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Legalizing Pot: What’s Happening In Other States?

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The votes in Washington and Colorado last month legalizing marijuana were just the latest developments in the debate over marijuana use in the United States.

Lawmakers and activists in some other states are contemplating their next moves in regards to marijuana. A sampling of that activity:

—RHODE ISLAND: Under a law that takes effect April 1, adults in Rhode Island caught with an ounce or less of marijuana would face a $150 civil fine and a state representative has said she plans to re-introduce legislation to legalize marijuana.

—INDIANA: Key lawmakers from both parties plan to introduce measures next year that would decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug. Democratic state Sen. Karen Tallian says attitudes are changing among her fellow lawmakers, while Republican Sen. Brent Steele says the state should focus its strained resources on violent crime rather than pot smokers.

—VERMONT: Gov. Peter Shumlin and many lawmakers are pushing for decriminalization, in which those caught with small amounts of marijuana would be given something akin to a traffic fine rather than facing a criminal charge. Shumlin has argued that young people caught with small amounts of the drug should not have their future job prospects affected by a criminal record. House Speaker Shap Smith has opposed decriminalization, but this week he said he is willing to have a debate.

—ILLINOIS: Democratic state Rep. Lou Lang has been trying to legalize medical marijuana, but has no plans to try to go beyond that. Dan Linn, executive director of Illinois NORML, a group advocating the legalization of all marijuana use, said at least one lawmaker has expressed interest in introducing a bill in January. But Linn said many lawmakers don’t want to ruin Lang’s chances of getting his bill passed by pressing for wider use right now.

—MONTANA: Medical marijuana is allowed and a proposal to make the recreational use of pot a constitutional right has been refiled. The proposed 2014 constitutional initiative duplicates a proposal put forward last year that failed to make the ballot because organizers didn’t get enough signatures. Republican state Sen. Jeff Essmann doesn’t believe Montana voters will go the way of Colorado and Washington.

—MINNESOTA: Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton said in a recent interview with Associated Press that he doesn’t support legalized use either recreationally or medicinally. He ties his opposition to medical marijuana to law enforcement’s opposition.

—PENNSYLVANIA. A state senator who sponsored one of two medical-marijuana bills that died in committee during the just-ended legislative session, said the Colorado and Washington measures will help pave the way for similar measures in other states. Democratic state Sen. Daylin Leach compared marijuana legalization efforts to the debate over legalizing same-sex marriage: once a few states act, it will disprove “all the horror stories” perpetuated by opponents. Leach said he intends to resurrect his bill to allow marijuana use for medical purposes and to sponsor a bill to decriminalize the drug.

—DELAWARE: Lawmakers passed a bill last year allowing the use of medical marijuana obtained from state-licensed “compassion centers” but Gov. Jack Markell halted implementation after federal officials indicated that people involved in cultivating and distributing marijuana could be subject to civil fines or prosecution. As far as legalization for recreational purposes, Markell spokeswoman Cathy Rossi said there are the same concerns about medical marijuana. “That is, if the federal government is saying it won’t pursue persons with a medical need or recreational users, but it is prosecuting persons who provide that marijuana in a safe manner, then we are forcing people to obtain marijuana from the illegal market,” she said.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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