Will they pass? Marijuana legalization initiatives are on the ballot in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota.
Will 2020 continue the momentum of the 2016 election?
During the 2016 election, voters in several states opted to legalize the sale of recreational or medical cannabis. With the 2020 election pending, this trend seems to be gaining speed, as five states prepare to vote on the legalization of marijuana and marijuana products.
Cannabis policy reform advocates and industry stakeholders remain cautiously optimistic for a positive outcome and are planning accordingly.
With Vermont recently legalizing the production and sale of recreational marijuana, eleven states have now approved cannabis for adult use. And thirty-three states have given the green light to medical marijuana for patients suffering from qualifying conditions.
In November, citizens of South Dakota, Arizona, New Jersey, and Montana will have the opportunity to vote on the legalization and taxation of recreational marijuana. And, the residents of Mississippi will have the option to vote on the legalization of medical marijuana.
These legalization measures have their detractors in every state, as less progressive factions believe the detrimental effects of cannabis far exceed the economic benefits of legalization.
Those in favor of legalization cite the vast benefits from potential tax revenue — especially states and cities in which budgets were hit hard by the Covid-19 virus.
A good example of the financial benefits is Illinois’ first day of legalized marijuana. This inaugural event, in January 2020 generated $3.2 million in sales, the result of 77,000 individual transactions.
As the election draws near, the divide between the two political parties has seemingly never been greater. The racial tensions, the stalled coronavirus relief package, and the sudden vacancy in the Supreme Court have all taken precedence over the legal-cannabis initiatives. These issues will profoundly affect voter turnout, and this may or may not impact or delay the outcome of cannabis legalization.
Let’s take a closer look at the measures being considered in each of the five states voting on marijuana legalization this coming election day.
New Jersey was the first state (mid-December, 2019) to guarantee that the November ballot would contain a cannabis legalization initiative.
The state appeared to be very close to legalization via legislation in early 2019, however that bill was taken off the table. The delay was due to a last-minute issue concerning social reforms.
Governor Phil Murphy, elected in 2017, promised during his campaign, to ensure a cannabis legalization initiative would appear on the ballot. The governor believes the legalization of recreational marijuana could potentially create a $300 million profit for New Jersey.
More importantly, he stated that in addition to legalization, he would overhaul draconian drug laws disproportionately targeting minorities and people of color.
Citizens of the Garden State will be voting on an amendment to the state’s constitution. This amendment would legalize the processing and production of cannabis and cannabis products in the state of New Jersey as well as the sale of marijuana to individuals 21 and older.
In a late July 2020 poll from DKC Analytics, it was revealed that 68% of New Jersey voters polled either somewhat or strongly supported legalization.
Curaleaf and TerrAscend are two of the top cannabis operations in the state of New Jersey that would benefit from the legalization of cannabis.
The state of New Jersey stands to make significant economic gains as industry and government analysts are predicting at least $1 billion in annual weed sales by 2024.
This election is a second attempt by Arizona cannabis advocates to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis. In November 2016, Prop. 205 lost by a tiny margin with 48.7% of the votes in the “yes” category.
Should it pass, this new bill will allow individuals, 21 and over to possess and use cannabis in the state of Arizona. The Department of Health and Human Services will be required to regulate and develop the fledgling industry. They will, in addition to regular taxes, add on a 16% tax to all cannabis sales. Another Arizona measure involving adult-use marijuana is Proposition 207.
California and Oregon also made two attempts at legalization in the past. The second time was a resounding success in both states. This new Arizona bill looks to have a good chance of passing. OH Predictive Insights released the results of a survey last July, indicating an almost two-to-one split of supporters (62%-yes) and opponents (32%-no).
There will be two questions regarding cannabis on the November ballots in Montana, both leaning toward the same outcome. The first initiative is Montana C1–118, which calls for legislation to establish 21 years as the legal age for purchase, possession, and usage of cannabis.
The second initiative is I-190. This bill will impose a 20% taxation on marijuana sales, as well as legalizing cannabis for individuals 21 years and older. This bill would also require guidelines and regulations put forth by the Department of Revenue.
Moreover, if I-190 is passed, individuals imprisoned for cannabis offenses may be eligible to have their convictions expunged or be entitled to resentencing.
Polls indicate this vote will be a close one, come November. In a survey of 500 Montana residents, 54% were in favor of legalized, adult-use cannabis.
South Dakota, also known at The Mount Rushmore State is set to make history come Nov. 3 as the first state to attempt to pass a recreational and medical cannabis initiative simultaneously.
Residents of South Dakota will vote on Measure 26, a bill initiating a medical cannabis program for patients suffering from devastating medical disorders. The Department of Health will be given free rein to allow or deny certain conditions.
Another initiative titled “Constitutional Amendment A,” would allow individuals over the age of 21 to purchase marijuana for recreational use. There would be a 15 percent statewide tax imposed on all retail sales. The State Department of Revenue would be responsible for all licensing for retail and cultivation purposes.
In addition to a medical marijuana program, the State Legislature is also expected to initiate hemp industry regulations and guidelines by April 1, 2022.
Medical marijuana is widely supported across the nation, however, it’s hard to predict the outcome in a traditionally conservative state. However, Montanas’ Measure 26 seems to stand at least a fighting chance of passing.
Mississippians voting on a two-part medical marijuana initiative in November will be able to vote for “either measure” or “neither measure” on their ballot. A second will ask whether the voter is in favor of Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A.
Under initiative 65, patients suffering from any of a list of 20 specific qualifying conditions will gain access to medical marijuana. It will also institute a 7 percent state sales tax on all cannabis products. Alternative measure 65A prohibits smokables and increases medical oversight requirements for patients.
Whether or not either or neither of these issues passes muster is still anyone’s guess at this time.