State of the States: 2020 Ballot Initiative Efforts

Vote for MarijuanaAs we all learn to cope with our new socially distant realities amidst a global pandemic, its difficult to think of any aspect of society that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19. Unfortunately for marijuana reform, what began with at least a dozen states optimistically working to qualify state level ballot initiatives in advance of the November 2020 election, has slowly dwindled to a number that can be counted on one hand.

Activists have been working for months registering new voters, collecting signatures, and educating the public, in hopes of giving voters in their state the opportunity to make their voices heard and cast their vote for marijuana. But social distancing guidelines have made this work virtually impossible.

Below is an overview of key 2020 ballot initiative efforts and where they stand now. This post will be updated as new information becomes available.

New Jersey

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Qualified
The question:

Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?

Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market.

Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.

Members of the New Jersey state legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment in December 2019 by a three-fifths majority, firmly placing a question to allow regulated cannabis sales on the November 2020 ballot. According to a recent Monmouth University survey, 61 percent of respondents said they would vote in support of the proposal, while 34 percent said they’d vote against it.

Update 7/28/20: Nearly seven in ten New Jersey voters say that they intend to decide in favor of the ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis, according to polling data compiled by the firm DKC Analytics.

Mississippi

Issue: Medical marijuana
Status: Two competing measures have both qualified
The questions:

Initiative 65 (citizen initiated):

Should Mississippi allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana?

A citizen driven campaign, spearheaded by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, turned in over 200,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in January to allow patients to access up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day time period.

HC 39 (legislature approved):

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, That the following amendment to the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 is proposed to the qualified electors of the state at the November 2020 election, as an alternative to the amendment proposed by Initiative Measure No. 65:

Article 16, Section 290, Mississippi Constitution of 1890, is created to read as follows: “Section 290. There is established a program in the State of Mississippi to allow the medical use of marijuana products by qualified persons. The program shall be structured to include, at a minimum, the following conditions and requirements:

Members of the Mississippi state legislature approved an alternative ballot measure in March that will appear alongside Initiative 65 on the November ballot. Activists view this less clear, more restrictive initiative as an effort by lawmakers to undermine the will of the people and confuse voters at the polls. Under this proposal, patients would be prohibited from smoking whole-plant marijuana.

South Dakota

Issue: Medical & adult use marijuana
Status: Two separate measures have both qualified
The questions:

Constitutional Amendment A (adult use):

Title – An amendment to the South Dakota Constitution to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana; and to require the Legislature to pass laws regarding hemp as well as laws ensuring access to marijuana for medical use.

If approved, the constitutional amendment would allow adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to three plants for personal use. The initiative is backed by a former federal prosecutor as well as the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy organization.

Initiative 26 (medical):

Title – An initiated measure on legalizing marijuana for medical use.

If approved, the statutory initiative would allow registered patients, with a physician’s approval, to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow up to three plants for therapeutic use.

Arizona

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Signatures submitted
The proposal: Initiative 23: Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the ballot initiative, is confident that they have enough signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. With about 320,000 signatures already collected, they say they have about 80,000 signatures more than the 237,645 needed to qualify. The campaign is asking the state supreme court to allow electronic signature gathering due to COVID-19. If approved, the statutory measure would allow adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. It also includes expungement and social equity provisions.

Update 6/2/20: Recent polling data shows that approximately two-thirds (65.5 percent) of survey respondents said they would support the proposed legalization ballot measure.

Update 7/1/20: Marijuana legalization proponents submitted 420,000 signatures, nearly twice the number required to qualify for the ballot.

Update 7/20/20: “The Secretary of State’s Office has reviewed the 36,376 petition sheets submitted by Smart & Safe Arizona,” Arizona Secretary of State Katie Hobbs tweeted. “After review, 415,587 petition signatures were determined to be eligible for random sampling and County Recorder verification. 20,780 petition signatures have been sent to counties for verification. If at least 11,882 signatures are validated, the initiative will qualify for the ballot.”

Missouri

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Campaign ended
The proposal: After launching the campaign early this year, Missourians for a New Approach, the group backing the initiative, most recently announced that they are suspending their campaign due to COVID-19 restrictions severely limiting their ability to collect in-person signatures. They had already collected about 80,000 signatures out of the needed 160,199 to qualify. The initiative would have allowed adults to purchase and possess marijuana from licensed retail outlets and grow up to three plants for personal use.

