Elections

Marijuana Legalized for Fun in 4 More States and Medicine in 4 Others

Only one state's voters rejected easing access to the drug.
by | November 9, 2016
A woman with multiple sclerosis shops at a medical marijuana dispensary in Illinois, one of 25 states that lets people use the drug to treat certain conditions. (AP/Seth Perlman)

Read all of our coverage on 2016 ballot measures at governing.com/ballotmeasures.

Marijuana legalization is having a moment. What once seemed like an unlikely proposition is now catching serious steam.

In the five states that voted for legalized recreational use, only Arizona rejected the proposition. Maine passed the measure with razor-thin margins. All four states voting on medical marijuana approved their measures.

Before Election Day, 26 states and the District of Columbia had legalized medical marijuana, while Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and Washington, D.C., had legalized recreational use of the drug.

From a public health standpoint, the effects of legalization are unclear. The American Public Health Association generally supports both medical and recreational legalization but acknowledges it doesn't yet fully understand the impact on one's health and advocates for heavy regulation of the industry.

How the states regulate the exchange, usage and sale of either recreational or medical pot, however, varies in each state.

Here’s a map and a breakdown of each state's pot ballot initiative -- and how it fared.

Marijuana State Laws

 
 
Medical marijuana legalized
 
Recreational marijuana legalized
 
No laws legalizing marijuana

Note: D.C. is not included on this map but voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014.

RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA

Arizona

It was a close race, but Arizona was ultimately the only state to reject recreational marijuana on Tuesday, with 52 percent against the measure, 48 percent in support of it.

The measure would have let Arizonans have six plants in their home and would have imposed a 15 percent tax on the sale of the plant from facilities that are "licensed and regulated." Similar to other states that have legalized weed, the tax revenue Arizona generated would have gone toward health and education initiatives.

Unlike other states, though, it would have established a new agency called the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control. Other states with legal marijuana have just created new pot-focused offices within existing departments -- like public health, revenue and agriculture.

Supporters of the bill outraised opponents 3 to 1. But the Arizona Republican Party came out against recreational marijuana, which was significant in a reliably red state. Voters did, however, legalize medical marijuana in 2010.

In July, opponents of the measure filed a lawsuit, arguing that the ballot language was vague and didn't inform voters as to exactly what they were voting for. A judge, however, dismissed the case earlier this month.

California 

Out of the five states with recreational marijuana on the ballot, California was the state always the most likely to pass it.

The state was the first to legalize medical marijuana back in 1996. And this isn't the first time California voters have had pot questions on their ballot: A decriminalization measure appeared on the ballot in 1972 and full legalization in 2010. Both were narrowly defeated.

But it appears that Californians are now ready for recreational pot. The measure was the first one to be called of the 17 ballot measures, with 56 percent in favor, 44 against.

The initiative enacts a 15 percent sales tax along with a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves sold in state-regulated retail outlets. It also claims it will "reduce criminal justice costs by tens of millions of dollars annually."

Interestingly, the opposition to legalization in California is largely based on fears of big business overtaking small marijuana farmers -- an issue that the ballot measure addresses by restricting big businesses from obtaining licenses to sell for five years.

Maine 

Recreational pot's path to the ballot in Maine was a bumpy one, and the path to legalization was too. After an incredibly tight race, the state called the initiative after 10 a.m. ET Wednesday in favor of the 'yes' vote, with 50.3 percent of residents voting in favor of the measure. Only 9,000 votes separated supporters and opponents.

During the initial review of the more than 99,000 signatures turned in to the state, 31,000 were deemed invalid by Secretary of State Matt Dunlap. That put the number of valid signatures at around 51,000 -- just shy of the 61,123 needed to make the ballot. But a state court demanded Dunlap take another look, and he found 62,848 valid signatures.

Polls showed a tight race, with about 54 percent in favor and 42 percent against the measure. And state leaders from both sides of the aisle -- including Republican Gov. Paul LePage and Democratic Attorney General Janet Mills -- have come out against the measure.

It allows adults to buy and possess 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow a limited number of plants in their homes. Retailers would be able to sell it with a 10 percent sales tax -- but only with municipal approval, a first for marijuana laws. Revenue generated from the tax would go to school construction.

Maine voters legalized medical marijuana in 1999.

