Cannabis Wins Big in the 2020 General Election

In a highly contentious and polarizing general election, there was one clear winner with bipartisan support: cannabis. Voters in four states – Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota – approved adult-use cannabis measures on November 3, 2020.

Arizona Proposition 207, Marijuana Legalization Initiative

Proposition 207, which legalized the possession and use of cannabis for adults age 21 years or older in the state, passed with a comfortable margin in Arizona. Like Proposition 64, the proposition that legalized cannabis for recreational use in California, Prop 207 in Arizona will also allow individuals to grow up to six marijuana plants in their residences, as long as the plants are in an enclosed area and hidden from public view.

Vote %Vote count
Yes60%1,953,999
No40%1,300,856
Source: The New York Times

Per this ballot initiative in Arizona, the Arizona Department of Health Services (DHS) will be responsible for regulating the adult use cannabis market in the State, including the licensing of cannabis retail stores, cultivation facilities, and manufacturing facilities.

Smart and Safe Arizona led the campaign in support of Proposition 207 in Arizona.

New Jersey Public Question 1, Marijuana Legalization Amendment

A majority of New Jersey voters voted to legalize the recreational use of cannabis by approving Public Question 1. With 88.6% of precincts reporting and 3,632,879 ballots counted, Public Question 1 was approved with a comfortable margin:

Vote %Vote count
Yes66.9%2,431,480
No33.1%1,201,399
Source: Politico

The Cannabis Regulatory Commission, created in 2019 to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program, will oversee the new adult cannabis market in New Jersey. The scope of the commission’s new authority will be outlined in laws enacted by the New Jersey Legislature.

Per the approved New Jersey Public Question, “[a]ll retail sales of cannabis products in the new adult cannabis market would be subject to the State’s sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.”

Similar to other states that have legalized cannabis for adult use, only adults over 21 years of age would be eligible to use recreational cannabis.

NJ CAN 2020 led the campaign in support of this amendment to the New Jersey Constitution.

South Dakota Constitutional Amendment A

The approval of Amendment A by the voters of South Dakota legalized the recreational use of cannabis for individuals 21 years old and older in the State. Per this measure, individuals are also allowed to possess or distribute up to one ounce of cannabis. The amendment required the South Dakota State Legislature to pass laws providing for a program for medical marijuana and the sale of hemp by April 1, 2022.

Vote %Vote count
Yes54.2%225,260
No45.8%190,472
Source: Politico

According to Amendment A, adult South Dakotans who live in a jurisdiction with no licensed retail stores can grow up to three cannabis plants in a private residence in a locked space. However, only six cannabis plants could be kept in one residence at a time. Under the amendment, cannabis sales were set to be taxed at 15%. After the tax revenue is used by the Revenue Department to cover costs associated with implementing the amendment, 50% of the remaining revenue was set to be appropriated to fund state public schools and 50% would be deposited in the state’s general fund.

Similar to the legal regime in California, under the amendment, a local government or jurisdiction ca ban marijuana cultivators, testing facilities, wholesalers, or retail stores from operating in its limits. Under the amendment, a local government cannot prohibit the transportation of marijuana on public roads in its jurisdiction by any licensee.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws led the campaign in support of Amendment A in South Dakota.

What This Means For the Future of Legalization?

With New Jersey, Montana, Arizona, and South Dakota joining the fold, the total number of states that have legalized recreational cannabis is now 15. In addition to these four states voting in favor of legalization, Mississippi, South Dakota also legalized medical marijuana, a step which 33 other states have already taken.

The big takeaway from these electoral victories is that an overwhelming majority of American voters are in favor of legalization. Looking at the comfortable margins of approval in closely contested states like Arizona, as well as red states like Montana and South Dakota, it is clear that legalization is not a partisan issue. A majority of voters, despite significant differences in political ideology, are in favor of cannabis legalization.

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