WASHINGTON, D.C. – In a year that has seen never-imagined changes to life as we know it, America just experienced what is likely its most massive election turn out ever, in a race for what some called the “soul of the nation” itself.
Of course, not all the votes have been counted yet. The race for President, the House, and the Senate are running neck-and-neck with several states still tallying mail-in ballots.
One apparent big winner on Election Night 2020 was cannabis with across-the-board support from voters. With so many areas of everyday life undergoing profound change from the effects of the economy, the pandemic, and social unrest, it seems bipartisan voters want to move on from the U.S. government’s war on drugs.
“From the Badlands to the Jersey Shore, and from the Grand Canyon to Big Sky Country, Americans across the country have embraced the idea that marijuana legalization is the policy decision that best serves the interests of public health, public safety, and, most importantly, justice,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director for the Marijuana Policy Project—and one of the leaders of the Montana and South Dakota campaigns.
Voters in five states approved cannabis policy reform initiatives including:
- Arizona passed ballot initiative Proposition 207, legalizing recreational cannabis.
- New Jersey passed legislatively referred initiative Public Question 1, legalizing recreational cannabis.
- Montana passed complementary initiatives, Constitutional Initiative 118 and Initiative 190, which legalized cannabis.
- South Dakota passed recreational legalization initiative Amendment A, and medical marijuana initiative Measure 26.
- Mississippi passed medical marijuana initiative Amendment 65.
“At the state level it shows that despite this being an incredibly divisive and contentious election, Americans are increasingly unified around cannabis policy reform,” Morgan Fox, media relations director and committee manager at the National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA), told mg.
“Especially the fact that three of the states that approved initiatives last night are deeply conservative states. I think that this is going to really show a lot of conservatives around the country that not only is this an issue that is gaining popularity among their base, but it’s also one that could have political consequences if they create impediments for [cannabis policy reform],” he continued.
Fox went on to break down the cannabis initiative election results, state-by-state.
“The New Jersey initiative passed by a record margin and the next most popular legalization ballot initiative by a solid ten percentage points (California’s 2016 initiative was most popular with voters)… So, the fact that some specific initiatives with things that people might be able to argue about in the details, passed by that margin, is really significant.”
South Dakota, Fox said, “Despite being a very conservative state is the first state to enact an adult use initiative without having a pre-existing medical cannabis program. That’s an amazing milestone that indicates people become more comfortable with the idea of a regulated adult-use market after they’ve seen that it can be regulated effectively for medical purposes. Without South Dakota having the ability to see that first hand, they voted in favor of adult use, just on the merits of the idea. So, I think that’s really significant.
“Arizona became the first state to jump straight from cannabis being felonies to being legal. Almost every other state has gone through some form decriminalization first,” Fox commented.
In Mississippi, where two cannabis initiatives competed for votes, “Clearly, Mississippi was huge,” said Fox. “I mean, if you’re looking at the numbers, it was overwhelming support for medical, and of the two initiatives that were available, voters overwhelmingly chose the better initiative. That could have regional impact.”
“New Jersey will also have huge regional impact, with New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Connecticut, and, possibly Maryland,” he continued. “Pushing for changes in the law so they don’t miss out on the regional commerce…”
In Montana, “as far as I know, the cannabis initiative did as well, if not just slightly better than Trump did,” Fox said. “That’s an interesting point.”
And if Joe Biden wins the presidency, what will that mean for the cannabis industry?
“Considering that Biden actually has an elucidated and clear cannabis policy, even if it doesn’t go as far as we’d like—you know, limited to decriminalization as opposed to scheduling. It’s still a step in the right direction. He’s showing that he can evolve on the issue,” Fox said. “The fact that Senator [Kamala Harris] is the lead senate sponsor for the the MORE Act is indicative of where she will try to influence Biden, in terms of his positions. But also, I think it’s a really good sign that if Congress puts [cannabis] bill on their desk, they’re not gonna stand in the way of it.
“About 34 percent of the American population lives in an adult use state. These states have increased representation in Congress states by twenty-nine representatives and by eight senators, which could have a serious impact in negotiations for federal legislation going forward,” he said.
“And those [newly legal] states were responsible collectively for something like 60,000 [cannabis-related] arrests every year,” Fox concluded. “Those people will no longer have their lives set back and potentially ruined with the consequences and collateral damage caused by a lifelong criminal record.”
“This was yet another historic election year for the cannabis policy reform movement,” said VS Founding Partner Brian Vicente. “States in all four corners of the country voted to roll back failed prohibition policies and replace them with sensible laws that regulate cannabis similarly to other legal products. These new state laws will end the needless criminalization of countless individuals who use cannabis responsibly for medical, therapeutic, or recreational purposes.
“These states will see significant economic benefits as the legal cannabis industry continues to expand and supplant the illicit market,” he continued. “The new business opportunities, job creation, and tax revenue that accompany these new laws could not come at a better time, as states work to make up ground lost to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
“This past decade, the movement to end cannabis prohibition has made historic strides forward every couple years—and 2020 was no exception.” said Vicente.