Legal marijuana gets major test in Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. ballots

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Three States Put Pot On Table For Midterm Elections

(Reuters) - Voters in the U.S. capital and two West Coast states will decide on Tuesday during national midterm elections whether to legalize marijuana in a test for broader cannabis legalization efforts across the United States.

Ballot measures in Oregon and Alaska would set up a network of regulated pot shops, similar to those already operating in Colorado and Washington state after twin landmark votes in 2012. A measure in the District of Columbia would allow possession but not retail sales.

The referendums come amid rapid shifts in Americans' opinions on marijuana in recent years that have seen efforts to legalize cannabis creep closer toward the mainstream and brought about sweeping pot policy changes in states and cities, where the drug remains illegal under federal law.

"Win or lose, we expect to see more support and more dialogue about the issue than ever," said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is working on legalization measures in California and other states for 2016.

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Legal marijuana gets major test in Oregon, Alaska, and D.C. ballots
Lakewood, CO - MARCH, 4: Sales associate, Crystal Guess handles a jar of cannabis inside a Good Meds medical cannabis center in Lakewood, Colorado, U.S., on Monday, March 4, 2013. This is at a Good Meds medical cannabis center in Lakewood, and is one of the facilities that Kristi Kelly, Co-Founder of Good Meds Network, operates. (Photo by Matthew Staver/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
MEAUX, FRANCE - AUGUST 25: A field of legal cannabis plants selected for their low content of THC grows on August 25, 2014 near Meaux, France. Cannabis is the source of hemp, which is used in a variety of applications including insulation, textiles, rope and paper. France is the second largest producer of industrial hemp in the world after China. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
This photo taken on July 15, 2014 shows a cannabis plant growing in a garden in Cologne, Germany. A German court ruled for the first time on July 22 that seriously ill patients may grow their own marijuana for medical purposes in certain cases. AFP PHOTO / DPA / OLIVER BERG /GRMANY OUT (Photo credit should read OLIVER BERG/AFP/Getty Images)
DENVER, CO - DECEMBER 30: A marijuana plant grows under a black light at 3D Cannabis Center in Denver, December 30 2013. Starting January 1st Colorado will be the first U.S. state to allow recreational marijuana. (Photo by RJ Sangosti/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Model ChaCha VaVoom shows her style at the HempCon medical marijuana show, May 24, 2013 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered for the three-day event for exhibits of medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives, evaluation services, legal services and equipment and accessories. Under California state law, people suffering from chronic diseases have the right to grow, buy and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. In 2003 the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
Attendees look at marijuana paraphenelia displays at the HempCon medical marijuana show, May 24, 2013 at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Thousands of marijuana enthusiasts gathered for the three-day event for exhibits of medical marijuana dispensaries, collectives, evaluation services, legal services and equipment and accessories. Under California state law, people suffering from chronic diseases have the right to grow, buy and use marijuana for medical purposes when recommended by a doctor. In 2003 the Medical Marijuana Protection Act, established an identification card system for medical marijuana patients. AFP PHOTO / ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)
TO GO WITH AFP STORY by Desiree Martin A picture taken on April 12, 2013 shows plants of marijuana at the plantation of the Sibaratas Med Can association in Mogan on the southwest coast of the island of Gran Canaria. The plants grow from cuttings for approximately two months and then blossom before being harvested, dried, stored in jars for a month and later processed to be consumed on site. Spanish law prohibits the possession of soft drugs like cannabis in public and its growth to be sold for profit is illegal. But the law does tolerate growing cannabis for personal use and its consumption in private. Dozens of private marijuana smoking clubs operate across Spain that take advantage of this legal loophole that serve cannabis users who do not want to get their drugs from the streets. AFP PHOTO / DESIREE MARTIN (Photo credit should read DESIREE MARTIN/AFP/Getty Images)
Marijuana plants grow at the MedMar Healing Center, a medical-marijuana dispensary, in San Jose, California, U.S., on Thursday, Feb. 7, 2013. San Jose is the medical-marijuana capital of Silicon Valley with 106 clinics, about twice as many per square mile as Los Angeles. Photographer: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - NOV 04: Adam Eidinger, co-owner of Capitol Hemp is a leader in the push to fully legalize the possession and use (of up to two ounces) of marijuana and the possession and cultivation of up to three marijuana plants. He was at the after-party for the Yes on 71 event at the Meridian Pint bar as early returns were in favor of the proposition. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOV 04: Lots of initiative 71 supporters were happy as early returns showed the pro-pot law leading early in the evening. The after-party for the Yes on 71 event was held at the Meridian Pint bar. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - NOV 04: (L) Adam Eidinger, co-owner of Capitol Hemp is a leader in the push to fully legalize the possession and use (of up to two ounces) of marijuana and the possession and cultivation of up to three marijuana plants. He was at the polling place at Burke E.S. in Washington, D.C. lobbying voters as they arrived to vote. At right is fellow hemp supporter Zack Pesavendo. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
AURORA, CO - OCTOBER 13: Ray Saccomano, from Aurora, gives one strain of marijuana the smell test. Saccomano says he is glad to have a store close to where he lives. Euflora, the first retail marijuana store in Aurora, opens on Monday, Oct. 13, 2014 at 6260 S. Gun Club Road. The store had no lines of people waiting outside prior to opening, but saw a small, steady crowd as the doors opened. (Kathryn Scott Osler/The Denver Post via Getty Images)
