This is a huge year from the United States involving transformation. Not only will there be a new president for the first time in eight years this November, but you could see the most rapid expansion of marijuana, with eight states set to vote on recreational or medical cannabis initiatives or amendments this fall.
What’s at stake
The expansion of the cannabis industry was started 20 years ago when California approved a compassionate use law for medical marijuana. Today, half of all U.S. states have approved a medical marijuana law. The two most recent approvals came from Pennsylvania and Ohio, which used the legislative process to pass medical cannabis laws.
Additionally, four states legalized the recreational use of cannabis – Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, along with Washington, D.C. Recreational approvals and the expansion of medical cannabis have generated tax revenue and licensee fees that are boosting state education budgets and allowing certain patients to new paths of treatment.
The real buzz among marijuana supporters is what might happen in November. President Obama has suggested that the best way to get the attention of Congress is to legalize marijuana in as many states as possible at the state level. If a majority of states approve marijuana measures and public opinion continues to rise in favor of cannabis, Congress may have no choice but to consider decriminalization – or to legalize it.
Naturally, success for the movement is no guarantee. Florida failed to pass a medical marijuana amendment in 2014, and Prop 19 in California failed to legalize recreational marijuana in 2010. It’s worth noting that support for marijuana has grown substantially since both of these elections, but that still doesn’t guarantee success this November.
These eights states are set to vote on marijuana
Here are the eight states poised to vote on a marijuana initiative or amendment in November.
Nevada was the only state was a lock to be voting on recreational marijuana in 2016, since it was added to the ballot last November. As home to “Sin City” and an existing infrastructure of medical marijuana dispensaries, Nevada appears to become a recreational-legal state. If the measure is approved, an excise tax of 15% would be applied at the wholesale level, with the consumer also paying existing sales tax at the retail level.
Despite a narrow defeat in 2014, Florida picked itself up and is once again looking to legalize medical marijuana in November. Florida’s constitution is set up in such a way that traditional majority vote doesn’t equate to passage. The state’s constitution requires an amendment, which needs 60% “Yes” votes to pass. The nation’s younger generation appears overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, but seniors tend to have a more negative view on cannabis.
A Quinnipiac University poll conducted in May found that 80% of Florida voters favor the legalization of medical marijuana, while 16% said they would vote no on the measure. This year could be the year when Florida finally gets a medical marijuana measure passed.
A little more than two months ago, Maine revealed that it would have a recreational marijuana initiative on the November ballot. The proposal includes a 10% excise tax and like most other recreation-legal states, it would limit the number of licenses it issues.
A May poll of just over 600 Maine residents from the Marijuana Policy Project showed that 55% supported the recreational legalization of marijuana, compared to 41% who were said to be leaning against legalization. Obviously polls have some margin for error, but things are looking promising for cannabis supporters in Maine.
It’s been over two months when rumors about California’s ballot became to spread, but little more then a week ago the state made it perfectly clear that a recreational marijuana vote had won a place on the state’s November ballot. If the measure is approved, customers would be subject to 15% retail sales tax. Growers within the state would also pay additional taxes.
Per Dale Gieringer of the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), legalization in marijuana could result in more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue and at least a $100 million reduction in law enforcement costs.
A poll conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California earlier this year showed 60% in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, compared to just 37% who opposed the idea. This was up from the 54% in favor as of June 2015 and down from the 44% who opposed its legalization.
Enough signatures were gathered to put a recreational marijuana initiative on the November ballot for Massachusetts. Five weeks ago, however, Massachusetts was still somewhat on the fence. n approval would mean consumers paying the state a 6.25% tax, plus and excise tax of 3.75%. Individual cities and towns could imposes taxes totaling up to 2%, meaning a top-tier marijuana tax of about 12%.
Unlike Maine or California, where polled residents appear to be in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana, the issue could come down to the wire in Massachusetts. A Suffolk University/Boston Globe poll conducted in the first week of May found that 43% of polled residents would vote yes to legalize, while another 46% would vote no. Some 11% were undecided.
Residents of Arizona will also be voting on recreational marijuana in November. If it’s approved, a 15% tax on retail sales would be passed on to the consumer, with a decent chunk of tax revenue raised going to support Arizona’s K-12 public schools and a full-day kindergarten program. However, supporters are facing an uphill battle. A poll released in April from Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy showed that only 43% supported a legal recreational marijuana measure compared to the 49% who opposed it.
Interestingly enough, in April a bill aimed at legalizing medical marijuana in Missouri was voted down by the state’s House of Representatives. Killing the bill on the legislative front meant that ay change of passage would be up to the voters. With enough signatures collected, Missourians will now have that chance.
Like Arizona, the battle for legalization could be tough. Show-Me Cannabis suspended legalization efforts in Missouri in 2015 after polls showed that registered voters were against the full legalization of marijuana to the tune 51% to 45% in 2015. However, with just a medical marijuana proposal on the table, the outcome could be different.
Residents in Arkansas will be voting on whether or not to legalize medical marijuana, too. Having easily surpassed the 84,859 signatures needed to get the measure on the ballot, the next step for in-state supporters is to push the measure in a region that’s generally been hostile to legalizing marijuana. The potential good news is a Talk Business & Politics/ Hendrix College survey, which recently showed that a majority of Arkansas polled (58%) favored the legalization of medical marijuana compared to those who opposed it (34%).