While cannabis bills in Congress and legalization legislation in state legislatures tend to get the most attention, efforts to enact forward-thinking marijuana ordinances at the local level can have huge impacts that often spark even broader changes.
A number of cities, towns and counties across the country are now considering enacting cannabis reforms.
On Tuesday, for example, voters in Kansas City, Missouri head to the polls to decide on a ballot initiative that would essentially decriminalize marijuana possession within city limits.
While state criminalization laws would still remain on the books, the measure would likely lead to a significant reduction in arrests and criminal records in the city.
And a strong mandate from voters would also put state lawmakers in Jefferson City on notice that cannabis reform is a popular, mainstream issue. That’s especially true because Columbia and St. Louis, which are also in the state’s top five largest cities, have enacted similar policies seeking to avoid low-level marijuana arrests.
It’s worth noting that in the years before Colorado enacted statewide marijuana legalization in 2012, several cities throughout the state approved lower-level policy changes demonstrating that marijuana reform had momentum.
Here’s a sampling of other local marijuana reforms that are currently pending around the U.S.:
A City Council member in Temple, Georgia is expected to introduce a marijuana decriminalization ordinance on Monday.
Later this month,the full Atlanta City Council is scheduled to vote on a marijuana decriminalization proposal that was already approved at the committee level.
In Athens, Ohio, activists are preparing a push to place a cannabis depenalization measure on the city’s November ballot.
In Wichita, Kansas, advocates are launching a push for a ballot measure to lower marijuana penalties.
In recent years, a number of communities in Florida and Pennsylvania have enacted marijuana reform ordinances. Those efforts have not only led to reduced arrests but have generated broader conversations about the need to end criminalization on the state level.
For example, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, has repeatedly said that he thinks state lawmakers should follow suit and decriminalize cannabis.
I support decriminalizing small amounts of marijuana. Shouldn’t focus on incarcerating people for possession of small amounts of marijuana. https://t.co/YeqO8Ir3z5
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) March 1, 2017
And even in Tennessee, where state lawmakers just passed legislation to block locally-enacted marijuana reforms in Memphis and Nashville, those ordinances forced state officials to think about the consequences of cannabis criminalization and to go on record to defend it. That could cause marijuana to become a more prominent issue in future electoral campaigns in certain districts.
So while state and federal reforms are by definition more far-reaching than local ones are, efforts to enact change at the municipal or county level take a lot fewer resources to succeed and often have trickle-up effects that can lead to more widespread changes.
As the old saying goes, “Think globally, act locally.”