In a watershed electoral victory for drug policy liberalization in the United States, an astounding eight states voted to legalize marijuana for recreational or medicinal purposes Tuesday.
That’s an especially resounding win for marijuana legalization considering that nine states had marijuana on the ballot, putting marijuana reform at an 88% success rate on Election Day.
In four states—Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota, and Montana—voters passed medical marijuana initiatives, and voters in four others—Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada, and California—passed initiatives to legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults 21 and older.
Arizona was the only state out of the nine to vote down a marijuana policy reform, with final tallies showing 52.1% of voters saying no to Prop 205 and 47.9% in favor. Many opponents cited language in Prop 205 that prohibits the state from punishing someone “for an action taken while under the influence of marijuana.” Medical marijuana still remains legal in Arizona after Tuesday’s vote.
As the Los Angeles Times notes, the passage of Proposition 64 in California “creates the largest market for marijuana products in the U.S.” and brings California marijuana policy in line with Oregon and Washington state, resulting in a single contiguous zone of legalized marijuana across the entire West Coast of the United States.
A similar measure narrowly failed in California six years ago during the 2010 midterm. Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association was not pleased with the 2016 result, lamenting that profit motives trumped public health and safety at the ballot box:
“We are, of course, disappointed that the self-serving moneyed interests behind this marijuana business plan prevailed at the cost of public health, safety, and the wellbeing of our communities,” he stated.
In Massachusetts and Maine, recreational marijuana use hit the East Coast for the first time Tuesday, stunning strong opposition to the measure from party leadership in both states. This opposition included Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, Attorney General Maura, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh. Maine Gov. Paul LePage and Attorney General Janet Mills were also among the opposition in Maine.
Medical marijuana got a decisive mandate in Florida and North Dakota Tuesday, with 71% supporting Amendment 2 in the Sunshine State and 64% of voters supporting the medical marijuana measure in North Dakota.
In Nevada, voters approved Question 2 by a 9-point margin, despite stiff opposition from Nevada’s lucrative beverage industry, including heavy spending by billionaire casino magnate and newspaper owner Sheldon Adelson.
Medical marijuana also established a foothold in the deep South on Election Day, with 53.2% of Arkansas voters saying yes on Issue 6 to 46.8% opposed, following up on a narrow defeat of a similar measure in 2012.
In Montana, 56% of voters approved Initiative 182, with 43% opposed. The measure greatly expands medical marijuana in the Treasure State, where previously physicians prescribing the drug were restricted to a limit of medical marijuana patients each.
This electoral watershed has implications that go deeper than drug policy in the United States, speaking directly to the matter of federalism— the interplay of shared power between the 50 states and the federal government— because marijuana is still an illegal contraband according to federal law.
Are these states usurping the authority of the federal government with these measures, or are they rightfully legislating a policy area that has been encroached upon by the US Congress? How do you think Washington will react now that so many states are legalizing marijuana?
Is legalization a good idea, or a policy fraught with dangers?
Let us know what you think in the comments!