Voters in California and Massachusetts approved recreational marijuana initiatives today, and several other states passed medical marijuana provisions in what is turning out to be the biggest electoral victory for marijuana reform since 2012, when Colorado and Washington first approved recreational marijuana.
Of the five recreational marijuana initiatives on the ballot today, two have passed and two more – in Nevada and Maine – were leading Tuesday evening in preliminary vote totals. A similar measure in Arizona was trailing with 53 percent of votes counted so far.
On the medical side, voters in Florida, North Dakota and Arkansas approved medical marijuana initiatives. A separate measure in Montana that would loosen restrictions on an existing medical pot law was leading with only 9 percent of votes counted so far.
Reformers were jubilant.
“This represents a monumental victory for the marijuana reform movement,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a statement. “With California’s leadership now, the end of marijuana prohibition nationally, and even internationally, is fast approaching.”
California has long been seen as a bellwether by both supporters and opponents of marijuana reform. The state is home to about 12 percent of the U.S. population. Given the size of the state’s economy and the economic impact of the marijuana industry there, California’s adoption of legal marijuana could prompt federal authorities to rethink their decadeslong prohibition on the use of marijuana for any purposes.
In a recent interview with Bill Maher, President Barack Obama said that legalization in California could make the current federal approach to the drug “untenable.”
Still, the prospect of a Trump White House leaves a lot of uncertainty about the fate of marijuana measures in the next four years. Under Obama, federal authorities largely took a hands-off approach to state-level legalization efforts. But an incoming administration more skeptical of drug reform could easily reverse that approach.
“The prospect of Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie as attorney general does not bode well,” the Drug Policy Alliance’s Nadelmann said in an interview. “There are various ways in which a hostile White House could trip things up.”
Still, Nadelmann pointed to the success of marijuana measures in the midst of an evident Republican wave as a sign that support for legalization now cuts deeply across party lines. And citing Trump’s often contradictory statements on marijuana and drug use in the past, Nadelmann added that “Donald Trump personally could probably go any which way on this.”
With today’s votes, legal marijuana is also making significant inroads in the northeast. “Marijuana legalization has arrived on the East Coast,” said Tom Angell of the marijuana reform group Marijuana Majority in an email. “What Colorado and other states have already done is generating revenue, creating jobs and reducing crime, so it’s not surprising that voters in more places are eager to end prohibition.”
Votes on medical marijuana in Florida and North Dakota were decisive. With 99 percent of precincts reporting, the Associated Press declared that Florida’s Amendment 2 passed with 71 percent support. In North Dakota, the AP reported that 64 percent of voters currently approve of the medical marijuana measure with 71 percent of precincts reporting.
Two years ago a medical marijuana measure in Florida earned 58 percent of the vote, just shy of the 60 percent threshold needed for passage. Then, as now, opposition to the measure was fueled by multi-million dollar donations from Sheldon Adelson, the Las Vegas casino magnate and GOP donor. In 2014, Adelson spent $5.5 million to defeat the measure. This year he’s spent $1.5 million in Florida, and several million more to defeat recreational marijuana measures in other states.
“This is a major tipping point,” said Tom Angell of Florida’s vote. “With Florida’s decision, a majority of states in the U.S. now have laws allowing patients to find relief with medical marijuana, and these protections and programs are no longer concentrated in certain regions of the country like the West and Northeast.”
The victory in North Dakota is something of a surprise as no polling was done on the measure.
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