Cannabis reform may be stalled at the federal level, but the number of states that have legalized it in some capacity continues to grow. Heading into the 2020 election, 33 of them and the District of Columbia permit medicinal use. Eleven of these states, as well as D.C., have also legalized recreational use. On November 3rd, four more states — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota — will vote on initiatives that would legalize recreational cannabis, while a fifth — Mississippi — will decide whether to allow doctors to recommend it to patients.
Polling indicates the measures will pass in all five states.
This shouldn’t be surprising. A Pew Research Center study conducted last September found that 67 percent of Americans feel cannabis should be legal, while 91 percent feel it should at least be legal for medicinal purposes. The issue is no longer just a liberal hobbyhorse, either. A majority of Republicans also believe cannabis should be legal, and as more conservative states continue to vote accordingly, it’s going be harder and harder for federal legislators to rationalize opposing reform at the federal level.
“Most lawmakers are going to respond for their constituents,” Steven Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, tells Rolling Stone. “That’s why the work [we do] around changing laws at the state level is really part and parcel of how we will win at the federal level. Every state that passes adult use means you’re going to gain members of Congress, you’re going to gain two U.S. senators. Even if they don’t become champions, they’re not going to vote no for something their constituents have come to embrace.”
The House of Representatives was set to vote on a federal decriminalization bill, dubbed the MORE Act, in September, but the vote was delayed until after the election. Though the bill would probably not have made it through the Republican-controlled Senate, it’s beginning to feel like it’s only a matter of time before the MORE Act or a similar piece of legislation is going to garner broad bipartisan support. This year’s ballot initiatives should help move the needle, as it’s looking like come November 3rd a few more Republican senators are going to find themselves representing constituencies that support legalization. More are sure to follow.
Here’s everything you need to know about which states are voting to legalize cannabis this cycle:
Recreational or medicinal? Recreational. Medicinal cannabis has been legal in Arizona since 2011.
What are the details? Proposition 207: The Smart and Safe Arizona Act would legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for adult use (21 and over). Residents would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and five grams of THC concentrate, and to grow up to six cannabis plants in a household. Prop 207 would also allow people to apply to have their criminal records expunged for certain cannabis-related crimes.
What else? Cannabis products would be taxed like cigarettes or alcohol, with a 16 percent excise tax on top of the state’s 5.6 percent sales tax.
Will it pass? We’ll see, although it’s looking good.
Though Arizonans voted against legalization 51-48 in 2016, a poll released this summer found that 62 percent of Arizonans support legalization, compared to 32 percent who oppose it. But in September a Monmouth University poll found that only 51 percent of registered voters support Prop 207, while 41 percent opposed it. Another poll conducted later in September found that 57 percent of voters support the measure, while 38 percent oppose it.
Recreational or medicinal? Medicinal.
What are the details? Initiative 65 allows for cannabis to be prescribed to treat a variety of conditions, from cancer to Chrohn’s disease to intractable nausea. Also on the ballot is Initiative 65A, an alternative bill that restricts the use of medicinal cannabis to the terminally ill.
What else? Mississippi is one of the most conservative states in America, and its legislature was none too pleased when Initiative 65 qualified for a spot on the ballot this November. This led lawmakers to drum up Initiative 65A, a vague but substantially more restrictive measure they hope will siphon support from Initiative 65.
Will it pass? Probably. Recent polling shows that 81 percent of residents support medicinal cannabis, including 76 percent of Republicans. When respondents were given the choice between Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A, 52 percent said they’d vote for Initiative 65, compared to just 23 percent who preferred Initiative 65A. The research firm that conducted the poll concluded that Initiative 65 “stands a strong chance of passage.”
Recreational or medicinal? Recreational. Voters approved a medicinal cannabis measure in 2004, and then an expansion in 2016.
What are the details? Montana I-190 would allow for the sale and possession of cannabis for adult use. Residents would be permitted to have up to four cannabis plants and up to four seedlings in their home. I-190 would also allow for anyone serving a prison sentence for cannabis-related offenses that would be decriminalized by the measure to request re-sentencing or expungement.