Montana

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Signatures submitted
The proposal: A proposal to legalize marijuana for adults was submitted to the Secretary of State back in January by New Approach Montana, clearing the group to begin collecting the 25,468 signatures required to officially qualify for the November ballot. Most recently, activists sued the state, arguing that preventing electronic signature gathering is unconstitutional.

Update 5/7/20: The campaign resumed collecting in-person signatures with advanced safety measures in place to protect public health.

Update 6/19/20: The campaign turned in over 130,000 signatures in hopes of qualifying two separate legalization initiatives for the 2020 ballot.

Update 7/19/20: According to New Approach Montana, county numbers show that the legalization initiatives will qualify for the statewide November 2020 ballot.

North Dakota

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Campaign ended
The proposal: Legalize ND, the group behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, submitted another proposal to legalize marijuana for adults in the state late last year in hopes of qualifying for the November 2020 ballot. Most recently, the campaign announced its suspension due to the inability for the group to collect signatures in-person due to COVID-19. They needed 13,452 signatures before July 6 in order to qualify. The measure would have allowed adults to purchase and possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use.

Update 6/23/20: After the campaign filed a lawsuit that denied them the ability to collect signatures virtually, they decided to end the 2020 campaign and instead shift focus to a potential 2022 primary ballot measure.

Oklahoma

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Signature gathering may continue
The proposal: SQ 807 would allow adults to legally purchase and possess marijuana for personal use. Advocates in the state say it is unlikely that collecting enough signatures would be feasible.

Update 6/24/20: The Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled that signature gathering may continue.
The campaign would need to gather roughly 178,000 signatures of registered voters within 90 days to qualify.

Arkansas

Issue: Adult use marijuana
Status: Unclear
The proposal: Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, the group behind the initiative, has already collected 15,000 signatures out of the required 89,151 to qualify an adult use legalization initiative. It is unclear whether the campaign will continue collecting signatures before the July 1 deadline.

Update 5/28/20: A federal judge ruled that the secretary of state is required to accept signatures that were not collected in-person or notarized. The deadline to qualify is July 3, 2020.

Nebraska

Issue: Medical marijuana
Status: Signatures submitted
The proposal: Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the campaign behind the initiative, announced that they are temporarily suspending signature gathering after being cleared to start collecting signatures over a year ago. They must collect about 130,000 signatures by July 8 in order to qualify. The constitutional amendment would have allowed qualifying patients, with a physician’s approval, to access medical marijuana and “discreetly” grow marijuana for therapeutic use.

Update 5/15/20: The campaign resumed collecting in-person signatures with advanced safety measures in place to protect public health.

Update 7/2/20: Activists gathered at the state capitol in Lincoln to turn in over 182,000 signatures from registered voters in an effort to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot.

Idaho

Issue: Medical marijuana
Status: Signature gathering suspended
The proposal: The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the group backing the initiative, most recently announced that in-person signature gathering would be suspended due to COVID-19. They need to collect 55,057 signatures by May 1 in order to qualify, which is unlikely. They already collected about 40,000.

Update 6/23/20: Activists received renewed hope after a federal judge said that a separate campaign may receive accommodations due to coronavirus restrictions affecting signature gathering abilities.

Update 7/3/20: A judge ruled that the unrelated ballot campaign can resume signature gathering efforts. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition will likely ask for the same accommodations with hopes of collecting enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the November 2020 ballot. The group is confident they can collect the additional ~10,000 signatures needed, should they receive the expanded accommodations to do so.

Update 7/10/20: The Idaho Cannabis Coalition formally asked for the ability to gather signatures electronically.

Update 7/20/20: The ballot initiative campaign was denied the ability to collect signatures electronically.

California

Issue: Marijuana and hemp regulations
Status: Electronic signature gathering requested
The proposal: The California Cannabis Hemp Heritage Act would make changes to the state’s licensing and taxation rules in an effort to expand access to marijuana. Most recently, celebrities Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith asked state officials to allow electronic signature gathering due to COVID-19.