While it wasn’t the biggest story of Election Day, the legalization of marijuana in five more states is a big win for a movement that only had its first victory in 1996.
While the result of the presidential race is still up in the air at the time of writing, the results of some ballot measures were determined relatively early on election night. Among the over 100 state laws and constitutional amendments that voters were tasked with considering, five states voted to legalize marijuana. Additionally, Oregon voted to decriminalize “Schedule 1” drugs.
Although a federal law to legalize the use of marijuana for either medical or recreational use remains a distant possibility, a majority of states have now at least partially legalized its use. The most recent states to legalize marijuana to some degree are Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota.
The 2020 state marijuana measures
While it wasn’t the biggest story of Election Day, the legalization of marijuana in five more states is a big win for a movement that only had its first victory in 1996. That was the year California became the first state to legalize the drug for medicinal purposes. In 2012, Colorado and Washington simultaneously became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use.
This year, the ballot measures across the five states related to both medicinal and recreational use of marijuana.
In Arizona, Proposition 207 passed with roughly 60% of the vote. Persons 21 and older are permitted to possess and use the drug recreationally. They are also permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants on their property. Starting in July 2021, anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime can petition to have their record expunged. Medicinal use of marijuana was already legal in Arizona.
In Mississippi, Initiative 65 passed with just over 74% of the vote. The measure approved the use of marijuana for medicinal uses in the treatment of 22 specified conditions, among them cancer, epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and HIV. An individual may be in possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Recreational use remains illegal.
In Montana, Initiative 90 passed with around 57% of the vote. It legalized the possession of one ounce or less of marijuana (or eight grams or less of marijuana concentrate) for persons 21 and older. Starting January 1, 2021, residents can possess, use and grow the drug. Criminal records for marijuana-related charges can be expunged if the previous offense is now legal. Medicinal use of marijuana was already legal in Montana.
In New Jersey, Public Question 1 passed with roughly 67% of the vote. The vote amended the state constitution to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for persons 21 and older. Retailers can grow, process and sell the drug as of January 1, 2021. The state still must create and establish regulation for a new marijuana market. Medicinal use of marijuana was already legal in New Jersey.
In South Dakota, Constitutional Amendment A narrowly passed with 53% of the vote. The amendment legalized recreational use of marijuana for persons 21 and older. Separately, Measure 26 passed with just over 69% of the vote. That measure legalized medicinal use of marijuana and the possession of up to three ounces for people who have a diagnosed, debilitating medical condition.
Oregon decriminalizes hard drugs
In Oregon, Measure 110 passed with roughly 59% of the vote. The measure decriminalized the possession of Schedule I-IV drugs, which includes cocaine, heroin and methamphetamines. This means a person found in possession of such drugs will no longer face criminal charges. Instead, they will receive a US$100 fine or be required to complete a health assessment.
The manufacturing and distribution of hard drugs remains illegal in Oregon. Decriminalization is not the same as legalization. In fact, in 1973 Oregon was the first state to decriminalize marijuana. More than half of the states have since decriminalized marijuana. For instance, up until this election, marijuana had been decriminalized in Mississippi, but fully illegal.
Additionally, this year Oregon passed Measure 109 with nearly 56% of the vote. That measure permits regulated service centers to sell psilocybin-producing mushrooms and fungi products (commonly known as “magic mushrooms”) for therapeutic use. The manufacturing and consumption of such products for recreational use is still illegal.
Where is marijuana legal in the US?
In addition to the five states that passed measures this election and Oregon, which had already previously legalized both medicinal and recreational use of marijuana, a plurality of states across the United States have legalized the use of marijuana.
After Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use of marijuana in 2012, multiple states followed suit: Alaska and Oregon in 2014, California, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada in 2016, and Michigan and Vermont in 2018. Washington, DC also legalized recreational use in 2014.
In 2019, Illinois became the first state to legalize the recreational use and sale of marijuana through state legislation instead of a ballot measure. Earlier this year, Vermont followed suit with its own state legislation to allow for a recreational marijuana marketplace. Following this year’s elections, there are now 15 states that permit recreational marijuana usage.
The states that permit medicinal use of marijuana, but not recreational, are: Arkansas, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah, Virginia and West Virginia.
Marijuana is still fully illegal in Alabama, Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
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