Five U.S. States Set to Legalize Marijuana in November Election

Soft Secrets
23 Oct 2020

How will the cannabis market expand in the US after the November 2020 election? As states are preparing for voting, here's how things are standing and who will legalize next.

At the beginning of 2020, hopes were 'high' for expanding the legalization of cannabis in a more significant number of U.S. states for both medicinal or recreational purposes. But after the onset of a global pandemic, the picture has changed. Back in January, Vox's reporter German Lopez gave high hopes to cannabis enthusiasts in an article that said at least 18 states, including New York, New Jersey, and Oklahoma, were predicted to legalize marijuana this year, either through ballot measure or via legislatures of specific jurisdiction.  It was supposed to be a really big year on the legalization front.  Little did we all know.   And now, after a global pandemic, devastating recession, and social unrest, January seems like a different era. Yes, we all mourn the pre-COVID-19 world. Legal weed is among the victims of the virus, together with millions in taxes and thousands of job opportunities. For now, only five states are on the right track to make legalization happen in this election.

How has the pandemic impacted marijuana legalization?

As the pandemic spread like wildfire across the country, ballot measures campaign keen on gathering signatures were forced to close down shops in response to health concerns and social distancing guidelines. The global pandemic has dramatically corrupted both cannabis campaigning and signature gathering and campaigning. As traditional campaigning often requires physical contact, many had to decide to either cease operations or introduce drastic protective measures to protect supporters and activists' health. The social distancing rules also had a harmful impact on the signature-gathering process as it usually includes the typical door-to-door or approaching people in busy locations. A handful of states, including Missouri, North Dakota, and Arkansas with initial plans to put cannabis legalization on the election ballot, are opting out for this election cycle, leaving space for activists to gear up. 2020 marijuana legalization Oklahoma is one of the states to miserably fail to gather enough signatures to qualify for the November ballot due to a legal challenge to the proposed adult-use initiative. Legal weed fell victim to COVID-19 in New York as well, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo said earlier this summer, legalization of cannabis for adult recreational use would have to wait for the next year. However, according to the latest comments of the top marijuana advisor to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Assistant Counsel Axel Bernabe, cannabis legalization legislation will again be introduced through the state budget in January. Mr. Bernabe recognizes that neighboring New Jersey, which is one of the five states due to vote on recreational use of cannabis on November 3, may monopolize the market by passing a vote. "We are watching New Jersey closely. We've always been confident that we get to this before New Jersey, so if they pass the referendum they still have to have agreement between the governor [and] the Senate over there," he said, referring to the subsequent legal processes should voters pass the ballot question.  "We are working on this. We're going to reintroduce this in our budget in January. We think we can get it done by April 1," he said.  Setbacks occurred in other states as well. In September, the Nebraska Supreme Court ruled that a medical marijuana legalization initiative cannot appear on the state's November ballot, following a legal challenge. Idaho remained stuck in the signature-gathering phase, prompting cannabis activists to take a legal battle to win the right of remotely collecting signatures. According to the Idaho Cannabis Coalition, to qualify for the ballot, they would need 55,067 valid signatures, and they have around 45,000 unverified signatures. The topic of marijuana however has not landed on the ballot for November 3. 2020 marijuana legalization

Not all is lost

Still, five states are set with legalization initiatives on the election ballot. South Dakota and Mississippi will allow voters to decide for the legalization of medical cannabis on the ballot, and New Jersey, South Dakota, Arizona, and Montana will have ballot measures that could legalize marijuana for recreational use for adults over 21. South Dakota will make history by being the first jurisdiction to vote on separate adult-use and medical legalization initiatives in the same election year. Residents in Mississippi will have the opportunity to decide on two different ballot measures, Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A. While if approved, both will legalize medical marijuana, the initiatives have significant disparities in the level of detail. Led by the Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign, Initiative 65 covers specific information such as which state department would supervise the program and set deadlines for its implementation, as well as details related to licensing fees, conditions for qualifying, possessions limits, and tax rates. Alternative 65A, however, does not include as much information about the proposed medical program. Arizona, where medical cannabis was legalized in 2011, is now voting on Proposition 207: The Smart and Safe Arizona Act to legalize the sale and possession of cannabis for adult use (21 and over).  Montana voters will have to decide on the measure to legalize adult-use marijuana and a separate initiative that would add a constitutional amendment to set the legal age for weed at 21. Polling indicates the measure should pass in all five states. Overall, 33 states and the District of Columbia permit the medicinal use of cannabis. Eleven of these states, as well as D.C., also allow recreational use. For now, 2016 will remain the most significant year in terms of cannabis legalization, when nine states legalized medical or adult-use cannabis. 
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