A Founder Looks at 50: Important New Gains Expected on November 3

NORML Founder Keith Stroup
NORML Founder Keith Stroup

For NORML’s 50th anniversary, every Friday we will be posting a blog from NORML’s Founder Keith Stroup as he reflects back on a lifetime as America’s foremost marijuana smoker and legalization advocate. This is the twenty-fourth in a series of blogs on the history of NORML and the legalization movement.

Presuming we do not experience some seismic October surprise that changes the entire political environment, at this upcoming election we stand to add four states to the list of those with full adult-use legalization, as well as two additional states to the list of those approving the medical use of marijuana.

Full Legalization for Adults

1.   Arizona – Prop. 207

Arizona, a state that narrowly defeated (51.3% – 48.7%) a previous full legalization initiative in 2016, appears likely to narrowly approve their legalization initiative this year. Proposition 207, the Smart & Safe Arizona Act, permits adults to legally possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to six plants for personal use in a private residence. And it would legalize and regulate the commercial production and retail sale of marijuana to those twenty-one or older.

The tax revenue raised from commercial cannabis sales shall be kept separate from the state’s general fund and will be allocated to community colleges, fire departments, and other services.

A just-released poll taken in October of 2020 from Ohio Predictive Insights reports that 55 percent of likely Arizona voters support Proposition 207 and 37 percent oppose it. Seventy-nine per cent of Democratic respondents endorsed the measure, as do 72 percent of Independents. By contrast, only 23 percent of Republican voters say they will vote “yes” on the measure.

Another just-released poll conducted by Monmouth University similarly finds that 56 percent of Arizona voters back the initiative — an increase of four percentage points since the last time their pollsters posed the question.

2.   Montana – I-190 (and Constitutional Initiative 118)

Initiative 190, if approved, would legalize marijuana for all adults, allowing individuals to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and to cultivate up to four mature plants for personal use; and it would establish a legally regulated market with a 20% tax (10.5% of the tax would go to the general fund; the balance dedicated to conservation programs, substance abuse treatment, veterans’ services and healthcare costs).

Constitutional Initiative 118 would raise the age requirement to legally grow, possess or purchase marijuana from 18 to 21.

Recent polling suggests both I-190 and CI 118 are likely to be approved. 49% of voters favored both initiatives, while 39% say they oppose both initiatives.

3.   New Jersey – Public Question 1

Super majorities of the New Jersey Assembly and Senate decided in December 2019 to place this marijuana legalization proposal on the ballot. If approved, those age 21 years old would be able to legally possess, use, cultivate and purchase marijuana under regulations adopted by the Cannabis Regulation Commission.

Legal sales would be subject to the state’s general sales tax and municipalities would be permitted to adopt an additional local sales tax not to exceed 2%.

Recent polling indicates this initiative is likely to be approved. A Farleigh Dickinson University poll of likely voters in October 2020 found 61% in support, with 29% opposed. Other recent polling has shown support levels as high as 67%.

4.   South Dakota – Constitutional Amendment A

Constitutional Amendment A would legalize, regulate and tax marijuana, and would permit adults to purchase, distribute and possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and to grow up to three plans for personal use.

The amendment would impose a 15% sales tax and the monies raised, after the expenses of implementing the program have been reimbursed, would be equally divided between support for public schools and the state’s general fund.

Opposition polling from June 2020 shows strong support (60%) for this constitutional amendment legalizing the adult use of marijuana. However, both adult use and medical use initiatives are on the ballot in South Dakota this year and no one can be certain how that fact might impact the outcome for either proposal.

It is noteworthy that former US Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle recently endorsed both the proposed constitutional amendment for full legalization and the voter initiative to establish a medical use program in the state. 

To gain some perspective, marijuana was illegal under all state laws and under federal law since at least 1937 (some states adopted anti-marijuana laws as early as 1914 [Massachusetts]. In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to fully legalize adult use of marijuana. We were able to add two states (Oregon and Alaska) and the District of Columbia in 2014; four states (Maine, Mass, CA and Nevada) in 2016; two states (Michigan and Vermont) in 2018; and one state (Illinois) in 2019.

So we have been making steady political progress adding a couple of states each election cycle, and we are finally beginning to show some support in the Midwest, if not yet in the south. This election holds the promise of adding four new full legalization states, which would give an enormous boost to the legalization movement and would demonstrate that legalization now may now be politically viable in what have traditionally been more conservative regions of the country.

Medical Use Legalization

1.   Mississippi – Initiative 65 and Alternative Initiative 65A

Initiative 65 is a citizen-activated Constitutional amendment to establish a state-licensed system of dispensaries to provide marijuana to qualifying patients (up to 2.5 ounces every 14 days), and it identifies a significant list of twenty-two qualifying conditions.

Alternative Initiative 65A is an alternative medical marijuana Constitutional amendment initiated by the legislature, hoping to undercut the stronger version of medical use proposed by I-65, which would leave far more of the details of the system up to the legislature, and which would prohibit the use of whole smoked marijuana by patients unless they are terminally ill.

Limited polling appears to indicate a majority of voters (63%) prefer I-65, the citizen initiated version, while 18% prefer Alternative I-65, the version initiated by the legislature.

Having the two competing versions of medical use both qualify for the ballot is a unique situation we have not seen in other states and it may well cause some confusion among the voters.

2.   South Dakota – Measure 26

Measure 26 would establish a medical marijuana program for patients diagnosed with serious health conditions. In addition to establishing a state-regulated system of dispensaries, qualified patients would be permitted to possess up to three ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to three plants.

Opposition polling in June of 2020 showed very strong support (70%) for the medical use proposal. Again, voters in South Dakota will also be deciding on an initiative to fully legalize marijuana and observers are unsure whether having both proposals on the ballot might influence the outcome.

Starting with California where voters first approved medical use in 1996, there are now 33 states and the District of Columbia that have embraced a meaningful version of medical marijuana. We should have a total of 35 states by November 3. When one looks at recent polling showing public support as high as 85%  for medical marijuana legalization nationwide, the real question is why any state continues to deny marijuana to their citizens who could benefit from it? With that level of support, there is no political price to pay for a legislator doing the right thing.

It is a good time to be alive if you are a marijuana smoker and it’s only going to get better!