A second measure, CI-118, would establish that I-190 would only apply to adults 21 and over. Should I-190 pass and CI-118 be voted down, anyone 18 and older would be able to legally purchase and use recreational cannabis.
A 20 percent tax would be levied on all recreational cannabis products.
What else? The bill is not without its opponents in the traditionally conservative state.
On October 16th, anti-legalization group Wrong For Montana petitioned the state’s Supreme Court to remove I-190 from the ballot, arguing that the bill, which holds that the state allocate half of the revenue generated from cannabis sales to environmental conservation programs, violates state law. “According to the Montana constitution, Article III, Section IV, you cannot allocate the revenue from an initiative, as funds must be allocated from the general fund by the Montana Legislature,” Wrong For Montana’s Steve Zabawa told local station KGVO.
New Approach Montana, the pro-legalization advocacy group responsible for the initiatives making their way onto the ballot, told Marijuana Moment that the measures “were filed in January, have already been vetted and approved by the Montana attorney general,” adding that “the opposition campaign has been spreading misinformation across Montana for weeks, and this lawsuit announcement is just the latest chapter.”
That’s not all. Days later, Trump-appointed U.S. Attorney Kurt Alme posted a statement to the Justice Department’s website outlining a host dubious claims about the effects of cannabis, including that it leads to an increase in “traffic fatalities,” that it is addictive, that it leads to methamphetamine use, and more. “Fellow Montanans, let’s be sure we take a close look at these proposals before voting on CI-118 and I-190,” he concluded.
As Paul Armentamo, deputy director of NORML, explained to Marijuana Moment, Alme’s scare tactics are only just that, and ultimately don’t hold any real weight with the public. “Were the alleged ill effects of legalization as significant or pervasive as the U.S. attorney opines, the real-world ramifications would be readily apparent, and public support would be heading in just the opposite direction,” he said. “But this has not been the case.”
Will it pass? Despite all the opposition, signs are pointing to yes. A recent poll by Montana State University found that 49 percent of likely voters support I-190, while only 39 percent oppose it.
Recreational or medicinal? Recreational. New Jersey legalized cannabis for medicinal use in 2010.
What are the details? New Jersey Public Question 1 would legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for adult use (21 and over). Details about possession limits would be hashed out after passage by the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which was established in 2019 when the state revamped its medical cannabis program.
What else? Cannabis products would only be taxed at the 6.625 percent state sales tax rate, although local governments would have the option of slapping on an additional 2 percent. Recreational cannabis figures to be a boon for the state’s economy considering its proximity to New York and Pennsylvania, which have yet to pass legalization measures. The low tax rate should help New Jersey dispensaries compete against the area’s robust black market.
Will it pass? Almost certainly. Though a ballot measure to legalize cannabis failed to pass in 2018, recent polling found that 65 percent of voters are in favor of Public Question 1, while just 29 percent are opposed.
Recreational or medicinal? Both.
What are the details? Two legalization measures will be on the ballot in South Dakota. South Dakota Initiated Measure 26 would allow physicians to prescribe cannabis to registered patients in order to treat a number of conditions. Constitutional Amendment A would allow for recreational adult use (21 and over).
As the Marijuana Policy Project points out, South Dakota currently has some of the nation’s harshest possession laws. The state even has an “internal possession” law, meaning if someone simply tests positive for cannabis, even if it was consumed in a state where it is legal, you still can be held criminally liable for possession in South Dakota.
What else? In the off chance that Constitutional Amendment A passes but Initiated Measure 26 does not, the former requires the creation of a medicinal cannabis program.
Will it pass? Probably. A poll released in September suggests that a majority of South Dakotans support both measures, with 70 percent of respondents saying they planned to vote for Initiated Measure 26, and 60 percent saying they planned to vote for Constitutional Amendment A. The poll was commissioned the state Chamber of Commerce, which opposes legalization, and conducted by No Way On A, a group that, as its name implies, opposes Constitutional Amendment A.
By Ryan Bort for RollingStone.com