In a night without an immediate clear winner for the White House, we are certain of this: Marijuana legalization triumphed at the polls. Voters approved a total of seven ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana across five states. Support cut across party lines: Three Republican-voting and two Democratic states each voted for these reforms. One in three US residents now lives in a state where marijuana is fully legal for adult use.
Here’s how it all broke down.
New Jersey Beats New York to the Punch
New Jersey voters approved Question 1 to legalize marijuana use and sales for adults over 21. At publication time, with a little under 70 percent of votes counted, Question 1 was projected to win with about 67 percent support.
New Jersey is now the largest state on the East Coast to legalize marijuana, and the first East Coast state outside of New England region to do so—ahead of New York, which has seen two attemps fall short.
Filter has previously covered this initiative and what it does. The state legislature will now have to develop legislation and regulations governing the new industry. Most importantly, legalization is certain to have enormous social-justice effects in New Jersey. The state arrests an average of 100 people every day for marijuana offenses, disproportionately targeting Black and Brown residents.
Second Time Lucky for Arizona
Arizona voters approved Proposition 207 to legalize adult-use marijuana. By publication time, with a little under 100 percent of votes counted, Prop 207 was projected to win with about 60 percent support. Prop 207 legalizes up to one ounce of cannabis for adults over age 21. 2020 proved to be the comeback year for marijuana in this state, which narrowly rejected a similar measure back in 2016.
Filter‘s coverage of this initiative explains more about what it does. Notably, Prop 207 has the potential to reshape Arizona’s criminal justice system. It is the only state in the nation where the smallest-quantity possession of marijuana can be charged as a felony. Black residents are disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrests overall, and are reported to be prosecuted more harshly than whites for the same offenses.
Mississippi Avoids Medical Marijuana Pitfalls
Mississippi voters approved Initiative No. 65 to legalize medical marijuana. By publication time, with 93 percent of votes counted, it was projected to win with over 76 percent support.
Mississippi’s effort could have become an electoral disaster. After independent advocates successfully campaigned to get the medical marijuana on the ballot, the state legislature responded by placing its own medical measure, I-65A, on the ballot. However, this measure was more restrictive than I-65.
To make things even worse, voters had to complete a two-step process when filling out their ballots to choose which measure they supported. Advocates worried that inconsistencies and confusion over the ballot would result in both measures being rejected. Voters proved them wrong. Mississippi will now legalize marijuana for patients with 22 different qualifying conditions, with medical cards being issued by August 2021.
Montana’s Chance to Reverse Racial Injustice
Montana voters approved two measures, Initiative 190 and Constitutional Initiative 118, to legalize adult marijuana use and sales. By publication time, with over 99 percent of votes counted, I-190 and CI-118 are projected to win with about 57 percent and 58 percent support, respectively.
Filter has also reported on the details of these initiatives and their potential impact. The new industry can generate tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state to fund social services and environmental conservation. Most importantly, voters’ decision can begin to reverse massive racial injustices. Montana arrests more Black people for marijuana, per capita, than any other US state. Arrests also target Brown and Native American residents.
South Dakota Gets Medical and Adult-Use Marijuana
South Dakota voters approved two measures, Amendment A and Measure 26, to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, respectively. By publication time, with over 99 percent of votes counted, Amendment A and M26 are projected to win with about 53 and 69 percent support, respectively. Amendment A legalizes up to one ounce of marijuana for over-21s.
As Filter has reported, the initiative will set up a new industry that’s expected to earn tens of millions in tax revenue each year for South Dakota, half of which is earmarked for public schools. Legalization can also curtail the injustice of marijuana arrests—which make up one in every 10 arrests in the state. Black and Native Americans are disproportionately targeted for marijuana arrests in South Dakota, as in so many other places.
To summarize: Voters approved every single marijuana initiative on the ballot last night. The widespread nature of support is remarkable. Four largely rural states, including three that voted for Trump, approved legalization, along with more urban and suburban New Jersey. Three predominantly white states joined two, in Mississippi and New Jersey, that are more diverse, in taking significant steps forward for racial justice.
These state-level advances surely have federal-level implications. “It’s only a matter of time before we completely remove marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act,” Matt Sutton, communications director for the Drug Policy Alliance,* told Filter. He recounted how the House was set to vote on a federal legalization bill, the MORE Act, shortly before the general election.
The House changed course at the last minute, apparently fearing the electoral consequences of taking the vote at that time. But Sutton said a vote is now expected within weeks. “Congress and legislators seem to be out of touch with the needs of Americans,” he said. “There’s very broad support for marijuana reform.” Nonetheless, even a successful vote in the House could come up against a Senate where Republicans may retain control.
Sutton also framed the marijuana ballot victories within the broader racial justice movement. “Marijuana possession is the most arrested offense in this country,” he said. “Ending that would be the single biggest thing we can do to reform policing in the US. We’ve seen too often how marijuana and drugs are used to target communities of color. The time has come for us to end prohibition.”
“We can’t just legalize marijuana,” he added. “Any reform has to repair the harm of prohibition by expunging and resentencing convictions, and making sure those impacted can participate in the new legal marijuana economy.”
Despite challenges ahead, in one night, over 21 million Americans have now joined the group of states with fully or medically legal cannabis. For adult-use marijuana alone, there are now over 111 million people living in states that have legalized (including DC). The war on people who use marijuana would appear to be crumbling.
*DPA has previously provided a restricted grant to The Influence Foundation, which operates Filter, to support a Drug War Journalism Diversity Fellowship.
Image adapted via Wikimedia Commons