Since Colorado legalised recreational marijuana in 2014, 10 states have followed suit.
Most of the 10 are coastal and lean to the left with the exception of Alaska, Maine and Nevada. Another 21 states allow the sale of medical marijuana when prescribed by a physician.
This November, five states have ballots that proposed various different changes to their marijuana laws.
- Montana, New Jersey and Arizona: These states have already legalised medical marijuana and will vote on ballot measures that could legalise the sale of the drug recreationally.
- Mississippi: This state is voting on the sale of medical marijuana, there are currently no ballot measures that would legalise the sale of it recreationally.
- South Dakota: This is first state to vote on the legalisation of marijuana for recreational and medical use at the same time.
Advocates for marijuana are using the November presidential election to bypass the need to go through majority Republican state assemblies. Instead of having an aging group of politicians vote on legalisation, they are taking the question straight to the voters.
What will it take?
The effort to legalise marijuana in right-leaning rural states might seem like an uphill battle but attitudes are gradually beginning to shift. Red states are starting to notice the massive income that could come from taxing legal marijuana, but the biggest factor seems to be the, now longstanding, medical marijuana industries that have expanded in several states.
Montana has had a medical marijuana program for over 15 years. Nearly 4% of the entire population of Montana (38,385) have made use of the more than 500 local medical marijuana providers.
New Jersey is poised to make major changes if the sale of recreational pot is legalised. When the current governor, Phil Murphy, was elected in 2017 he vowed to legalise the use of marijuana. Not only would the legalisation contribute nearly $300 million in taxes, the governor wanted the real benefit to be social justice reform. He wanted to overhaul the antiquated drug laws that disproportionately targeted people of colour. New Jersey could also become the first domino to fall in the north east that could see the legalisation of recreational pot in their neighbours, New York and Pennsylvania.
Marijuana advocates will have a long hill to climb, and plenty of opposition in Mississippi. 20 medical marijuana bills have failed in the statehouse. 229,000 Mississippi residents signed a petition in support of Initiative 65, a measure that would see the legalisation of marijuana for over 20 different medical conditions. In an effort to split the vote and muddy the political waters around legalisation, the legislature drafted Initiative 65A, this restricted the use of medical marijuana to only terminally ill patients and required them to use only pharmaceutical grade products.
Ed Langton, a member of the Mississippi Board of Health said, “They say that marijuana is a natural plant, but poison ivy is natural, too. Just because something is natural doesn’t mean it is good for you.” Even these comparably conservative ballot measures have strong opposition from right-leaning politicians whose ideas about marijuana were ripped from the celluloid of “Reefer Madness”.
Unfortunately, Nebraska had a ballot measure for the legalisation of Marijuana but as of September 10th it was struck down by the State Supreme Court. Matthew Schweich, the deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement that,
“This is an outrageous and deeply flawed decision by a group of activist judges. This ruling means that sick and suffering medical marijuana patients, including veterans, will continue to be criminals in Nebraska when they try to live healthier lives. This ruling tramples on the constitutional rights of over 190,000 Nebraskans who signed the petition and deprives the voters of Nebraska of their opportunity to decide this issue at the ballot box. Our opponents are cowards. They use insider political tactics because they cannot win this debate. Medical marijuana will be legal in Nebraska one day. We lost this battle, but we will undoubtedly win the war. We’ll be back.”
It will take a lot of hard work and advocacy to completely legalise marijuana in the US but with rural red states softening their approach, its’s likely we will see major changes after the November election.