Election 2020: Cannabis Legalization Measures Pass in 5 States with $3 Billion Up for Grabs
It was a clean sweep for cannabis on Tuesday, as voters in five states approved marijuana legalization initiatives in a resounding win for marijuana industry stakeholders.
Cannabis-related ballot measures in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota overwhelmingly passed, and Americans now have access to medical marijuana in 36 states and adult-use cannabis in 15 states.
Democrats had hoped Election Night would produce a so-called “blue wave,” giving them control of Congress and the White House in their bid to take back Washington D.C. That didn’t materialize, but a green wave did roll across the country and now roughly one-third of Americans live in states that permit the sale of adult-use cannabis to adults over the age of 21.
“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,” Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matthew Schweich said via a news release.
One of the biggest wins for cannabis industry stakeholders came in New Jersey. Question 1 – which establishes a framework for marijuana regulation in the Garden State -- passed with roughly 67% of residents voting yes.
Many cannabis insiders believe the implementation of a legal adult-use market could create a domino effect and force nearby states like New York and Pennsylvania to legalize cannabis, which unlock massive opportunities.
In the meantime, New Jersey Sen. Nick Scutari (D), who chairs the judiciary committee, has said he is working quickly to formally implement legalization.
“I think one of the most important things is to allow people to buy legal cannabis immediately,” he told NJ.com last month.
However, those familiar with New Jersey’s current medical marijuana industry told THCnet that existing cultivation facilities do not have capacity to adequately service both adult-use customers and medical cannabis patients.
New Jersey currently has 12 licensed “Alternative Treatment Centers” that sell cannabis to 92,000 medical patients.
A spokesperson for the New Jersey Cannabis Trade Association (NJCTA) said the group looks forward to working with lawmakers and regulators to implement an adult-use program “as soon as possible.”
"This referendum win marks a crucial step forward for the people of New Jersey, ending the unjust prohibition of cannabis in our state,” the spokesperson said. “We look forward to participating in the adult-use market and expanding our collective cultivation capabilities to support that market as soon as possible.”
Despite the excitement for recreational sales to begin, THCnet understands that a formal rollout might not occur until mid-2021.
Meanwhile, in Arizona, Proposition 207 passed as roughly 60% of voters said they approve of creating a recreational cannabis market. Legal retail sales could begin as early as April, 2021.
Recall that Prop 207 legalizes the sale, possession (up to 1 oz.) and use of cannabis for adults (21+). Arizona residents will also be permitted to cultivate up to six plants for personal use.
“Until now, Arizona had imposed some of the strictest prohibition laws in the country,” NORML executive director Erik Altieri said via a statement. “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.”
According to Altieri, Prop 207 will “disrupt the illicit market, end low-level marijuana arrests, create jobs and new revenue.”
Indeed, a commercial cannabis market that could reach $1 billion in sales during the fourth year of legalization will be established, and a 16% tax on sales of all recreational cannabis products will also be applied.
Elsewhere, adult-use cannabis measures passed in Montana (Constitutional Initiative 118 and Initiative 190), while South Dakota became the first state to legalize both recreational and medical marijuana on the same day.
More than 53% of voters in South Dakota approved of Amendment A, which legalizes marijuana for adults (21+). Meanwhile, 69% of voters approved of Measure 26, which establishes a medical marijuana program for those with debilitating conditions.
In Montana, 56% of voters approved of Initiative 190, which legalizes and taxes recreational cannabis products for adults (21+). Retail sales are not expected to begin until 2022, however.
“By legalizing marijuana, Montanans have adopted a policy that is good for public health, good for public safety, and good for public finances,” New Approach Montana co-founder Ted Dick said via a release. “The initiatives will free up law enforcement to focus on serious crime, as Montana ends the practice of arresting otherwise law-abiding adults for personal use of marijuana. At the same time, 118 and 190 will expand access to medical marijuana for many patients, including veterans, and provide a new funding source for important state programs.”
In the South, Mississippi voters approved a medical marijuana bill – Initiative 65 – that establishes a state-licensed medical marijuana program for qualifying patients.
“It is great to see that the tides of change are continuing to flow across the country and now they have come to Mississippi,” Marijuana Policy Project executive director Steve Hawkins said via a release. “As we saw in Utah in 2018, and as we see in Mississippi this year, medical marijuana can pass in any state in the country.”
National Cannabis Industry Association CEO Aaron Smith also cheered the passage of the various ballot initiatives.
“During the most divisive election in modern U.S. history, Americans demonstrated unity around at least one issue - cannabis policy reform,” he said. “These state-level victories will mean tens of thousands of fewer arrests and new jobs, much-needed tax revenue, and increased public safety.”
As THCnet previously reported, adult-use cannabis sales in Arizona and New Jersey could be worth a combined $2.8 billion by the fourth yar of legalization. Meanwhile, adult-use sales in Montana and South Dakota could approach a combined $200 million.
Legalization in these five states has given cannabis advocates increased hope that broader federal reform could be on the horizon.
“This historic set of victories will place even greater pressure on Congress to address the glaring and untenable conflicts between state and federal laws when it comes to cannabis legalization,” Hawkins said.