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US: Clean Sweep For Marijuana On Election Night: Arizona, New Jersey And Montana All Legalize Recreational Cannabis
Wednesday 04 Nov 2020
Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota all approved recreational marijuana legalization, and all by significant margins.
Fifteen states now have laws allowing adults to access recreational cannabis.
South Dakota voters also approved a separate measure allowing for medical marijuana, becoming the first state to skip straight from cannabis prohibition to legalization in one move.
And in a sign that draconian drug laws are finally losing favor in the South, one of the last bastions of cannabis criminalization in the country, voters in Mississippi approved their own medical-marijuana initiative.
Though details of each state’s new laws differ—and it’s far from clear exactly when adults will be able to purchase cannabis in licensed retail dispensaries in each state—taken together, cannabis’s latest string of victories on Election Night sends a strong signal to Congress.
Such a strong showing is expected to encourage federal lawmakers in Congress to finally acknowledge marijuana reform’s vast popularity among voters in America across all party and ideological divides and—at long last—alter federal laws that still ban cannabis outright.
And legalization’s clean sweep also puts significant pressure on states that do not allow for policymaking via voter initiative—chief among them New York—to follow suit and pass their own legalization laws.
Upon taking office in 2018, New Jersey Gov. Phil Scott, a former Goldman Sachs executive and US ambassador to Germany, promised to legalize marijuana quickly, but failed to convince state lawmakers to pass a plan after several years of trying.
After voters approved ballot Question 1 by a nearly two-to-one margin, cannabis possession, use, and manufacture for adults 21 and over is legal in the state beginning on January 1, 2021.
Specifics such as possession limits, cultivation rules—including whether home grow will be allowed at all—and how retail dispensaries will be set up and licensed and when have all yet to be determined. Question 1 also did not clear the way for past marijuana offenses to be expunged from criminal records.
Despite the lack of details—and no clear indication when the first legal sale will occur—Murphy praised the measure as a major step forward for racial and social justice, and as a potential revenue source for budgets ravaged by the coronavirus pandemic.
The state spends an estimated $143 million every year to arrest roughly 32,000 people for cannabis-related crimes, most of them for simple possession.
In the night’s other most significant victory, voters in Arizona overwhelmingly approved Proposition 207, 59.80 percent yes to 40.20 percent no, according to results as of 11:30 p.m. local time.
Supported mostly by the state’s active and established medical-marijuana industry, Prop. 207 allows adults to possess up to two and a half ounces of cannabis flower and no more than 12 grams of cannabis concentrate, and to cultivate up to six plants at home.
Despite laws allowing medical marijuana, Arizona law still allowed strict punishment for adults possessing small amounts of cannabis.
“Until now, Arizona had imposed some of the strictest prohibition laws in the country,” said Erik Altieri, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. “By rejecting this failed policy, no Arizonan going forward will be saddled with a criminal conviction for engaging in the personal possession or cultivation of cannabis, or face the lifelong stigma that comes with it.”
The first retail stores to sell cannabis in Arizona to adults will be existing medical-marijuana dispensaries. Sales will be subject to a 16 percent tax.
In Montana, voters approved Initiative 90, 57 percent in favor to 43 percent opposed, as of about 2:30 a.m. East Coast time.
The measure allows adults to grow four plants at home and sets a 20 percent tax rate for sales.
In what may be the most surprising development, in South Dakota, voters approved both Amendment A to legalize marijuana for adults 21 as well as Measure 26, which sets up a medical cannabis program for adults “with serious medical conditions.” Both go into effect on July 1, 2021.
“A few years ago, nobody would have predicted that South Dakota would legalize marijuana before New York,” said Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project and one of the leaders of the South Dakota campaign, in a statement issued early Wednesday. “But that’s the power of the ballot initiative process.”
A food truck sits outside the Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary as customers wait in line to buy ... [+] AFP via Getty Images
And voters in Mississippi approved Initiative 65, which will set up a state-regulated medical-marijuana program for qualified patients, who would be able to access the drug after approval from a doctor. Unlike some other measures, there is no limit on the number of medical-marijuana dispensaries allowed in the state.
An estimated 67 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, according to most polling. Cannabis remains a banned substance at the federal level. Several bills that would amend the Controlled Substances Act and overturn federal prohibition remain stalled in Congress for lack of a hearing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
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