November 9th, 2016
As Americans—or rather, half of them—wake up realizing it wasn’t all a bad dream, people who care about drug policy reform can console themselves with at least three major victories for adult-use marijuana legalization, including the biggest one yet, in California.
Massachusetts and Nevada also voted to legalize marijuana for recreational use. At publication time, Maine’s legalization measure reportedly has a narrow lead as votes are counted. [Update, Nov. 10: It has just been confirmed that Maine voted to legalize.]
Marijuana was already legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, plus Washington, DC. But the new additions to that list—above all, California’s population of nearly 40 million—mean that over 20 percent of Americans now live in states where marijuana is legal. Before yesterday, that figure was 5 percent. And wth national support for full legalization polling at 60 percent, there appears to be unstoppable momentum for future victories.
The comfortable passage of California’s Proposition 64 with 56 percent of the vote is a game-changer, given the state’s size and influence. “This represents a monumental victory for the marijuana reform movement,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which played a key role in co-drafting the initiative and coordinating the campaign. “With California’s leadership now, the end of marijuana prohibition nationally, and even internationally, is fast approaching.”
The victory in Massachusetts, with 53.6 percent support, is also notable, as all the other states to legalize so far have been in the West. “Western states have led the way on legalizing marijuana but the victory in Massachusetts powerfully demonstrates that this movement is now bicoastal and soon to be national,” said Nadelmann. “Indeed, I’d wager that the next states to legalize marijuana will also be in the Northeast—and they’ll be the first in the country to do so through the legislature rather than the ballot box.”
Nevada’s measure passed with 54.5 percent support, despite the opposition of conservative casino magnate Sheldon Adelson. Meanwhile voters in Arizona narrowly rejected their state’s adult-use legalization measure.
There were further wins in all four states where medical marijuana measure were on the ballot.
Most significantly, Florida passed Amendment 2 with a stunning 71 percent of the vote—well above the 60 percent threshold required to change the state’s constitution. It becomes the first state in the South to legalize marijuana for medical use. Arkansas, Montana (voting on an expansion of medical marijuana) and North Dakota also passed their measures.
A clear majority of states—28, plus Washington, DC—now recognize marijuana as a medicine, despite the DEA’s continued insistence on keeping it as a Schedule I drug with “no currently accepted medical use.”
All the states that legalized adult-use marijuana stayed blue last night. But the victories in four red states last night indicate that supporting medical marijuana, at least, is perfectly compatible with voting for Donald Trump. Trump has said that he is “in favor of medical marijuana 100 percent” and may support rescheduling it. He has also said he will respect states’ rights when it comes to recreational legalization, without any suggestion of supporting it on a federal level.
Marijuana legalization may seem like relatively little to cheer compared with the damage to the rights of people of color, immigrants, women, LGBTQ people and many others that is widely feared during a Trump presidency. But legalization, if structured as it is in California’s Prop 64, brings a positive social justice impact—above all reducing brutal and racially disproportionate arrests and incarceration.
We can only hope that the establishment and expansion of legalization creates a far longer legacy than President Trump.