The marijuana industry celebrated a clean sweep of ballot initiatives on Election Day, with voters approving new markets in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota that could generate more than $2.5 billion in medical and recreational cannabis sales a year by 2024.
Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota and Montana all passed legislation permitting the possession of cannabis by adults, which means 15 states have legalized recreational marijuana through legislation or voted to legalize it.
South Dakota and Mississippi passed initiatives to allow medical marijuana, which means 36 states now permit the legal distribution of medical cannabis.
Colorado, Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Illinois, Michigan, Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and Alaska were the first 11, along with the District of Columbia and Guam. They are now joined by New Jersey, Arizona, Montana and South Dakota representing the 12th, 13th 14th and 15th states in the country to legalize recreational marijuana markets.
South Dakota became the first state to legalize medical and adult-use marijuana at the same time. Arizona also approved home growth of plants.
“With the passage of these initiatives, one-third of the population now lives in jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis for adult use, and 70% of all states have embraced cannabis for medical use,” Steve Hawkins, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), said in a statement.
Marijuana legalization victories in Mississippi and South Dakota show that red states increasingly are embracing marijuana. The wide-open medical marijuana initiative passed in Mississippi also could influence other states in the Deep South. There are now 35 medical marijuana states.
The 2020 election was significant for cannabis users in these five states:
New Jersey voters legalized an adult-use market that Marijuana Business Daily projects could approach $1 billion in sales a year by 2024. That vote also will increase the pressure on neighboring states such as New York and Pennsylvania to legalize recreational cannabis.
State Sen. Nicholas Scutari told reporters he will introduce legislation to implement a recreational marijuana market in New Jersey, with the possibility of a public hearing in the near future. The measure builds on a previous Senate bill.
The state’s 12 existing medical marijuana operators expect to automatically qualify for adult use, but there’s pressure on lawmakers to ensure small New Jersey companies and minorities have ample business opportunities as well.
Industry officials don’t expect the adult-use market to launch until the third or fourth quarter of 2021 at the earliest. One big challenge is that the state’s 12 existing medical marijuana operators are struggling to meet patient demand.
Arizona voters legalized adult use four years after a previous narrow defeat. MJBizDaily projects the state will total $760 million in annual sales by 2024.
Proposition 207 legalizes possession of as much as an ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and older and set up a licensing system for retail sales of the plant, starting with the medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the state.
The victory sets the stage for another enormous cannabis market that already has an entrenched medical program and 130 existing operators.
Arizona is poised to launch adult use quickly in early 2021, potentially as soon as January or at the latest in March under the measure.
Once the election results are made official, possessing and growing as many as six plants at home will be legal for adults.
Voters in Arizona backed adult-use legalization by a nearly 2-to-1 margin, giving the green light to what will be the 13th recreational marijuana market in the nation.
Proposition 207 cruised to victory with 60% of the vote, a far cry from when rec legalization failed in 2016 with just 49% support.
Voters in Mississippi passed a medical marijuana initiative that is considered business-friendly because it has no license caps.
The fact that a state in the Deep South passed a wide-open initiative could have regional implications.
“It is great to see that the tides of change are continuing to flow across the country, and now they have come to Mississippi,” MPP’s Hawkins said.
“As we saw in Utah in 2018, and as we see in Mississippi this year, medical marijuana can pass in any state in the country.”
Montana became the 14th state in the country to legalize adult use. The conservative western state is already home to a medical marijuana market expected to see sales of $60 million to $75 million this year.
Existing MMJ operators will get first crack at entering the adult-use market for 12 months. The initiative also required that business licenses go to Montana residents.
Voters passed Measure 26, a medical marijuana initiative, with 69% in favor and 31% against. Amendment A, the adult-use marijuana ballot item, captured 53% of the vote.
Both ballot issues will become law July 1.
If Republicans hold the Senate, progress is still predicted, though not at the scale as expected if Democrats were to sweep into power with two Senate elections set for a runoff in Georgia in January.
Legal cannabis supporters argue that the enforcement of bans does more harm than the drug itself, swallowing up community resources while disproportionately affecting people of color.
Oregon, which is already home to legal marijuana use, further relaxed drug laws, becoming the first state to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cocaine, heroin and methamphetamine. Proponents said the removal of punishments for nonviolent drug offenses and increased social services could help those dealing with substance abuse get their life back on track.
More measures to expunge criminal records for possession of cannabis and other drugs could be passed in the next year regardless of the makeup of the Senate.