Marijuana had a big election night when the election measures were voted through, which means that America is approaching full legalization. Voters in five states – Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota – weighed on Tuesday about initiatives to reform the marijuana regime.
While the final votes are still being counted, the legalization of the sale and possession of cannabis for adult use was voted through in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey. Votes are still counted in Mississippi, but the initial results indicate that the vote on legalizing medical cannabis is likely to be passed. South Dakota will be the first state to legalize both medical marijuana and recreational marijuana at the same time, although the vote on recreational cannabis is not yet complete.
This will mean that marijuana is now legal for adults in 15 states and Washington, D.C., a significant increase over 2012 when Colorado and Washington were the first states to do so. Medical marijuana is legal in 35 states. Voters in Washington, D.C. also voted to decriminalize psychedelic plants such as mushrooms, although this still has to go through a congressional consultation where it can still be blocked.
Oregon goes even further and has voted to decriminalize all drugs and expand access to addiction treatment and health services for drug users. Cannabis for medical and recreational use had already been legalized.
John Hudak, an expert on marijuana policy and a senior staff member of the non-partisan Brookings Institution, said Tuesday’s election continues the “upward trend” of legalizing cannabis at the state level over the past eight years.
“It really shows the real push in America away from a system of prohibition and that these election measures can win anywhere,” he told Washington Newsday. “The idea that cannabis can win anywhere is beginning to become a reality anyway, but that this is so true in one night, in one election, really shows, I think, how pervasive these efforts and this movement are.
One sign of progress was that many of this year’s marijuana initiatives took place in conservative states with largely Republican congressional delegations. In Mississippi, a state with a deep red Bible belt, about two-thirds of voters voted in favor of a measure to legalize medical marijuana, even after state legislators tried to thwart the proposal.
Ellen Flenniken, director of development for the Drug Policy Alliance, said it was “remarkable” how many election measures made it to the November 3 election, given the difficulty of gathering signatures in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. Without the public health crisis, there would probably have been more action in Idaho, Nebraska, Missouri and other states.
“When I think about how to move forward, I see the dominos continue to fall,” Flenniken told Washington Newsday. “I certainly see that momentum continuing to increase.”
When I think about what comes next, I see the dominoes keep falling. I see, without a doubt, that that momentum is still growing.
Ellen Flenniken, Drug Policy Alliance
The leaders of New York and New Mexico have expressed confidence that state legislators will consider legalizing marijuana in 2021. Axel Bernabe, the senior cannabis advisor to Governor Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), said earlier that the legalization legislation would be reintroduced through the state budget in January with the goal of having the reform in place by April. The adviser also said that the policies introduced would serve as a “model” for other states, as they would prioritize social justice and economic development.
The progress made in the 2020 election cycle is likely to increase pressure on legislators to reform drug policies at the federal level. Despite the efforts to legalize cannabis in the states, it remains illegal under federal law. It shares the same drug classification (List 1) as heroin, ecstasy and LSD.
There are laws to remedy this: the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would remove marijuana from the list, overturn previous convictions, impose a federal tax on marijuana sales, allow financing of small marijuana businesses, and allocate the proceeds to those persons,