While U.S. election results remain hazy and reflect a still-divided nation, cannabis legalization emerged as a clear winner in both blue and red states on Nov. 3.
With ballot measures passing in Arizona, New Jersey, Montana and South Dakota, 15 states have now legalized weed for adults. Additionally, South Dakota and Mississippi passed medical cannabis initiatives bringing the total number of states to do so up to 36.
The Marijuana Policy Project, which supported reform campaigns in conservative Montana and South Dakota, says the historic set of victories will place even greater pressure on Congress to address conflicts between state and federal laws on weed.
“The bottom line is we are seeing voters across the political spectrum support cannabis reform,” said Chris Lindsey, MPP’s director of government relations. “So we’ll have even more voices on the Republican side of the aisle, which is important because you can’t pass cannabis reform at the federal level only with the support of Democrats.”
Read more: Five state cannabis ballots could add US$9B to American market
A third of the U.S. population now lives in a state that has legalized marijuana for adults and 70% of all states have embraced marijuana for medical use.
cc: Congress https://t.co/FEKuyQnSb5
— Marijuana Policy Project (@MarijuanaPolicy) November 4, 2020
With Republicans looking likely to maintain narrow control of the Senate, Lindsey says the Democrat-led House of Representatives will continue an uphill battle to pass major reform bills like the MORE Act.
But with added pressure at the state level, Republican senators may opt for less sweeping reform measures and support smaller bills like the SAFE Banking Act. That piece of legislation would permit banks to service state-legal cannabis operators and allow customers to purchase weed with their credit cards for the first time.
“On the Republican side of the aisle, the tendency is to continue to allow states to meet the demands of their own voters and create these legal adult-use and medical programs,” he tells Mugglehead over the phone. “So, rather than having a massive federal program, they’re more likely to help smooth the road ahead for problematic areas within state programs.”
Cannabis advocates holding their breath for Biden
As for a still undetermined presidential race, Lindsey says a victory for Joe Biden would be yet another win for cannabis reform.
Based on Biden’s stated task force recommendations, weed would be decriminalized at the federal level meaning criminal penalties for individual use would be removed nationwide. He would also expunge records for minor cannabis charges.
“In a way, Biden would be putting an end to cannabis prohibition,” Lindsey says. “And that alone would be massive step forward.”
However, he notes the former vice president remains out of touch with his own party and 66 per cent of American adults who support outright legalization.
Lindsey expects a Biden Administration would eventually come around on federal legalization as outside pressure mounts and his team realizes how it would improve state-level programs.
But even with Biden appearing likely to take the White House with two key wins tallied today in Michigan and Wisconsin, the world may have to wait weeks for an official outcome.
That’s because rival Donald Trump and his campaign said Wednesday they’re launching lawsuits and demanding recounts in those key swing states, as well as in Pennsylvania.
“There have been reports of irregularities in several Wisconsin counties which raise serious doubts about the validity of the results,” Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien said in a statement. “The President is well within the threshold to request a recount and we will immediately do so.”
Lindsey says it’s still too early to tell what will happen, but he expects a Biden victory once the court battles are settled.
Even with delays at the federal level, a clean sweep of all five major cannabis reform campaigns should be seen as a major victory, he adds.
South Dakota became the first state in American history to enact both medical and adult-use policies on the same day.
And with New Jersey promising to set up a regulated adult-use market this year, Lindsey expects New York and Connecticut will quickly follow with their own legislation followed by Pennsylvania and Maryland. New Mexico could legalize too as the state watches cannabis tourists flock to Arizona.
“The fact that states are often better off not using taxpayer money to enforce cannabis laws and then actually generating tax revenue, we’re going to see a lot of interest all over, especially in eastern states.”
Top image of Montana adult-use ballot campaigners (Chris Lindsey right) via MPP