Marijuana Legalization Wins Big At The Polls

By Kelly Burch 11/09/16

The majority of Americans now have access to recreational or medical cannabis. 

Marijuana Legalization Wins Big At The Polls

California, Massachusetts and Nevada have voted to legalize recreational marijuana, while Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota legalized medical marijuana—marking a major turn in the so-called War on Drugs. Montana also voted in favor of greatly expanding its current medical marijuana program, which voters passed in 2004.

The ballot question calling for legalization in Maine was too close to call as of Wednesday evening, but The Washington Post reported that the measure was likely to pass.  

"This is obviously a positive development, particularly with the size of California," Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Patch. "The money that was going into the hands of criminals is going to be going into legitimate businesses.”

Overall, acceptance of cannabis won at the polls, but voters in Arizona rejected a vote for recreational use, though medical marijuana was legalized in the state in 1996.

With Tuesday’s results, a majority of the country now has some form of legalized marijuana. Sixty percent of Americans support legalizing pot, and with the passing of recreational use in California, the legalized marijuana industry has tripled in size, according to The Verge

“I think it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana in the United States,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom told the LA Times. “I think it will have repercussions internationally, particularly in Mexico and Latin America. And there are a million people who tomorrow can begin the process of clearing their records.”

Despite the fact that most Americans now live in a state where some form of marijuana is legal, there is still a federal ban on the drug. In August, the Drug Enforcement Administration rejected a move to downgrade marijuana to a Schedule II controlled substance. Instead, it remains a Schedule I substance alongside heroin, a federal category reserved for drugs that are defined as having no medical merit. 

In a recent interview, President Obama said that the widespread passage of legalization efforts this year would make the federal policy “untenable.”

However, the election of Donald Trump makes it unclear what the federal policy will be on marijuana moving forward. 

“The Obama administration has had a hands-off policy in Colorado, Washington, and the subsequent legalization states, and has allowed them to flourish as long as they have protections against inter-state transfer and things like that,” Ellen Komp, the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML)'s California chapter, told Vice.

“It's important that whoever is elected continues that policy. There's also the question of Supreme Court appointments. The judges they select might have to rule on a state's right to allow for the legalization of marijuana or medical marijuana,” said Komp.

The ballot measures will be instituted differently in each state. In California, it is now legal for adults to possess and grow marijuana, although there won't be any places to buy it legally until the state gives out licenses by 2018. In Massachusetts the drug will become legal on Dec. 15, although stores will not open until 2018. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.