Cannabis is a lucrative industry, and the United States is undoubtedly leading the rest of the world in a race to go “green.” For a better picture of how incredibly rewarding the industry is, take a look at California, which swept past 1 billion dollars in marijuana tax revenue just two years after legalization. Colorado managed a similar feat in 2019 after five years of legal operations.
Before the 2020 general elections held on November 3rd, 33 states had already legalized cannabis for medicinal purposes, with 12 states and D.C legalizing the drug for recreational use. On the federal level, marijuana is still illegal but has not sidetracked states from pursuing statewide legalization initiatives to fire up local economies, create jobs, and boost state coffers.
Is this the year for drug reforms in the U.S?
This year, several drug reforms are on the ballot. Recreational marijuana measures that were up for voting included Montana, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Arizona. Mississippi had a medical marijuana measure on the ballot instead, meant to provide alternative medications to patients suffering from various medical conditions.
Cannabis is not the only drug that took its chances on the ballot this year. Oregon made history by voting on two controversial initiatives. The state, which had already passed recreational marijuana in 2014, voted on a measure for legalizing psilocybin mushrooms for medicinal purposes. The second measure would essentially have all drugs decriminalized, including cocaine and heroin.
Washington, D.C., wasn’t left out of the legalization movement with an initiative that would decriminalize psychedelics.
Here is what Americans decided on their ballot measures:
The state of Arizona already has a legal, medical marijuana program since 2011. This year, the government launched proposition 207, also known as the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use by adults 21 years and above.
The state had intended to set up a regulatory framework for the cultivation, production, and sale of cannabis if the proposal is approved. Marijuana sales in Arizona will attract a 16% incise tax estimated to bring in over 200 million every year in tax revenue.
According to a Monmouth University poll carried out in October, voters favored proposition 207 regardless of an equally strong opposition. Arizona voters ended up passing the measure with 59.8% votes.
This year, South Dakota had two similar ballot measures, one legalizing marijuana for medicinal use and the other for recreational use by adults.
Initiated Measure 26 A allows physicians to prescribe medical cannabis for treatment in a variety of medical conditions. On the other hand, Constitutional Amendment A allows the recreational use of cannabis by adults 21 and above.
Both initiatives passed, making South Dakota the first state to legalize marijuana usage medically and recreationally at the same time. Both measures enjoy favorable support from more than half of state voters.
After the passing of Amendment A, South Dakota is set to generate an estimated 10.7 million dollars in net revenue for 2022. The figure is projected to double up by 2023.
In 2010, New Jersey legalized medical cannabis. This year, the state placed Public Question 1 on the ballot, which would allow possession and purchase of recreational marijuana by adults 21 years of age and above.
New Jersey residents passed the bill. The state’s medical cannabis program will also be in charge of overseeing the recreational aspect.
According to Governor Phil Murphy, who showed strong support for the initiative, legalization of cannabis in the state is a smart move to help revive the economy after the ravages of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senator Nicholas Scutari said that the state intends to move quickly to implement the initiative so that sales can begin as soon as possible, with medical marijuana shops opening doors to the general public. The Senator said in jest that he welcomes New York residents over to enjoy the opening, clearly referencing the fact that neighboring Pennsylvania and New York have not embraced similar initiatives
New Jersey has some of the least tax cuts on marijuana in the country, with only 6.625%, while authorizing some municipalities to charge 2% more on sales tax.
Mississippi had two competing measures on its ballot, a public-backed initiative 65 and a tighter state-backed alternative initiative 65A.
Initiative 65 allows the use of medical marijuana by patients identified as struggling with one of the 22 “debilitating medical conditions” listed by the measure. Possession capped at 2.5 ounces of medicinal marijuana at a time.
The competing measure, Initiative 65A, would only authorize the use of medicinal cannabis by terminal patients under supervision from licensed health practitioners.
As one of the conservative states in the country, opposition from state officials among other groups was strong. Among those against legalization is Governor Tate Reeves, who is strictly opposed to both provisions.
Regardless, Mississippi voters have approved the legalization of medical cannabis under Initiative 65.
In Montana, cannabis has been legal for medical use since 2004. This year, the state had two related provisions up for voting. Voters passed both Initiative 190 and Cl-118.
Initiative 190 stipulates that residents can legally purchase and possess no more than an ounce of marijuana. They are also authorized to grow up to four cannabis plants in their homes. Also, under the provision, residents facing minor marijuana-related sentences can apply for either expungement or re-sentencing.
The other provision, CI-118, stipulates that only adults 21 years and above will be authorized to buy and use recreational marijuana.
The state will be taxing marijuana sales at a rate of 20%, with the revenue channeled toward land and water conservation.
Marijuana for recreational use has been legal in Oregon since 2014. However, the state had two more measures on the ballot this year. Both measures passed, making Oregon the first state to decriminalize all drugs.
Measure 110 would decriminalize “all drugs,” including heroin and cocaine, and channel marijuana revenue to addiction therapy and recovery programs. Decriminalization is not similar to legalization; it simply means that possession of small amount of the drugs for personal consumption will not be prosecuted. The sale of decriminalized drugs is also not permitted.
The second provision, Measure 109, legalizes psilocybin mushrooms for medicinal purposes, including the treatment of mental health conditions and addiction. The use of psilocybin will be regulated by the Oregon Health Authority. The state will set up psilocybin service centers where anyone with a psilocybin prescription could buy and use the product on the spot.
In D.C, Initiative 81 was passed to decriminalize but not legalize the use of psychedelics like magic mushrooms.
There will be no enforcement of laws against “etheogenic plants and fungi,” which means state prosecutors will drop active cases against noncommercial psychedelic production, possession, and distribution.
Similar to Oregon’s decriminalization measure, Initiative 81 does not authorize the sale of psychedelics. Possessions will not attract prosecution, removing drug use from the criminal justice system to the public health system.
The U.S is clearly putting in place the foundations for a fairly policed future to curb disproportionate policing and improve fair treatment. The legalization means a a departure from the drug wild west, to a more balanced nation with regulations that maintain public consideration.