Reform on the Ballot: We explain the legalization ballot measures five states are considering

Cannabis reform is certainly not the political issue on the top of everyone’s mind this election season, but in the five states considering some form of legalization for medical or adult use, there is even more at stake when they hit the polls on November 3. Without much movement happening in Rhode Island cannabis policy, the least we can do is look to the states that are taking action to make change, and learn something about how they are going about it. Here’s our breakdown of the key differences in upcoming state ballot measures, and why they are important:

Arizona — Smart & Safe Act (Proposition 207)

This ballot measure is a second attempt to legalize cannabis for adult use in Arizona, after a similar measure failed in 2016. With record voter turnout expected this year, and general support for legalization growing all the time, Arizona reform advocates are confident that this year will be different,

  • What it Does: Legalizes possession for adults 21+, creates and regulates legal state cannabis market (local governments can ban sales)
  • Home Grow: Yes — 6 plants per individual
  • Tax Structure: In addition to sales tax, revenue from a 16% tax rate will be divided amongst workforce development (33%), first responders (31%), a highway fund (25%), and justice reinvestment (10%)
  • Public Support: 55% support, 37% opposed, 7% undecided (OH Predictive Insights)
  • Expungement: Yes, for individuals with marijuana possession charges 

New Jersey — NJ Marijuana Legalization Amendment (Question 1)

This ballot measure is a “legislative referral,” meaning that that state legislature is bringing the question of legalization to the people of New Jersey, after the governing body was unable to successfully pass legislation last year that would tax and regulate cannabis for adults in the Garden State.

  • What it Does: Leaves it up to the legislature to work out the details of a regulated market
  • Home Grow: To be determined
  • Tax Structure: Cannabis-specific sales tax is prohibited, but local governments can implement a 2% sales tax in addition to the state sales tax
  • Public Support: 66% support, 23% opposed (Brach Eichler LLC)
  • Expungement: Yes — an online portal would be created to help expedite the process.

Montana — Initiative I90 and Constitutional Initiative 118

Dual ballot initiatives in Montana would, respectively, create a commercial market for cannabis, and set a minimum age for purchasing and consumption, which would likely be 21.  

  • What it Does: Legalizes possession, creates regulated cannabis industry (local governments can ban sales)
  • Home Grow: Yes — 4 plants and 4 seedlings
  • Tax Structure: 20% tax rate, with revenues divided between wildlife, parks and recreation (50%), the general fund (10.5%), and treatment, veteran support, Medicaid and cannabis regulation (40%)
  • Public Support: 49% support, 39% opposed (MSU)
  • Expungement: Yes — individuals can petition for expungement of record for newly legal activities

South Dakota — Recreational (Amendment A) and Medical (Measure 26)

These ballot measures will make South Dakota the first state to attempt to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use, in the same year. 

  • What it Does: Legalizes possession and creates regulated cannabis industry (local governments can ban sales)
  • Home Grow: Yes — up to 3 plants, and only if you live in an area with no commercial retailers
  • Tax Structure: 15% tax rate, with revenues used first to help implement and regulate the new cannabis industry, and then split 50/50 between public schools and the general fund.
  • Public Support: 60% support for recreational, 70% support for medical (NORML)
  • Expungement: No

Mississippi — Initiative 65, or Alternative 65A

In Mississippi, voters will have to choose between two initiatives on the 2020 ballot: one that will legalize medical marijuana, and one that will do the same, but in a much more restrictive manner. The former is a citizen initiative that establishes 20 qualifying conditions, while the latter is a legislative initiative that would only allow cannabis use by terminally ill patients. With 81% of Mississippi voters supporting medical marijuana for those with serious medical conditions, it will be interesting to see whether these competing ballot initiatives will split the yes vote, which may end up hampering the ability of either ballot measure to succeed at the polls (FM3 Research).

  • What it Does: Legalizes medical marijuana for those who qualify
  • Home Grow: No
  • Tax Structure: 7% sales tax (Initiative 65)
  • Public Support: 52% support for Initiative 65, 23% support for Alternative 65A (FM3 Research)
  • Expungement: No

So, the “laboratories of democracy” experiment continues when it comes to cannabis reform in the US. If all of these state ballot measures pass, 15 states would have some form of regulated market for adult use, and one third of Americans would have access to legal recreational marijuana (THCNet). Further, more than two-thirds of federal lawmakers would represent states with some form of legal cannabis (medical or recreational/adult use). We already know that a majority of Americans support legalization, including 78% of Democrats and 55% of Republicans (Pew), but with both major party candidates still opposed to federal legalization, it’s up to individual states to tip the scales with each election season, until the will of the people can no longer be ignored. 

The results of this election may also illustrate how differences in state ballot measures may affect the success of a legalization initiative, in the short or long term. We know that the allocation of tax revenue is critically important (general fund & police departments = bad, while funding public schools, treatment, and infrastructure improvements = good), but I am also paying close attention to whether home grow, automatic expungements and social equity measures will be implemented. 

No matter how we choose to do it, the benefits of legalizing cannabis will always outweigh the risks, and whatever happens on November 3, the landscape of cannabis legalization in the US will be changed, yet again. While I’m disappointed at the current status of cannabis legalization in my home state, I look forward to the opportunity to learn from the successes and failures of other states, in hopes that little Rhody can one day be an example of how to create a legal, taxed and regulated cannabis market that we can all be proud of.