This Election Day is shaping up to be a watershed moment for efforts to end marijuana prohibition, with five states voting on marijuana legalization and four more on medical marijuana. The results are expected to have major ramifications for marijuana law reform in states across the U.S., at the federal level, and even internationally.
A recent nationwide Gallup poll found that a record 60 percent of respondents support legalizing marijuana, but polls on this year’s state-based ballot initiatives show the results will be tighter. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two U.S. states – and the first two jurisdictions in the world – to approve ending marijuana prohibition and legally regulating marijuana production, distribution and sales. In the 2014 election, Alaska and Oregon followed suit, while Washington D.C. passed a more limited measure that legalized possession and home cultivation of marijuana (but did not address its taxation and sale due to a federal law passed by Congress in 2014 that bars D.C. from pursuing taxation and regulation). In addition, 25 states and D.C. have passed laws allowing access to medical marijuana.
“California’s looking good, so is medical marijuana in Florida, and I’m confident we’ll prevail in other states as well,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We’re fast approaching the day when Americans will look back on the marijuana wars of recent decades the same way we now look back on alcohol Prohibition – as a costly, foolish and deadly mistake.”
The most significant ballot initiative is California’s Proposition 64, which along with legalizing the adult use of marijuana and enacting across the board sentencing reform for marijuana offenses, establishes a comprehensive strictly controlled system to tax and regulate businesses to produce and distribute marijuana in a legal market. Experts are calling Prop. 64. the “gold standard” for marijuana policy.
“Importantly, Prop. 64 not only protects youth from accessing marijuana products, it protects them from accessing the criminal justice system,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “If Prop. 64 prevails, young people can no longer be arrested for marijuana offenses, which data consistently show us is the gateway to the criminal justice system. And, at age 18 their records will be automatically sealed. And with hundreds of thousands of residents eligible to have their records cleared, Californians who care about justice have a lot riding on Prop. 64’s victory.”
Prop. 64 focuses on undoing the most egregious harms of marijuana prohibition, which have disproportionately impacted communities of color; restoring and protecting public lands and waterways that have been damaged by the lack of statewide regulation under current law; and protecting youth to prevent the easy access to marijuana they have today in our unregulated, uncontrolled system.
By shifting away from counterproductive marijuana arrests and focusing instead on public health, states that have legalized marijuana are diminishing many of the worst harms of the war on drugs, while managing to raise substantial new revenue for their state.
A new report recently released by the Drug Policy Alliance brought good news for the states considering legalization and the broader marijuana legalization movement. Since the adult possession of marijuana became legal, Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have benefitted from a dramatic decrease in marijuana arrests and convictions, as well as increased tax revenues. During the same period, these states did not experience increases in youth marijuana use or traffic fatalities.
The election will have international ramifications, as momentum grows to end marijuana prohibition in Europe and the Americas. Over the past two years, Jamaica has enacted wide-ranging marijuana decriminalization; Colombia and Puerto Rico issued executive orders legalizing medical marijuana; and medical marijuana initiatives have been debated in Argentina, Brazil, Mexico and Italy. In 2013, Uruguay became the first country in the world to legalize marijuana on a national level, and Canada’s governing Liberal Party has promised to do the same.
Arizona’s Proposition 205 allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants in their home. It establishes a new agency, the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control, to oversee the licensing of marijuana retail stores, as well as cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities. The initiative enacts a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales which will be allocated to school construction, full-day kindergarten programs, public drug education, and towards the marijuana regulatory structure.
California’s Prop 64 allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants at home. The initiative also legalizes the industrial cultivation of hemp. The Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation will be renamed the Bureau of Marijuana Control, and will oversee 19 different licenses for businesses and cultivation. The initiative does not allow large-scale cultivation for the first five years, so small farmers have an advantage. A 15% excise tax on marijuana sales and a cultivation tax will be used to pay for the regulatory structure. Additional revenue will go toward youth substance abuse prevention, medical marijuana research, environmental protection and remediation, and local governments. The initiative also allocates substantial resources toward economic development and job placement for neighborhoods most in need, and creates a system for sentences to be retroactively reduced and past marijuana convictions to be expunged.
Maine’s Question 1 allows adults 21 and older to possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana, and grow up to six flowering plants and 12 nonflowering plants. The initiative instructs the Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry to regulate and control the cultivation, manufacture, distribution and sale of marijuana. It also provides for the licensure of retail social clubs where marijuana may be sold for consumption on the premises to adults 21 and older. The initiative enacts a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales that will be deposited into Maine’s General Fund.
Massachusetts’ Question 4 allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and grow up to six plants in their home. The initiative establishes a Cannabis Control Commission to oversee the licensing of marijuana retail stores, as well as cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities. It enacts a 3.75% excise tax on marijuana sales used to pay for the regulatory structure. Additional revenue will be deposited into Massachusetts’ General Fund.
Nevada’s Question 2 allows adults 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and those who do not live within 25 miles of a retail marijuana store may grow up to six plants in their home. The initiative instructs the Nevada Department of Taxation to oversee the licensing of marijuana retail stores, as well as cultivation, manufacturing, and testing facilities. It also establishes a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales used to fund schools, and the marijuana regulatory structure.
The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, Issue 6, would allow seriously ill patients who have a certification from their doctor to obtain medical marijuana from dispensaries. Patients are prohibited from ever cultivating at home. The program is overseen by a new medical marijuana commission and the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control.
Florida’s Amendment 2 legalizes medical use of marijuana. The initiative instructs the Department of Health to register and regulate centers that produce and distribute marijuana for medical purposes, and issue identification cards to patients and caregivers. Individuals with cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, or other debilitating medical conditions as determined by a physician will be able to purchase and use medical marijuana. Florida is the only state in the country that requires a 60% vote to pass. A similar initiative in 2014 was defeated despite winning 57.6% of the vote.
In 2004 Montana passed a ballot initiative to allow for the production, possession and use of marijuana by patients with debilitating medical conditions. But the legislature subsequently restricted the medical marijuana law to make it practically unworkable. I-182 would restore Montana’s medical marijuana law to ensure that patients have meaningful access to their medicine.
North Dakota’s Measure 5 legalizes the medical use of marijuana for conditions such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma, and epilepsy, and other debilitating medical conditions. Patients will be permitted to possess up to 3 ounces of marijuana. The initiative instructs the Department of Health to issue ID-cards for qualified patients and regulate non-profit compassion centers which will serve as dispensaries for patients. Individuals living more than 40 miles from a dispensaries will be permitted to grow up to eight plants in their home.