Massachusetts 

Massachusetts was undoubtedly the state to watch, and the results were a nailbiter.

There were six different polls conducted over the election season -- four supporting legalization and two rejecting it, but all showed a close race. The average of all six polls showed Massachusetts voters narrowly supporting recreational marijuana 48 percent to 42 percent.

In the end, residents paseed it 53 percent to 47 percent. But it didn't go down without a fight, as it was a divisive issue until the very end.

Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the Massachusetts Hospital Association opposed legalization. On the other side is former Gov. Bill Weld, Boston City Council President Michelle Wu and the ACLU of Massachusetts.

Residents will now be allowed to grow marijuana and buy it from licensed retail outlets. Only one ounce is allowed in public and up to 10 ounces -- or six plants -- are allowed in homes. Retail marijuana will be subject to the state sales tax in addition to a 3.75 percent excise tax, which will fund the Marijuana Regulation Fund. Colorado is the only other state to add an excise tax to recreational marijuana, at a hefty 15 percent.

Historically, marijuana legalization supporters have had a good track record in Massachusetts. Voters approved a measure to decriminalize possession of small amounts in 2008 and approved a medical marijuana initiative in 2012. Each measure gathered around 63 percent of the vote. 

Nevada 

The state that’s home to Sin City has removed a "sin." Nevada passed the recreational marijuana measure 54 percent to 46 percent.

Supporters massively outraised the opposition -- probably because the opposition didn't raise any money. According to the Nevada Secretary of State's website, the Coalition Against Legalizing Marijuana had no cash on hand.

The state will allow the recreational use of up to one ounce of marijuana from licensed retailers, but prohibit pot shops from opening near schools, houses of worship and child-care facilities -- rules similar to Alaska, Oregon and Washington's. With a 15 percent excise tax, revenue generated from sales would going to education.

MEDICAL

Arkansas 

Arkansas initially had two measures to legalize medical marijuana on the ballot, but the state's Supreme Court struck down one of them less than two weeks before Election Day.

That left Issue 6, which listed far fewer chronic and debilitating conditions that would make someone eligible to use medical pot. The measure also created a Medical Marijuana Commission and put the new tax revenue toward vocational schools, workforce training and the general fund.

But even faced with a more limited ballot measure, Arkansans still voted in favor of medical marijuana, 53 percent to 47 percent.

It could be tough to implement the initiative, though, as it has practically no major support in the state government. The state's surgeon general, Department of Health, governor and U.S. senator all came out in opposition of Issue 6.

Florida 

Just two years after voters rejected medical marijuana, Floridians were faced with the question again. This time, they overwhelmingly said yes. Seventy-one percent voted in favor of legalization, 29 percent against. The Florida Constitution requires that ballot measures must gain 60 percent of the popular vote to be enacted, signaling that Floridians felt that legal medical marijuana was overdue for the state.

In 2014, a medical marijuana ballot measure actually won a majority of the vote -- 57 percent -- but was prevented from becoming law because it didn't pass that 60 percent supermajority.

The measure allows patients with conditions like cancer, PTSD, glaucoma and HIV to receive marijuana as treatment. The Florida Department of Health would regulate the production and distribution of patient ID cards.

Montana

Montana has an interesting history with medical marijuana.

The state's voters approved it's use over a decade ago, in 2004, but the legislature repealed it in 2011 after the Drug Enforcement Agency found that medical marijuana businesses were involved in drug trafficking and other crimes.

This year's ballot measure brings that option back and also repeals a former clause that limited the number of medical marijuana patients to three per provider.

It was tough to see how the state would vote on it, but it ultimately passed the measure with 57 percent in favor and 43 percent opposed.

The Democratic candidate for attorney general and the Bozeman city commissioner have both come out in favor of bringing legal medical marijuana back to the state. But Safe Montana -- the opposition campaign -- outraised the supporters $124,000 to $55,000

North Dakota

This is North Dakota’s second go-around in attempting to legalize medical marijuana through voters.

In 2012, a measure failed to make the ballot after hundreds of the 13,500 signatures submitted were invalidated. But this year, North Dakotans resoundly voted for a medical marijuana option, with 64 percent voting in favor and 36 percent voting against it.

The new initiative allows medical marijuana to treat debilitating conditions like cancer, AIDS, epilepsy and ALS. Patients would need to obtain ID cards through the Department of Health.

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