New Jersey is not the only state with a cannabis referendum on Tuesday. Arizona, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi all seek to legalize.
The New Jersey ballot question is the most likely to pass, while Mississippi’s referendum for medical and South Dakota’s adult-use questions are up in the air based on polls.
Before COVID hit, more states were looking at legalizing cannabis in 2020. But COVID stopped legislatures from examining it during their short sessions, and many states were wary of accepting electronic signatures gathered for petitions. Thus, New Jersey is the only state on the East Coast that could legalize adult-use cannabis tomorrow.
Arizona’s Cannabis Referendum
Arizona tried four years ago to legalize adult-use but failed. The 2020 cannabis referendum is currently polling at 55 percent popularity. They are the most likely to legalize besides New Jersey for adult-use and have a significant impact on the country.
Smart and Safe Arizona is leading the effort there to legalize adult-use cannabis. They have assembled a large and diverse coalition to support legalization, including several unions of the Firefighters, the Teamsters, and Boilermakers, youth vote organizations, civil rights organizations, progressive-mind lawyers, religious organizations, and NORML. Like in New Jersey, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is the top organization leading the effort.
In addition to interest groups, Congressman Ruben Gallego D-AZ) and noted labor leader Dolores Huerta have endorsed the coalition’s efforts.
The cannabis opposition, though, is eager to halt legalization by releasing attack ads. Attack ads are usually a sign of desperation.
While studies have been shown that point to a decline in teen use after the passage of a cannabis referendum, prohibitionists constantly bring up this point in hopes of scaring parents.
Arizona held a cannabis referendum in 2016 that failed to pass. Insys, the maker of the deadly drug fentanyl, donated $500,000 to the prohibitionists opposing it. Colorado and California also held cannabis referendums that failed before they ultimately passed a few years later. California first tried to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2010, and Colorado tried in
Arizona has changed drastically in the last ten years and has become more progressive. It was the home of Republican Senators Barry Goldwater and John McCain. Sheriff Joe Arpaio who was convicted of treating immigrants inhumanely. However, Phoenix has grown over the years, and in 2018, they elected Democratic Congresswoman Kristen Sinema to the Senate.
Advocates in South Dakota are trying to legalize both adult-use and medical cannabis at the same time.
Measure A, which would legalize adult-use cannabis is polling at 51 percent popularity, and Measure 26, which would legalize medical cannabis, is supported by 74 percent of those surveyed.
South Dakota is a rural state with a large native population. It has come to light that, like in New Jersey, minorities are arrested more for cannabis crimes.
Governor Kristi Noem (R) has come out against Measure A.
The South Dakota Chamber of Commerce is fighting legalization efforts. They either do not see the potential for profits, or they are being driven by companies whose profits would be hurt in theory if the legalization of cannabis passes.
Montana is fighting for adult-use cannabis. In an interesting system, they have two referendums; one to legalize and the other to regulate
Constitutional Initiative 118 sets the legal age for cannabis purchase at 21, and Statutory Initiative 190 regulate the cannabis market, including doling out dispensary and lab licenses. The regulatory bill sets a 20 percent tax on cannabis, whereby revenue largely goes into the state’s general treasury fund with some allocated for addiction treatment and environmental protection.
Like South Dakota and New Jersey, it has been found that cannabis arrests in Montana disproportionately harm minorities. Montana is worse because African Americans are ten times more likely to be arrested for cannabis crimes. A separate study said the state’s Native Americans are adversely impacted as well.
Fighting for Medical in Mississippi
It is interesting to see conservative-leaning states seeking to legalize cannabis. Up to now, legalization has largely occurred in blue states or swing states. Mississippi, though, is blood red conservative.
It was noteworthy that the Trump campaign was enraged that Mississippi advocates pointed out that Trump has praised medical cannabis programs in the past.
The American Medical Association and its state chapters continued their commitment to prohibition by sending money to the opposition.
Like in Nebraska, prohibitionists in Mississippi unsuccessfully have sought to remove the cannabis referendum from the ballot. When that was not approved, the legislature decided to complicate the matter by adding a cannabis referendum question of its own to the ballot.
Opponents to legalization were more successful in Nebraska in having the question removed from the ballot because it covered more than one issue. Advocates are undaunted and have already begun preparing to get a better-worded question for a 2022 cannabis referendum.
In all states, the pro-legalization forces have outraised prohibitionists.