As most had expected, cannabis reform was a big winner on Election Night 2020. While the nation’s leadership remains in flux, the cannabis results have been anything but.
In five states — South Dakota, Mississippi, Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey — voters headed to the polls and let it be known that they want medical or adult-use cannabis. And in one state, voters said yes to both marijuana laws at the same time.
The cannabis clean sweep appears to signal another momentous milestone for the marijuana movement that now reaches well across the aisle.
As cannabis reform moves closer to a bipartisan topic with each election, the five states to pass regulations this time around send several messages to the nation. Not only is America ready for legal cannabis, but the message it sent could have been even more substantial had it not been for the pandemic and some lingering opposition in some states.
Here’s how the results played out in each state’s ballot questions.
After failing to pass adult-use cannabis reform through the legislature in previous years, New Jersey voters sent lawmakers a loud and clear message. With nearly 67 percent of the vote, Garden State citizens want lawmakers to finish the job now.
It does not appear that citizens need to worry about the effort not moving through Congress this time. With the vote looking overwhelming likely to pass, reports said that lawmakers began working on the final law before results were announced. On Tuesday, Sen. Nicholas Scutari said he had plans to introduce the bill on Thursday. Plans would then call for a public hearing that Monday.
Scutari said that the proposed bill is primarily the same as the 2019 proposal, which calls for a roughly 8.5 percent tax rate when state and municipal taxes are combined. Still, several critical specifics of the bill remain to be seen. They include parameters, including home growing.
New Jersey expects to set off a new wave of legislation in the Northeast. Experts in cannabis and policy spaces often predicted that once one Northeast domino fell, so too would others. If true, then New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut could all soon pass similar laws.
In the lead up to Election Day, Patricia Baldwin Gregory, general counsel for Pennsylvania’s Keystone Canna Remedies, told Green Flower that New Jersey passing would increase pressure on neighboring markets. “The pressure will be on Pennsylvania, New York, and even Connecticut to also legalize adult-use. Otherwise, they will lose significant tax revenues to New Jersey as customers cross state lines to purchase cannabis,” she said.
The second time was the charm for Arizona, which failed to pass adult-use in 2016. Prop 207, a/k/a “the pot prop,” passed with 60 percent of the vote this time around. Ballots must be certified, which could delay an announcement for roughly one month. However, barring a surprise, the measure will pass. If so, adults 21 and over can possess up to 1 ounce of flower with a 5-gram cap on concentrates.
The state now has until April 5, 2021, to establish the regulations for its recreational marketplace.
Morgan Fox, media relations director for the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), said the state gained significant support this time around. “That’s kind of analogous to how much support we saw in New Jersey,” he noted.
South Dakota made American cannabis reform history on Election Night. The Mount Rushmore State approved both medical and adult-use ballot questions. Citizens supported the medical measure with 69 percent of the vote, while adult-use earned 53 percent.
No state has simultaneously created a medical and adult-use market. Rather, the common path has been for a state to pass some medicinal laws before recreational would be approved down the line.
In a press release heralding the dual passing, Erik Altieri, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) executive director, said that, “These votes are a stunning rebuke to those elected officials that for decades have refused to move forward with substantive marijuana law reform legislation, and they are yet another indication of the near-universal popularity of these policy changes among voters in all regions of the United States.” NORML’s press release also stated that one in 10 arrests in the state during 2018 was marijuana-related.
South Dakota was not the only conservative state to pass legislation, as two others joined in the effort.
A late October effort to derail Montanans from voting on adult-use cannabis proved fruitless. In the end, Montanans let their voices be heard on two cannabis-related ballot initiatives. In addition to recreational laws, another question sought to set the age of consumption at 21. Both measures passed. I-90, the effort to pass adult-use laws, was approved with 56 percent of the vote.
The law also allows those convicted of cannabis crimes to become eligible for expungement or resentencing. Home cultivation is approved as well, as is a 20 percent sales tax on products.
NORML’s Altieri said the win helps demonstrate how cannabis reaches across the aisle. “Marijuana legalization is not exclusively a ‘blue’ state issue, but an issue that is supported by a majority of all Americans — regardless of party politics,” he said in a press release.
Mississippi made up the final member in the trio of conservative states to pass marijuana reform laws. The ballot did not make it easy either.
Voters had two cannabis measures to choose from. While similar in name, the two bills were rather varied in scope. A more robust program offered under the advocated-backed Initiative 65 included over 20 qualifying conditions and a 2.5-ounce possession cap. The government-backed Initiative 65A would set up a more narrow plan, covering much less qualifying conditions, leaving much of the law to be determined by a legislature that was primarily opposed to the measure.
The vote had an extra hurdle to overcome, as Mississippians had to first vote ‘yes’ on Ballot Measure 1, which indicated an intention to vote on the medical cannabis question. From there, voters had to choose between either Initiative 65 or 65A. Nearly 68 percent of voters chose to vote on the medical measure. Of those who voted, 74 percent opted for Initiative 65.
NCIA’s Fox commended Mississippi voters for overcoming a confusing ballot and registering an overwhelming vote for reform. Fox said the huge margin “Really shows when the electorate is on the issue.”
What’s Next For American Cannabis Reform?
Another wave of cannabis reform could happen in 2022 or 2024. If true, then we could very well likely see cannabis reaching further across the aisle in just a few years. The result could finally cement marijuana as a unifying topic when the nation desperately needs more of them.
NCIA’s Fox said opposing lawmakers may now need to reconsider the effects of standing in the way of marijuana reform. “I think conservatives, particularly in Congress, have to realize that this issue is gaining steam across the political spectrum,” he said.
Fox added, “There could potentially be political consequences for trying to impede progress at either the state or federal level.”