The legalization of marijuana was a big deal for the 2016 election. With the federal government taking a wait-and-see stance, the decision to say yes or no to pot remains with the states. In a July post, AvvoStories revealed how states are getting better at legalizing marijuana, with improved consumer protections and more robust legislative frameworks. Now that Election Day has come and gone, we can get a good look at just how much progress in policy has been made at the state level.
Which states said yes to marijuana changes?
Marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, of course, but each state can create its own regulations. The ballots were significantly different from one state to another and, as such, the results varied greatly as well.
“California, Nevada, Massachusetts, and Maine all said ‘yes’ to recreational use and sales,” says Anthony Franciosi, ganja entrepreneur and founder of Honest Marijuana Company, making recreational pot completely legal in those states.
- California: 56% said yes, and pot became legal immediately
- Nevada: 54% said yes and, as of January 1, 2018, Nevada residents may possess up to 1 ounce of weed
- Massachusetts: 54% said yes, and the bill goes into effect on December 15, 2016
- Maine: 50.15% said yes, and legislation is pending
These four now join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington as states where recreational marijuana use is legal. Another 13 states have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana, making the offense a civil or local infraction, with no possibility of jail time.
Meanwhile, voters in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota approved medical marijuana measures, and Montana re-adopted the same. This brings the number of states where medical marijuana is legal to 28; Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico have also legalized the medicinal use of pot.
As for the states that went the other way, Arizona said ‘no’ to Prop 205, which would have legalized recreational pot. “[This] may have been surprising to some,” remarked Franciosi, who attributed the outcome to voters’ recognition of a flawed initiative. “Voters saw through an initiative similar to the one that failed in Ohio, ‘ResponsibleOhio,’ in which limited licenses and high license fees would leave the industry in the hands of special interests.”
What’s next for the states that are still holding out?
Franciosi thinks that those states still on the fence will watch and learn. “As more states come online, we have more laboratories to collect data from,” he says. “The holdout states can have a broader view of the landscape of legalization and feel more comfortable creating their own measures.”
It’s a truly organic process. Franciosi explains that it’s important for people to vote locally and pass the initiatives they believe in. “It is also just as important to vote ‘no” on marijuana bills you don’t believe in,” he says, “just like the voters in Arizona did.”
Unless or until the federal government makes marijuana legal, the decision to do so remains with the states. Though even if federal legalization were to happen, the policies states adopt now will still be examples of how to treat legal pot going forward.
“I think there still may be some holdouts when it finally becomes federally legal,” Franciosi says. “As more and more states adopt marijuana legalization, we will have a number of models to look at and adapt to an eventual federal rollout… but it will take time.”
How will the Trump administration impact the legal marijuana movement?
We will find out whether President Trump and a Republican Congress will boost or hinder legalization progress across the nation. Franciosi’s prediction is that no federal laws will be established in the next four years—and that’s fine by him.
“I think we are still a number of years away from a federal decriminalization effort,” he says. “The new administration has said they support state rights, so there is a quiet optimism in the industry that the industry can grow state by state and create more data and positive results.”
The Republican position generally supports keeping rights at the state level and minimizing the involvement and oversight of the federal government. This, says Franciosi, “would be in the best interest” of the marijuana industry. As states continue to evolve policy, collect data, and learn more about social and business impacts of legalization, that looks to be a sound opinion.