We all know the upcoming election in November will be historic, possibly in several ways. Whether President Donald Trump earns a second term, or Democratic challenger Joe Biden wins, the oldest U.S. president ever elected will be sworn into office on January 20, 2021. Kamala Harris could make history on several fronts if she becomes the first woman and first person of color to serve as vice president. Of course, as many cannabis enthusiasts and activists know, Election Day has routinely represented the largest jumps in legalization. Below we have previewed the states where voters will get to help decide the fate of legalization. We’ve also provided a little bit of background on where the two presidential tickets stand on cannabis and what it could mean for either to win the election.
Cannabis advocacy group Smart and Safe Arizona collected enough signatures to place Proposition 207 on the ballot. If approved, adults age 21 and over will be able to legally purchase cannabis and could grow up to six plants for personal consumption. A state sales tax of 5.6 percent, local taxes, and a 16 percent excise tax would be applied to all sales. The new tax revenue would be used to fund colleges, police and fire departments, and the state’s highway department. Recreational marijuana last appeared on Arizona’s ballot in 2016.
Voters will have the option to vote on two different medical cannabis initiatives at the ballot, but that is not necessarily a good thing for those seeking legalization. Initiative 65 would approve medicinal cannabis use for twenty-two qualifying conditions. Patients would be permitted to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis flower and sales would be taxed at the state sales tax rate (currently 7 percent). The other amendment, Alternative 65A, would restrict medicinal use to terminally ill patients. Voters can select “either” and then will be prompted to select their preferred amendment. Polls have highlighted a healthy majority of residents in Mississippi support legalizing medicinal cannabis use. However, with two different measures, and the potential for confusion, legalization is far from certain.
The Montana Supreme Court recently denied and dismissed a lawsuit seeking to remove two recreational cannabis measures from the state ballot. If adopted at the polls, I-190 would legalize and establish a regulatory structure for recreational sales. It also would implement a 20 percent retail tax on adult-use sales and allow residents to possess up to four cannabis plants and four seedlings in their homes. CI-118, a complementary initiative, would set the minimum age for cannabis sales to 21. New Approach Montana has led the efforts on both initiatives. Montana voters approved medical-use cannabis in 2004.
New Jersey’s medicinal cannabis program was signed into law in 2010. Efforts in 2018 to legalize recreational sales, however, were unsuccessful. If this year’s Public Question 1 is approved, the state’s constitution would be amended to legalize cultivation, processing, and retail sales, as well as the possession and use of cannabis by adults age 21 and older. Recreational sales would be subject to the state sales tax (currently 6.625 percent) and local governments may be allowed to implement an additional 2 percent sales tax.
Oregon’s Measure 110 could signal a sea change in the legalization and reform movement. With medicinal and recreational cannabis already legalized, the measure instead would allow voters to decide if they want to decriminalize all drugs including LSD and heroin. The goal is not to encourage hard drug use, but to shift the cultural conversation toward treating addiction as a medical condition and not as a felony. The initiative would establish funding for drug treatment and recovery services.
In what seems to be the year of two, South Dakota residents also will have the chance to approve two cannabis measures. If medicinal cannabis Initiative 26 is passed, adults with a debilitating medical condition would be allowed to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to three plants. If recreational cannabis Amendment A is passed, adults age 21 and over would be allowed to possess up to one ounce of cannabis. A sales tax of 15 percent would be attached to all recreational sales; medical sales would not incur a tax.
The economic impact of cannabis at the polls
Cannabis legalization is seen as a driver of new jobs and revenue—two things the United States desperately needs as we continue to navigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legalization today could mean big money in the near future, dollars that are surely going to be needed as the country recovers from the aftermath of the coronavirus.
New Frontier Data founder and Chief Executive Officer Giadha A. DeCarcer believes we may be on the verge of monumental progress in the cannabis legalization movement.
“The 2020 election could be one of the most consequential and historical events to change the landscape of the legal U.S. cannabis industry,” DeCarcer said. “With $9 billion in new revenue from 2022–2025, should all five states’ ballot measures pass, New Frontier Data estimates that revenues from all legal U.S. markets will reach $35.1 billion in 2025.”
A second Trump/Pence term
Clearly articulating President Trump’s cannabis policy is extremely difficult. Although he said he was willing to support a cannabis legalization bill in 2018, it was not exactly something he championed. Recently, he urged Republicans to push back on cannabis ballot initiatives in fear of mobilizing progressive voters who may not otherwise have come out to the polls.
With a lack of clarity from Trump himself, we can look to his cabinet members for some indication of how the administration views cannabis. Jeff Sessions, Trump’s first attorney general, was notoriously anti-cannabis and has made many outlandish statements about the plant during his political career. Current U.S. Attorney General William Barr in 2019 indicated he supported allowing cannabis legality to be determined on a state level. However, in June 2020 a whistleblower in the Department of Justice testified Barr had waged an unethical harassment campaign against legal cannabis companies by launching faux anti-trust investigations.
Determining where Vice President Mike Pence stands on the issue of cannabis is a bit easier. As governor of Indiana, he came out sharply against decriminalization and reportedly said, “I think we need to focus on reducing crime, not reducing penalties.” This seems to sync with Trump’s law and order philosophy, something the president has promoted very often leading up to the election.
A Biden/Harris presidency
Unlike Trump, Joe Biden has a decades-long policy record. This includes his work on the often criticized 1994 Crime Bill that established mandatory minimum sentencing and is credited with ushering in an age of mass incarceration and unfairly impacting minority populations. Biden seems to have softened his stance during his current campaign for the presidency, though he has not embraced full legalization.
In a book she wrote in 2008, now U.S. Senator Kamala Harris indicated that even low-level crimes needed to be swiftly dealt with. “Nonviolent crimes exact a huge toll on America’s communities,” she wrote. In 2010, while serving as district attorney for San Francisco, Harris opposed Proposition 19, a ballot initiative that would have legalized recreational cannabis use two years before it was legalized in Colorado and Washington state. During the time she served as California’s attorney general, over 1500 individuals were incarcerated for cannabis offenses.
The Biden/Harris ticket seems intent on pursuing a more pro-cannabis platform than any previous administration. Despite their inconsistent histories, Biden and Harris both support decriminalization and a shift from incarcerating individuals for simple possession. A Biden presidency should also result in the removal of federal interference in states where cannabis has been legalized.