US drug policy has been under more scrutiny in recent years, and this Election Day voters across the nation get to weigh in on the currently stalled debate in Washington when they decide whether to ‘throw the bums out’ or not. But in a handful of states voters get to directly decide if they want to legalize medical cannabis and recreational, allow access to ‘shrooms,’ decriminalize all drugs, or even end cash bail (which has kept un-convicted people locked up indefinitely).
Legalization on the Ballot in Five States
Marijuana’s playing a significant role in the 2020 election. Voters in five states get to weigh in directly on the fate of cannabis-reform issues – four are voting to allow adult recreational use, while another would give patients access to medical cannabis But advocates are keeping their eyes on what the election returns mean for the makeup of the US Senate in 2021, because one of the biggest obstacles for federal decriminalization remains Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Each of the state ballot issues have their own eccentricities, but advocates say they’re cautiously optimistic that all might pass. That’s at least in part because of the widespread popularity of medical cannabis nationwide.
So even in states like Mississippi where GOP state legislators are attempting to confuse voters by offering their own, watered-down medical marijuana initiative, according to Marijuana Policy Project Deputy Director Matt Schweich.
“Mississippi might confuse voters, unfortunately,” Schweich told The News Station, “but medical [marijuana] is popular in every state.”
In spite of coronavirus and the government-mandated lockdowns which derailed ballot efforts in some states, advocates got it on the ballot in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Mississippi. Voters in four of those diverse states are voting on whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use, while only medical cannabis is on the other ballot. But no matter those outcomes, the most intense fight is over who becomes Senate majority leader next year. And advocates are hoping and praying they can knock off Sen. Mitch McConnell in his re-election bid against Democrat Amy McGrath, though analysts aren’t holding their breath.
That’s because the House of Representatives, now controlled by Democrats, stands ready to pass bipartisan legislation to decriminalize cannabis and allow marijuana businesses access to banking and tax breaks enjoyed by other businesses. And Senate Minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) has already stated he will move to remove cannabis from the federal Controlled Substances Act if he’s leader in a Democratically-controlled US Senate.
“Arguably the most important outcome of this election, with respect to the prospects of substantive future federal marijuana reforms, would be flipping the Senate,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano told The News Station in an email. “Reform advocates have established over the past two years that we have the votes in the House of Representatives, but until there is a shift in Senate leadership, any and all of these efforts will remain gridlocked in that chamber.”
Still, advocates fear they’re going to lose an ally in the Senate. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Col.), who represents the first state to legalize adult-use, is considered one of the only reliable Republican votes in favor of cannabis in the Senate. He’s in a tough re-election fight against former governor John Hickenlooper.
“The worst-case scenario is if Cory loses, and Republicans retain control of the Senate,” Morgan Fox, director of media for the National Cannabis Industry Association, told The News Station.
Here’s a run-down of the state ballot issues The News Station is watching:
Voters in Arizona approved medical cannabis in 2010, but a recreational initiative was narrowly defeated in 2016. Advocates are back with Proposition 208, which asks to allow adults to possess one ounce of flower or 5 grams of cannabis-oil-based concentrates and grow up to 6 plants. Individual municipalities will be allowed to ban or limit the number of businesses.
A 16 percent excise tax will be levied on marijuana products, with revenue going to community college districts, police and fire departments, highways and a new criminal justice fund for restorative programs, mentoring and behavioral health. Those with prior marijuana convictions could petition the courts for expungement of their records.
Voters face two issues here. I-190 would allow possession of one ounce and cultivation of up to four plants and four seedlings for personal use. CI-118 amends the constitution to establish the legal age of 21 for possession and use.
Local governments are not allowed to ban cannabis businesses but can pass ordinances to regulate adult-use businesses within their jurisdiction. The state will levy a 20 percent sales tax, and once implementation is complete, 10.5 percent of the remaining revenue would go to the state’s general fund and the rest to conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, veterans’ services and health care services.
The New Jersey Assembly and Senate placed a legalization ballot question to voters. Public Question 1 would allow adults to use cannabis and create a commission to oversee the state’s medical cannabis program and develop its personal-use market.
“I think New Jersey is the most important state because of the regional impact,” the NCIA’s Fox says. “In short order we’ll see similar bills pass in surrounding states.”
Voters here are facing two ballot measures. One would allow recreational, and another allows medical cannabis. Both leave it to local jurisdictions to decide whether to allow sales. Constitutional Amendment A would let residents possess one ounce for personal use, and adults who live in areas that don’t allow cannabis sales can grow three plants in a locked space. Measure 26 will make marijuana legal for serious health conditions like cancer and for veterans.
Local governments can ban businesses, though they can’t stop the transportation of their products on public roads. After covering the costs of implementation, 50 percent of what’s left would go toward funding state public schools and the other 50 percent would go into the state’s general fund.
Voters face confusing ballot questions here. As the NCIA’s Fox explained, it’s an attempt by lawmakers to circumvent voters and siphon votes away to make it fail.
First there is Mississippi Ballot Measure 1 (Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A). Voters approved Initiative 65, which led lawmakers to come up with Alternative 65. Voting “either measure” signifies that the voter wants either Initiative 65 or Alternative 65A, both of which will allow qualified patients medical access to cannabis.
Then voters must choose between 65 or 65A regardless of their answer to the first question, and those who choose “either” in the first question must answer the second question for the ballot to be valid, while those who choose “neither” can but don’t need to answer the second question.
If there are more votes for “either” than for “neither” in the first question, the version that receives majority approval in the second question is enacted, provided it receives approval from at least 40% of the ballots cast. Is that confusing enough for you?
Magic Mushrooms, or Psilocybin Oregon
Measure 109 would authorize the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) to create a program to permit licensed service psilocybin-assisted therapy (psilocybin is the psychoactive ingredient in ‘magic mushrooms’), to anyone 21 years of age or older over the next two years, during which time the OHA would decide eligibility requirements and create a code of professional conduct for facilitators and create dosage standards and labeling and packaging rules.
Advocates have been working on this one for several years now, with hopes of helping end our opioid addiction crisis.
Initiative 81, or the Entheogenic Plant and Fungus Policy Act of 2020, would make the investigation and arrest for adult cultivation and use of psychedelic plants one of the lowest law enforcement priorities for the district’s police department. It contains a non-binding clause asking the DC attorney general to not prosecute anyone charged with an offense related to the substances. It would effectively decriminalize the use of psychedelic plants, like ayahuasca and psilocybin mushrooms.
Cash Bail Reform California & New York
More than half of people in prison, many Brown or Black or other minorities, are awaiting trial and can’t afford to post bail. California’s Proposition 25 asks voters to uphold or upend their state’s cash bail systems.
In New York there’s no ballot measure, but the outcome of state races matter in determining whether a measure that eliminates cash bail, which was passed by the legislature and signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in 2020, will remain in place. If Democrats can maintain or expand their majority in the legislature they can play a decisive role in determining its fate.
Decriminalize All Drugs Oregon
Measure 110 asks voters to decriminalize most hard drugs in the state. It would be the first state to accomplish that, and it could be a nationwide game changer if it passes.