Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Massachusetts voters approve marijuana for medicinal purposes

By Allison Linn, NBC News

Voters in Massachusetts approved a law Tuesday allowing people to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, NBC News projected.

It’s one of six states in which voters are being asked to decide on a wide array of laws around legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes.

In three of those states – Colorado, Oregon and Washington – voters were deciding whether to allow people over 21 to use marijuana for any purpose.

In addition to Massachusetts, voters in Arkansas also are being asked to approve the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. In Montana, they are being asked whether to revamp an existing law to make it more restrictive.

The laws legalizing marijuana for recreational or other purposes could face federal challenges, because marijuana possession is still a federal crime. But so far, the Justice Department has declined to discuss how it might react if the laws pass. The federal government’s response also will likely depend on whether Barack Obama or Mitt Romney becomes president in 2013.

Seventeen states and the District of Columbia already have laws allowing for the medical use of marijuana, according to the National Council of Legislatures.

The laws under consideration in Washington, Oregon and Colorado would take things one step further, explicitly allowing people to smoke pot for more than just medicinal purposes.

Proponents say it’s about time pot was made legal and that it would create new avenues of tax revenue. But opponents say legalization would lead to more drug abuse and concerns about things like driving while impaired.

The idea of legalizing marijuana has gained acceptance in recent years. A Gallup poll released in October of 2011 found that 50 percent of Americans now favor legalizing pot. A decade ago, only around 34 percent were in favor. Liberals and adults under 29 are the most likely to approve of legalizing use of the drug.

Here’s a look at the states considering marijuana laws Tuesday.

Arkansas: Voters in Arkansas will consider whether to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Colorado: Voters in Colorado are being asked to approve a bill that would allow people 21 and over to possess and use a small amount of marijuana for recreational purposes. A similar measure was defeated in 2006.

Massachusetts: Voters in Massachusetts are being asked to vote on whether it’s OK to legalize marijuana for medical purposes.

Montana: In 2004, voters in Montana approved a law allowing marijuana for medical purposes. Then, in 2011, the legislature approved replacing it with a new, more restrictive one. Voters on Tuesday will decide whether to allow those restrictions to be upheld.

Oregon: Voters in Oregon are being asked to decide whether to legalize marijuana use for people who are 21 years or older, and to tax and regulate it in the same way as alcohol.

Washington: The Washington bill would allow people over age 21 to possess a small amount of pot for personal use.

NBC's Lester Holt takes a look at some of the states where voters are weighing their options regarding marijuana.

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