Though the fate of the US Presidency remained unclear last Tuesday night, the future of cannabis was quickly called. Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey legalized adult-use cannabis, Mississippi legalized medical cannabis, and South Dakota passed both a medical and adult-use ballot initiative. Here’s our key takeaways from the immediate results.
Red States Legalize Cannabis
Cannabis legalization is not as partisan of an issue as it once was. Citizens of Montana, South Dakota, and Mississippi heavily voted for Republican President Donald Trump while simultaneously voting to legalize cannabis. Mississippi - where 60% of the voting population chose Trump – had the choice of two medical cannabis programs and chose the more liberal of the two. The state legalized medical cannabis use for 22 qualifying conditions including chronic pain, cancer, and PTSD.
In South Dakota, where 62% of the electorate voted for Trump, both medical and adult-use cannabis legalization passed. It is the first US state to do so, as states typically passed medical programs before embarking onto adult-use. The ballot initiative gives the state plenty of time to figure out how to start both programs, as the initiative gives them until April 1, 2022 before it must provide licensing regulations. Montana is similar to South Dakota, as its ballot initiative gives the state until October 2021 to sort out the regulations. However, Montana legislators seem to be more optimistic for cannabis legalization than their neighbors to the east; South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem expressed her displeasure at how her constituents voted:
“I was personally opposed to these measures and firmly believe they’re the wrong choice for South Dakota’s communities.”
Montana legislators, on the other hand, dropped their attempt to undo cannabis legalization upon seeing 57% of their electorate vote in favor. Montana already has a medical cannabis program, so the state provides an example of a Republican government finding room for cannabis legalization within their platform. Ultimately, the level of support (or distaste) for legal cannabis programs is likely to influence how restrictive they become. It's possible states like South Dakota who face significant opposition end up with a highly restrictive program.
Northeast Grows Its Cannabis Block
Before the COVID-19 Pandemic, Northeast legislators wanted move forward with cannabis in 2020. In October 2019, the governors from New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island met to discuss cannabis legalization and the potential to work with each other to create sensible cannabis regulations for the Northeast megalopolis, or the string of major cities running from Boston to D.C. along the Atlantic coast. With so many citizens living and working between these state lines and high costs for small state governments to regulate alone, the Northeast block could be the first attempt states make move cannabis across state lines; we’ll see how the federal government responds.
More consequently from this election, New Jersey’s legalization will likely set off a domino effect of adult-use legalization in the Northeast, with New York the first domino to fall. The state will be missing out on much needed tax revenue as New Yorkers make their way to across the river for legal weed. Governor Andrew Cuomo is keen to this already, as his office announced cannabis legalization would be a topic in January’s budget talks.
What's to Come for Federal US Cannabis Policy?
As of Saturday, November 7, 2020, former Vice-President Joe Biden is slated to become the next US President. The ramifications of a democratic-controlled executive branch for the US cannabis industry are yet to be fully understood, as non-partisanship in cannabis is only a new phenomenon. With Vice-President elect Kamala Harris’ commitment to cannabis decriminalization and Republicans in congress whose constituents favor cannabis legalization, the future of cannabis in the US looks bright.
Last Updated: 11/9/2020