Unless you live under a rock where television and internet access is nonexistent, you've probably noticed the big uptick in political advertisements in recent weeks. That's because (drum roll)... it's an election year. Go ahead and let out that collective sigh.
While political ads are likely to take over our lives for the next nine-plus months until Election Day in November, it's also a reminder that big changes could be afoot in the cannabis space. You see, the last time a major election cycle rolled around, residents in nine states voted on a medical or recreational marijuana initiative, with all but one state (Arizona) passing their respective measures.
Right now, 11 states have a medical or recreational cannabis legalization initiative or amendment that's been proposed or is gathering signatures. While this doesn't guarantee that these measures will appear on the ballot in all 11 states come November, it does demonstrate just how much importance is being placed on this election cycle, as well as shows how much momentum is behind the U.S. weed industry. Not to mention, it has marijuana stock investors excited that 2020 could be a bounce-back year.
Residents in these states will 100% be voting on cannabis in November
What we do know at this point is that three of these 11 states are guaranteed to be voting on marijuana in November, with one state in particular set to make history.
As announced in December, residents of the Garden State will be voting on a constitutional amendment come November to legalize recreational marijuana. This ballot initiative was made possible by New Jersey's Senate and its Assembly, voting 24-16 and 49-24, respectively, to allow the state's residents to decide the future of cannabis in the Garden State.
Here's the question that'll be appearing on New Jerseyans ballots:
Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called "cannabis"? Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State's medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market. Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.
While it's not in the least bit surprising to see New Jersey pushing the legalization narrative, especially considering that it's traditionally a left-leaning state (Democrats have a more positive view of cannabis than Republicans), it's a bit of a shock that residents will be voting on the measure.
That's because New Jersey lawmakers had agreed on a number of legalization aspects last March, including taxation. However, a proposal was ultimately thwarted by some lawmakers pushing for an expungement clause. With that clause no longer appearing in the latest proposal, I'd have figured it would sail through at the legislative level. But that's not what happened, with lawmakers instead choosing to take the vote to the people. I'd be very surprised if this measure doesn't pass in November.
We also recently learned that Mississippi (yes, the Magnolia State) would be voting on a medical marijuana measure this fall. A little over 86,000 signatures were required to get Initiative Measure 65 on the ballot, but nearly 106,000 signatures of the more than 214,000 signatures submitted were deemed valid.
Here's what Mississippians can expect to see on their ballots in early November:
Should Mississippi allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana?
If approved, Measure 65 would allow Mississippi to create a medical marijuana program that would treat patients with a "debilitating medical condition." Initially, there would be about 20 conditions listed as qualifying, such as cancer and Parkinson's disease, albeit the Mississippi Department of Health would be allowed to add to the list of debilitating medical conditions, if it sees fit.
What's really notable about this legalization effort is that it's happening in one of the most conservative states in the entire country. Mississippi is typically led by Republicans, who in Gallup's national polls have a more adverse view of cannabis. Yet polling from Measure 65 proponents shows that support for medical marijuana in Mississippi is a cool 77%.
While I'm not certain that Measure 65 would win in a landslide, signs do point to Mississippi as no longer being one of 17 states that haven't legalized pot in any capacity before the end of the year.
As for history being made, that belongs to South Dakota. The Mount Rushmore State is going to become the first ever to vote on a recreational cannabis amendment and medical marijuana initiative in the same election. Right now, South Dakota is, like Mississippi, one of the 17 states that hasn't legalized weed.
The first ballot initiative is Measure 26, which would create a medical marijuana program in South Dakota that would be overseen by the Department of Health. Similar to Mississippi, individuals would need to have a debilitating medical condition to qualify for a medical cannabis prescription from a licensed physician. For the time being, the list of debilitating medical conditions for Measure 26 is limited, with severe pain and persistent muscle spasms, such as those associated with multiple sclerosis, earning the designation. However, the Department of Health would be free to add new conditions.
South Dakotans will also be voting on Constitutional Amendment A, which would legalize recreational marijuana in the state, and tax adult-use sales at 15%. Additionally, it would require the South Dakota Legislature to create and pass regulations for medical marijuana and hemp programs by no later than April 1, 2022.
Since no other states has attempted to pass a dual legalization measure before, I'm not entirely certain of what to expect. On one hand, nationwide support for medical cannabis is (pardon the pun) high, so Measure 26 would seem to have a decent shot at becoming law. On the other hand, South Dakota tends to land on the conservative spectrum, making adult-use weed a bit of a stretch. Polling in South Dakota later this year may offer more clues, but for now I would only be looking for Measure 26 to pass in November.