This year’s election saw the most voter participation in a mid-term election since 1966, and the biggest turnout in a non-presidential election ever, with over 113 million Americans reportedly casting their votes on November 6 – that’s 49.2% of all eligible voters. It ended up being a great night for cannabis too: not only have more states voted to legalize weed in some form, but multiple pro-cannabis candidates won seats previously held by anti-legalization incumbents.
This election, all eyes were on Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota and Utah due to legalization measures on the ballots in those states. Here’s a recap of those and other key outcomes stemming from this year’s mid-term election:
THREE STATES OUT OF FOUR CHOOSE LEGALIZATION
Voters ended up approving Proposal 1, resulting in Michigan becoming the first state in the Midwest to legalize weed. That means adults aged 21 and older in Michigan can now possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis in public, store up to 10 ounces at home, and grow up to 12 plants for personal use. The new legislation, which makes Michigan the 10th state to legalize cannabis for recreational use, is expected to go into effect as soon as November of this year.
Missouri voters had 3 medical cannabis measures to choose from and elected to go with Amendment 2. Passed by a margin of 66 to 34 percent, Missouri now allows patients to seek physician’s approval for a state-issued medical cannabis card. Under the new law, patients and their registered caregivers can purchase at least 4 ounces of dried cannabis or equivalent within a 30-day period from a dispensary, and grow up to 6 cannabis plants. There is no list of qualifying conditions, which means doctors can authorize patients at their own discretion. Taxes from cannabis sales will help fund veteran’s services.
Utah’s Proposition 2 also passed, granting access to medical cannabis for patients with certain qualifying conditions. The new law allows patients to purchase 2 ounces of medical cannabis or cannabis product containing no more than 10mg THC or CBD from dispensaries within a 2-week period. Patients living 100 miles or more from a dispensary can cultivate up to 6 cannabis plants at home, and would be allowed to authorize a caregiver to assist them with cultivation, purchase, and consumption of the medicine. Under the new law however, smoking cannabis is not permitted.
Meanwhile North Dakota voters rejected Measure 3, which would have legalized cannabis for all adults aged 21 and older. While the state voted in their existing medical cannabis program in 2016, the new initiative would have removed THC, hashish and marijuana from North Dakota’s list of Schedule 1 controlled substances. It would have also created a record expungement process for individuals convicted of cannabis violations. However, the measure did not establish a framework of regulations for production and sales in the prospective adult-use market.
FLIPPED SEATS FOR A DEMOCRATIC HOUSE
The Federal government’s position on cannabis highlights the importance of electing officials who support legalization efforts at the state level. In some key states voters flipped seats in favor of candidates who were more progressive on the issue, while one high profile pro-cannabis Republican lost his seat.
In Texas, Congressman Pete Sessions lost to Democrat Collin Allred, an ex-NFL player and first time candidate. Sessions was notoriously anti-weed, echoing the Federal stance that cannabis is highly addictive and without medical value. In his position as House Rules Committee chairman, he managed to block dozens of cannabis amendments from advancing to the floor.
Another flipped seat belonged to California’s 15-term Republican Representative Dana Rohrabacher who lost to Democrat Harley Rouda. Rohrabacher is regarded by cannabis industry activists for his co-sponsorship of the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which passed in 2014 after several failed attempts and prohibits the Justice Department from interfering with state medical cannabis laws.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY DEVELOPMENTS FROM THE MID-TERMS
States with legal cannabis had quite a few initiatives on the ballot to further define rules and regulations in their markets. In California, where adult-use kicked off in January, voters passed several ballot measures authorizing additional local cannabis taxes despite existing taxes contributing to sky-high cannabis prices all over the state. Voters in Oakland however chose to approve a measure that could ease the tax burden faced by cannabis businesses. Meanwhile in Los Angeles, voters rejected an initiative that would have established a municipal bank that serves local residents and businesses, including the cannabis industry.
While not specific to cannabis, another noteworthy outcome was Florida’s passage of Amendment 4 restoring voters’ rights to formerly incarcerated individuals. This groundbreaking initiative means reportedly 1.4 million people – some of whom will likely have been charged with weed-related offenses – once again have the right to vote. Such a significant change could also impact future efforts to decriminalize or legalize recreational cannabis in Florida.
But one of the year’s biggest game-changers happened the day after the election, with staunch prohibitionist Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ forced resignation. At a time when American support for cannabis is at its highest, Sessions chose to use the same false, outdated rhetoric that fueled prohibition to defend his position against legalization. And while many advocates believe his departure could kick open the door to Federal de-scheduling or even legalization, others aren’t so his replacement Matthew Whitaker is an ally.
WHAT IT ALL MEANS
For activists and advocates, the flip from a Republican to a Democrat-led House could help ease Federal restrictions on recreational cannabis and put the wheels in motion for legalization nationwide. All of this happened because people went to the polls and voted. But if this shining example of democracy in action isn’t convincing enough, perhaps this last fact will be: as of the latest election, thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis in some form.
Just seventeen states left to go – great work America!
How did it feel to participate in this year’s election? What are you doing to maintain the momentum now that it’s over? Let us know in the comments on Instagram!