It’s not an exaggeration to say that the only consistent thing in the past few American elections has been support for cannabis legalization. Democrats, Republicans, and independents in red, blue, and purple states all seem ready to decriminalize and legalize cannabis. 2020 was no different; voters approved cannabis legalization measures in every state offering them on the ballot. Voters in Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey all approved recreational legalization. Voters in Mississippi approved medical marijuana. And South Dakota went all in, becoming the first state to approve medical and recreational measures at the same time.
Here’s a breakdown of the approved measures and our initial thoughts on each.
New Jersey: This is a big one. The Garden State asked voters to approve a measure allowing for possession and adult-use of cannabis for those 21 years of age and older. With support from Governor Phil Murphy, the legislature successfully placed the measure on the ballot after previously failing to pass a legalization bill. Voters approved the ballot question in overwhelming fashion with 1,727,149 votes (66.97%). Now, the Cannabis Regulatory Committee (CRC), the regulatory body for the existing medical program, will establish and oversee the adult-use rules and regulations. We anticipate regulations and an application process will be rolled out in early in 2021.
This result is going to have a serious ripple effect on neighboring states (ahem, New York). New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has already turned to Twitter to urge New York to take the same step. Today, New York’s Governor Quomo echoed that the time is “ripe” to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. We would be extremely surprised if New York politicians stand by for long while New Yorkers cross the Hudson to buy weed in New Jersey.
Arizona: This is another big one and it is on the other side of the country. Proposition 207, the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, allows recreational use for adults 21 years and older with a 16% tax on sales to fund public programs. The Act allows for recreational sales at 130 existing medical-marijuana dispensaries, although those likely won’t begin until 2021. According to Ballotpedia, early returns show 59.85% (1,596,548 votes) voted in favor of Proposition 207 and 40.15% (1,071,255 votes) voted in opposition.
It is not entirely clear how new applicants are going to enter the industry, but Proposition 207 does have a social equity component. Twenty-six new licenses are allocated for “social equity” applicants. We expect the Arizona Department of Health to provide additional information on the application process in the near future for both the “social equity” applicants and other new entrants. We are excited about the prospects in Arizona, which has a strong medical industry, and a growing population that apparently strongly supports legalization.
Montana: Montana’s marijuana legalization prospects were in doubt due to ongoing litigation. But as we noted in a recent post, a Montana court had reject the latest effort to halt the state’s cannabis initiative and the vote proceeded. Montana voters proceeded to approve two measures, CI-118 and I-190. Initiative CI-118 was a threshold constitutional amendment regarding whether the legislature or a citizen initiative could establish a minimum legal age for the possession, use, and purchase of marijuana. Voters approved CI-118 with 318,819 votes (57.71%). With the hurdle surmounted, voters were then asked about Initiative I-190, which allows possession and adult-use for adults 21 years and older, and provides for a 20% tax on sales. Given the positive result on CI-118, it is no surprise that I-190 passed with a very similar 318,881 votes (56.68%).
Mississippi: Mississippians faced an unusual situation on Tuesday with two competing ballot measures. Initiative 65 was put forward by citizen advocates and allows those with qualifying conditions to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, with sales taxed at 7%. Initiative 65A also permitted medical legalization but on more restricted terms, and was proposed Republican lawmakers. Showing just how strong support for medical legalization is, Initiative 65 passed with 73.71% (317,862 votes), while only 26.29% (113,390 votes) supported Initiative 65A. The Mississippi Department of Health is tasked with setting up regulations for the industry and we expect to see progress on that soon, although other Republican dominated states have seen slow roll outs for approved medical marijuana programs.
South Dakota: South Dakota voters killed two birds with one stone, approving both medical and recreational marijuana legalization initiatives on Tuesday. Amendment A legalized cannabis possession and adult-use cannabis, and Measure 26 established a statewide medical cannabis program. This was historic – most states begin with decriminalization, take baby steps into medical legalization, and then perhaps move to adult use after some time. It is good to see South Dakota sidestep that lengthier process, which might provide a model to other states. We would note, however, that Amendment A did not pass by much, receiving 200,570 votes (53.41%). As polls have consistently shown, medical marijuana is more popular; Measure 26 received 260,888 votes (69.21%).
Not everything that happened on Tuesday was undisputed progress, however. Republican Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado, a strong proponent of cannabis legalization at the federal level, was defeated in his bid for reelection. While Senator-elect John Hickenlooper is a similarly strong proponent for the cannabis industry, Senator Gardner was vital in shoring up Republican support for legalization. His influence will be missed on Capitol Hill, as it appears Republicans will continue to control the U.S. Senate through 2022.
That should not damper hopes. In total, 15 states have enacted or have voted to enact recreational legalization laws, while 36 states have enacted or voted to enact medical marijuana laws. In the next session of Congress, more than 70% of federal lawmakers will represent states with legal medical or recreational marijuana markets. Each victory on the state level changes the atmosphere in Congress for federal legalization in the future and we continue to be hopeful that major reform will proceed in the next several years.
Stay tuned to our blog as we will continue to provide updates about the elections and their aftermaths.