Nov 7, 2016 12:00 PM

Five States to Vote for Legalization of Recreational Marijuana

The closer Americans get to Election Day, the hotter the discussion around marijuana legalization becomes. The second Tuesday of November will not be just about the end of the tiresome presidential race. It might also be the day that five more states vote for the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes.

Residents of Nevada, Massachusetts, Arizona, Maine, and California, the states where medical marijuana has already been legalized, will tackle the issue on Election Day. If all the measures pass, that will bring the total number of states with the legal recreational drug to nine (plus the District of Columbia), meaning that nearly a quarter of the U.S. population could have legal access to marijuana instead of the 5 percent that do now.

Cannabis advocates believe that the approvals would mark the biggest advance in the decades-long struggle over legalizing the drug, which could likely force the federal government to end the marijuana prohibition. So, what is the likelihood of this happening?


Proposition 205: If approved, the Grand Canyon state’s measure would allow residents 21 years old and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, grow up to six plants on their property, and consume the drug in non-public places. It would also establish the path for recreational marijuana businesses to offer the drug.

A report released by the state’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee estimated that the legalization of cannabis for recreational purposes would generate $82 million in additional tax revenue annually.

Currently, penalties for marijuana possession in the state are among the most severe in the country. It is the only state where you may face felony charges or even spend two years in prison for possessing any amount of the substance.

In matters of legalization, Arizona seems to be a slow-starter. When the state voted to allow medical marijuana in 2010, the initiative won by a measly 4,000 votes, which does not bode well for the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona. In August 2016, the initiative received the official go-ahead on the ballot, even though a legalization opponent had filed a lawsuit against the campaign in mid-July. According to the latest polling from Arizona State University, 49 percent of the residents of the state support the legalization. Another poll, conducted on Sept. 7, showed that half of all respondents would say “yes” to Proposition 205, 40 percent opposed the measure, and 10 percent declared themselves undecided. The most recent poll from Data Orbitals showed the most optimistic figures: 44 percent were in favor, 45 percent—against, and 5 percent have not decided yet.

Campaigns both for and against the legalization have been predictably contentious. The state’s largest newspaper, The Arizona Republic, urges people to reject 205, and The Phoenix’s editorial board thinks that the initiative will put kids at risk. The most ardent donor of the anti-legalization campaign is Insus Therapeutics, painkiller manufacturer that spent $500,000 to keep marijuana illegal in Arizona.


Question 2: If approved, the possession, use, consumption, processing, and transporting of up to one ounce of marijuana or no more than one-eighth of an ounce of concentrated marijuana would be no longer a crime. The same would apply to the possession, growing, and transporting of up to six plants. The initiative includes certain limitations on the number of dispensaries in a specific county. Wholesale cannabis would be subject to a 15-percent excise tax.

For now, the drug is decriminalized in Nevada, but marijuana possession offenses are classified as misdemeanors.

Nevada was the first state whose campaign officially gathered the necessary number of signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot. Furthermore, in 2010, Nevada successfully launched a medical marijuana program that allows reciprocity without any issues.

According to the Rasmussen poll conducted in June, 50 percent of The Silver State’s residents support the legalization, 41 percent are opposed, and 9 percent are undecided. Two of the most recent polls released at the end of September showed very different numbers. For example, The Suffolk University Poll reported 57 percent of support, and The Bendixen & Amandi Internationals showed only 47 percent votes for the measure.


Proposition 64: The initiative, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would make the recreational use of marijuana legal all along the West Coast. Adults could possess up to one ounce of the substance, buy dried flowers and cannabis products from licensed retailers, and cultivate no more than six plants for personal use. Counties and municipalities would have the ability to restrict or prohibit marijuana operations, as well as set local tax rates.

California was one of the first states to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996. So, there is nothing surprising in the fact that the current proposition has become the most high-profile legalization campaign in the Unites States. Most experts think that Prop. 64 has all chances to succeed, and most reputable media are echoing them.

For one thing, the polling heavily favors the legalization. The Probolsky Research poll conducted in February showed 59,9 percent of support. However, the most recent poll by SurveyUSA reported the weakest margin of eight polls taken in 2016, and even then it showed 51 percent for the measure and 40 percent against it.


Question 4: Under the proposal, adults over 21 can possess no more than one ounce of marijuana, keep up to 10 ounces at home, and grow up to six plants. The drug sold in licensed dispensaries would be subject to an excise tax of 3.75 percent in addition to the state’s 6.25 percent sales tax. Furthermore, individual counties and cities could enact additional taxes and bans on recreational marijuana operations. The initiative also allows for the creation of a fifteen-member marijuana advisory board to study and make recommendations on products and regulations.

Medical marijuana in Massachusetts has been legal since 2012, although the first dispensary opened only in June 2015.

On the face of it, Massachusetts has a good chance at passing the measure for the recreational use of marijuana. Public support of the issue has always been relatively steady: five out of seven polls conducted this year showed the majority of the residents being in favor of the legalization. The most recent survey carried out by the WBUR\MassINC Polling Group on Oct. 19 found that 55 percent of respondents supported the initiative, only 40 percent were against it, and 5 percent were undecided.

If successful, Question 4 would bring at least $100 million in tax revenue and help fight the state’s opioid addiction epidemic, proponents of the legalization believe.


Question 1: The initiative would legalize the recreational use of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants for adults 21 years old or older. It would set a ten percent sales tax on retail cannabis and cannabis products, restrict the use of the drug in private residences, and allow municipalities to regulate the number of retail shops.

Maine will most likely say “yes” to cannabis for recreational purposes, and there are two main reasons to think so. The first one is that the majority of the polls showed a definite trend in favor of the measure. According to the poll released by Critical Insights in May 2016, the legalization has strong support among the voters: 55 percent of respondents said they supported Question 1. The more recent Portland Press Herald poll showed 53 percent backing the measure, while 38 percent of residents stated they did not want the state to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. The second reason is that the pro-marijuana campaign has raised a far larger amount of financial support than the opposition. It has got nearly $3.2 million from donors, while the antagonists have received only $233,000. At the same time, it has not stopped the anti-legalization groups from putting together negative ads. Maine’s Republican Governor Paul LePage, who is a supporter of Trump, also speaks against the legalization. He even distributed a video citing the reasons why he is against the initiative, including an increase in traffic collisions and dangers posed to kids. He probably did not read the recent study by the Drug Policy Alliance that shows that legalization has not led to more dangerous road conditions and does not increase youth marijuana use.

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