Marijuana (cannabis) is arranged for a photograph inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Colorado has just legalized the commercial production, sale, and recreational use of marijuana, while Washington State will begin its own pot liberalization initiative at the end of February. On Jan. 8, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would join 20 others and the District of Columbia in allowing the drug for medical purposes. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
BETHPAGE, NY - AUGUST 30: A closeup view of marijuana in a grinder as photographed on August 30, 2014 in Bethpage, New York. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 09: A participant smokes a marijuana joint while marching in the annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) on August 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Supporters of cannabis legalization are hoping legalized sale in parts of the USA will increase the likelihood of legalization in Germany. The city of Berlin is considering allowing the sale of cannabis in one city district. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
An employee pulls marijuana out of a large canister for a customer at the LoDo Wellness Center in downtown Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Colorado has just legalized the commercial production, sale, and recreational use of marijuana, while Washington State will begin its own pot liberalization initiative at the end of February. On Jan. 8, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would join 20 others and the District of Columbia in allowing the drug for medical purposes. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Marijuana (cannabis) is arranged for a photograph inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Colorado has just legalized the commercial production, sale, and recreational use of marijuana, while Washington State will begin its own pot liberalization initiative at the end of February. On Jan. 8, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would join 20 others and the District of Columbia in allowing the drug for medical purposes. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
CALISTOGA, CA. FEB. 4: Gordon Brownell is a lawyer, and Republican, who ran for first campaign for legalization of marijuana in California in 1972. Some pot and a pipe, the package is from one of the first medical marijuana stores in California
Marijuana (cannabis) is arranged for a photograph inside the Evergreen Apothecary in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Colorado has just legalized the commercial production, sale, and recreational use of marijuana, while Washington State will begin its own pot liberalization initiative at the end of February. On Jan. 8, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would join 20 others and the District of Columbia in allowing the drug for medical purposes. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Marijuana plant clones stand for sale in The Green Solution dispensary in Denver, Colorado, U.S., on Thursday, Jan. 9, 2014. Colorado has just legalized the commercial production, sale, and recreational use of marijuana, while Washington State will begin its own pot liberalization initiative at the end of February. On Jan. 8, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said his state would join 20 others and the District of Columbia in allowing the drug for medical purposes. Photographer: Matthew Staver/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man holds a giant joint during a march for the legalization of cannabis in Santiago, on May 18, 2013, as part of the 2013 Global Marijuana March which is being held in hundreds of cities worldwide AFP PHOTO / Martin BERNETTI (Photo credit should read MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - OCT10: Medical marijuana is dispensed at the Takoma Wellness Center, October 10, 2014, in Takoma Park, DC. Marijuana legalization in the district is medicinal at this point but activists are looking for a broader relaxation of the law. (Photo by Evelyn Hockstein/For The Washington Post via Getty Images)
A 'legalize' poster for a referendum about legalizing marijuana is placed with mayoral posters in Washington, DC on October 31, 2014. Ballot Initiative 71 would legalize the cultivation and possession of limited amounts of marijuana in the District of Columbia. AFP PHOTO/YURI GRIPAS (Photo credit should read YURI GRIPAS/AFP/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 09: A sticker calling for the legalization of marijuana lies on the street at the annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) on August 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Supporters of cannabis legalization are hoping legalized sale in parts of the USA will increase the likelihood of legalization in Germany. The city of Berlin is considering allowing the sale of cannabis in one city district. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
BERLIN, GERMANY - AUGUST 09: Participants, including two with a marijuana leaf emblem on their bellies, dance at the annual Hemp Parade (Hanfparade) on August 9, 2014 in Berlin, Germany. Supporters of cannabis legalization are hoping legalized sale in parts of the USA will increase the likelihood of legalization in Germany. The city of Berlin is considering allowing the sale of cannabis in one city district. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)
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Legalization advocates backed by national organizations have had more cash to spend in Oregon and Alaska on advertisements, get-out-the-vote drives and other campaigning, which has included a reporter quitting her job on live television and declaring her support of legal weed.

"Anything short of easy passage in all states is a major defeat for the deep pockets of the legalization advocates," said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana.

Polls have shown a narrow majority favoring legal pot, with one poll showing the opposite, in left-leaning Oregon, where voters rejected a 2012 recreational pot measure. Polling has been inconsistent in Alaska, a Republican-leaning state with a libertarian streak.

But the D.C. measure has been favored by a two-to-one margin, and advocates say it is needed to decrease the disproportionate number of blacks arrested for pot possession. The measure would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2 ounces of cannabis and grow up to six plants.

Meanwhile, a proposed constitutional amendment to make Florida the 24th state and the first in the South to allow medical marijuana faces an uphill battle after well-funded conservative opposition.

And two Maine cities, Lewiston and South Portland, will vote on whether to legalize the possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana.

(Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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