HIDE CAPTION
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
History of marijuana in America
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
24
25
26
27
28
29
30
31
32
33
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • 2014 is the year the nation starts to experiment with legal marijuana, John Hudak says
  • He writes that other states will watch what happens in Colorado, Washington closely
  • Hudak: Organized advocacy groups took debate out of dorm room to policy makers
  • He says groups will help states with implementation, crucial for success

Editor's note: John Hudak is a fellow in governance studies at the Brookings Institution and the managing editor of the FixGov Blog. He is the author of the forthcoming book "Presidential Pork: White House Influence Over the Distribution of Federal Grants." Follow him on Twitter @JohnJHudak.

(CNN) -- The new year will be the year the nation really starts to experiment with marijuana.

It won't be the year legalization sweeps the country; it will be a year of wait and see. Indeed, 2014 will see the legalization movement gain greater political strength while facing the possibility of setbacks if the implementation of new laws fails.

It will also be a year of momentum-building. Advocacy groups will build on their recent ballot successes and work hard assisting implementation of new laws in Colorado and Washington. It may not be a flashy year; it may not be a headline-grabbing year, but it will be a critical year for the future of legalization advocacy.

John Hudak
John Hudak

In 2013, Washington and Colorado built the administrative infrastructure to ready their states for the legal sale of marijuana after successful 2012 ballot initiatives. Those initiatives were among the biggest victories to date for the legalization movement.

Of course, those successes didn't come about by accident. They were largely because legalization advocates -- over the course of many years -- transformed the movement into a mature, organized set of interest groups. These well-funded, expertly staffed groups showed themselves to be a political force with statewide ballot initiatives and increasingly in elections. Demonstrating the increasing acceptance of marijuana, the founder of a medical marijuana store, a respected businessman, was voted mayor of Sebastopol, California, last month.

Opinion: Finally, a nation legalizes pot

Statewide victories were complemented by local-level initiatives. Successes in places like Portland, Maine, and Lansing, Michigan, will probably generate greater energy in other cities, like Washington, that are considering legalization.

Building on this trend, groups will continue to develop as a politically savvy and powerful interest. In the world of lobbying, nothing breeds success (or raises funds) like prior success, and the past 14 months mean the movement will grow in numbers and financial capacity.

On a grass-roots level, organizations like NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project will continue to show people that support for legalization is no longer taboo. Instead, it is a serious issue that deals with public health, regulation, taxation and budgeting. These groups have done well to frame the issue not as a dorm-room debate but as a public policy problem. Those efforts pull supporters out of the shadows; they will continue in 2014.

In 2014, marijuana advocacy organizations will also continue to do something unheard of in today's American politics: unite Americans. This is one of the most remarkable, rarely discussed aspects of the movement. They don't just bring together like-minded Americans. They often bring together groups who normally bitterly oppose each other.

Liberals join hands with libertarians. Wealthy white voters who see marijuana laws as outdated join with non-white voters who see the enforcement of marijuana laws as discriminatory. Children of the 1960s join with their grandchildren who won't retire until even as late as the 2060s.

Colorado prepares for legal pot
Uruguay decriminalizes pot
Seattle celebrates pot legalization

On many issues, these groups have different views, but on legalization, many people find common ground. All those who think it should be legal to inhale may be the ones who breathe fresh air into American politics. They will produce policy solutions in a system that consistently fails to do anything of note.

The gains for supporters of legalization will be on display in 2014. But something else will happen behind the scenes this year that will be absolutely critical for the movement.

Advocates are planning statewide efforts, similar to those in Colorado and Washington. Organizations in places like Oregon and Massachusetts, among other states, are considering legalization ballot initiatives in the coming years. However, elected officials and voters may well take a wait-and-see approach. Colorado's and Washington's experiences will affect voters in future legalization efforts.

If those states have a positive experience with legalization -- dispelling opponents' concerns about addiction, traffic safety and crime --- and it adds to their budgets, others will be more open to legalization. Advocacy groups will face a flourishing political landscape.

If, however, the experiences in those states are negative -- implementation goes awry, programs become cost-inefficient or public health concerns arise -- the movement will stumble.

Advocates are not leaving that outcome to chance. In a show of how serious they are about legalization-as-public-policy, they are actively assisting states in implementation. If the movement will continue to succeed, it must be actively committed to making implementation work and work well. If the experience of the Affordable Care Act in 2013 has shown us anything, it is that implementation matters. Botched rollouts, unforeseen bumps in the road and other challenges hurt advocates and embolden opponents.

In this way, 2014 is the start of experimentation with marijuana. It might not be a flashy year for the movement or the opposition. But 10 years from now, legalization advocates may look back at this year and note that it was make or break for the movement, making 2014 one of the most crucial years for marijuana policy.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Hudak.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT