This past year was undeniably the most productive 365-day period in the history of the marijuana policy reform movement. There were a number of significant accomplishments, but here is the Marijuana Policy Project's list of the "Top 10 Marijuana Victories of 2012." As with our previous annual lists, it includes neither important scientific developments nor important international developments. Rather, this list focuses on the biggest marijuana-related policy accomplishments in the U.S. in the last year.
1. LEGALIZATION IN COLORADO: On November 6, 55 percent of Colorado voters legalized marijuana. MPP led the campaign, which resulted in the state adopting the best marijuana law in the world. Adults can now possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants without government licensing; and, around this time next year, the state government will start issuing licenses to marijuana businesses.
2. LEGALIZATION IN WASHINGTON: Also on November 6, 56 percent of Washington voters legalized marijuana. This law is similar to the Colorado law, except that home cultivation will not be permitted in Washington.
3. DECRIMINALIZATION IN RHODE ISLAND: On June 13, Gov. Lincoln Chafee (I) signed MPP's decriminalization bill into law. On April 1 of this year, adults who are apprehended with up to one ounce of marijuana will receive only a $150 fine, with no arrest, jail time, or criminal record.
4. MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN CONNECTICUT: On May 31, Gov. Dan Malloy (D) signed medical marijuana legislation into law, making Connecticut the 17th medical marijuana state. The new law is similar to other state-level medical marijuana laws: People with cancer and other serious medical conditions who have the approval of their physicians can use and possess marijuana legally, and these patients will be able to purchase marijuana from dispensaries within the next year.
5. MEDICAL MARIJUANA IN MASSACHUSETTS: On November 6, 63 percent of Massachusetts voters approved a ballot initiative making it the 18th medical marijuana state. This law is similar to Connecticut's law.
6. REFORMING "THREE STRIKES" IN CALIFORNIA: Also on November 6, 69 percent of California voters passed a ballot initiative to amend the harsh "three strikes" law responsible for sending marijuana users and other nonviolent offenders to state prison for 25 years if they had two previous felony convictions.
7. LOCAL INITIATIVES IN MASSACHUSETTS, MICHIGAN, AND VERMONT: In Massachusetts, voters in six legislative districts (representing 45 towns) passed nonbinding ballot measures favoring federal or state marijuana legalization. In Michigan, voters in four of the state's biggest cities -- Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids and Ypsilanti -- approved initiatives to stop arresting marijuana users. And in Vermont, 70 percent of Burlington voters approved a nonbinding initiative stating that marijuana should be legal.
8. KEY STATE ELECTIONS: Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin (D), a strong advocate for marijuana policy reform, won reelection with 58 percent of the vote. In New Hampshire, Maggie Hassan (D) was elected governor, which means we will almost surely pass a law this spring to make New Hampshire the 19th medical marijuana state. Also, Democrats picked up some seats in the Illinois and New York legislatures, which will help the prospects of passing medical marijuana bills in both states.
9. PROGRESS IN CONGRESS: First, Congress waged no new wars on marijuana users, which should always be regarded as a victory. Second, the first-ever bill to end the federal prohibition of marijuana attracted 21 sponsors, which exceeded MPP's goal. Third, 163 members of the U.S. House voted to end federal raids in the states where medical marijuana is legal.
10. KEY FEDERAL ELECTIONS: MPP's political action committee helped elect four strong pro-marijuana policy reform freshmen to the U.S. House -- Jared Huffman (D-CA), Beto O'Rourke (D-TX), Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM). There was a time, only a few short years ago, when candidates in close races -- and even some safe incumbents -- refused to accept marijuana-related PAC contributions. Times have changed. (NOTE: President Obama's reelection is not listed as a victory because he has been the worst president in the history of the country on the medical marijuana issue.)
Of course, there were also some disappointments this past year, such as the retirements of Congressmen Ron Paul (R-TX) and Barney Frank (D-MA). And there were some actual losses, such as the legalization initiative in Oregon (which received nearly 47 percent of the vote) and MPP's medical marijuana initiative in Arkansas (which received 48.5 percent of the vote).
There were, however, two noteworthy indications that things will continue to go in the right direction in 2013. First, we learned that the number of marijuana arrests dropped by 11 percent in 2011. And, second, we saw multiple polls showing that more than 50 percent of American adults now favor the legalization of marijuana.
Needless to say, we have much to look forward to this year.