Marijuana ballot initiatives 2016: Five more states may make pot legal

Update on morning of Nov. 9: The initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana were passed in California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada. Results are pending for recreational marijuana in Arizona. The initiatives for comprehensive medical marijuana programs were passed in Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota.

Either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be a winner on Nov. 8, but in a number of states, pot smokers may come out ahead as well.

Election Day might be a major turning point for the marijuana reform movement because five states have ballot initiatives that would legalize cannabis for adult use, regulating and taxing it like alcohol. There are also campaigns in three states to legalize medical marijuana — which would bring the total to 28 — and a slew of local, citywide initiatives.

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The vote to watch is in California, where polls suggest the “Adult Use of Marijuana” referendum has a substantial lead.

“When you see voters from San Diego to San Francisco coming together in support of this type of policy shift, it suggests that it is also likely to appeal to a broad swath of voters in other parts of the country,” Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Yahoo News. “At the federal level, it will inspire more members of Congress to take a closer look at the issue. At the state level, it will help legislators recognize the writing is on the wall and start thinking about their own prohibition exit strategies.”

A recent Gallup poll found that a record 60 percent of Americans support making cannabis legal. Here’s a breakdown of the key state votes.

The issue of legalizing recreational marijuana will be on the ballot in five states. (Photo: AP/Yahoo News)
The issue of legalizing recreational marijuana will be on the ballot in five states. (Photo: AP/Yahoo News)

Recreational marijuana

State: Arizona

Ballot initiative: Proposition 205 — The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

What’s at stake: Proposition 205 would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, consume marijuana in private and grow up to six marijuana plants at home. It would also establish marijuana retail stores and manufacturing facilities licensed by the Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control.

Will it pass? Proposition 205 is supported by registered Arizona voters 50 percent to 40 percent, according to an Arizona Republic/Morrison/Cronkite News poll.

Barrett Marson, communications director for “Yes on 205,” told Yahoo News, “People are using it. People are buying it on the street. People are doing it illegally. It is time to end the failed policy of prohibition. In doing so, we can heavily tax and regulate the sale of marijuana. Eighty percent of the revenue would go to education funding here in Arizona … and the other 20 percent would go to drug and alcohol programs at the Department of Health Services.”

State: California

Ballot initiative: Proposition 64 — The Adult Use of Marijuana Act

What’s at stake: This would allow adults 21 and older to possess and consume one ounce of marijuana and eight grams of marijuana concentrates and grow up to six marijuana plants at home. It would also enact a 15 percent excise tax on all cannabis sales.

Will it pass? Proposition 64 is supported by registered California voters 52 to 41 percent, according to a SurveyUSA poll.

Jason Kinney, a spokesperson for “Yes on 64,” told Yahoo News, “I think that the arc of history, social justice and public opinion have been bending in this direction for a long time. … We’re still criminalizing thousands of otherwise law-abiding adults in California with nonviolent marijuana felonies. We’re giving criminal misdemeanors to juveniles. These are mostly communities of color, Latino and African-American, and there’s no reason to do that around a substance that is less harmful and addictive than alcohol.”

Canna Care employee John Hough waters young pot plants at the medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 19, 2015. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Canna Care employee John Hough waters young pot plants at the medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, Calif., Aug. 19, 2015. (Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

State: Maine

Ballot initiative: Question 1 — Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

What’s at stake: It would allow adults 21 and older to possess a limited amount of marijuana and grow a limited number of marijuana plants at home. It would establish a regulatory system of licensed marijuana retail stores and associated facilities and enact a 10 percent marijuana sales tax, which would be used to enforce regulations.

Will it pass? Adults in Maine support Question 1 by a substantial margin — 50 percent to 41 percent — according to a University of New Hampshire Survey Center poll.

David Boyer, campaign manager for “Yes on 1,” told Yahoo News, “We think it would be good for Maine because our current system has failed. Marijuana is readily available, and we know from other states’ track records that regulating and taxing marijuana is a far better approach. We’re going to generate millions and millions in new revenue that can support things like education, and we’re going to save law enforcement time and resources so that they can focus on serious and violent crime rather than adults possessing small amounts of marijuana.”

State: Massachusetts

Ballot initiative: Question 4 — The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

What’s at stake: This would allow adults 21 and older to possess and grow limited amounts of marijuana and establish an entity that’s similar to the Alcohol Beverage Control Commission to oversee licensed retail stores and cultivation facilities.

Will it pass? Likely voters in Massachusetts support Question 4, 53 percent to 50 percent, according to a WBZ-TV, WBZ NewsRadio, UMass Amherst Poll poll.

Jim Borghesani, the communications director for “Yes on 4” told Yahoo News, “We think that it’s imperative to end marijuana prohibition because it’s been a vast failure. All it’s done is create a commerce dominated by criminals, and it’s forced buyers into dangerous markets where they’re exposed to deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl. What we’d like to do is take the commerce away from criminals and put it with regulated and taxed businesses under the complete control of state authorities.”

Rebecca Gasca, CEO of a consulting firm in Reno, Nev., looks over a crop of marijuana plants during a tour of marijuana retail and grow operations in Denver last year. (Photo: David Zalubowski/AP)
Rebecca Gasca, CEO of a consulting firm in Reno, Nev., looks over a crop of marijuana plants during a tour of marijuana retail and grow operations in Denver last year. (Photo: David Zalubowski/AP)

State: Nevada

Ballot initiative: Question 2 — The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol

What’s at stake: It would allow adults 21 and older to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana or one-eighth of an ounce of concentrated marijuana. People who live more than 25 miles from a retail marijuana store would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants at home. It would also establish a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales.

Will it pass? Nevada voters support Question 2, 50 percent to 41 percent, according to a KTNV-TV/Rasmussen Reports poll.

Joe Brezny, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told Yahoo News, “The big-picture benefit of regulating marijuana is the elimination of the dangerous and criminal marijuana market. Instead, we will have marijuana produced and sold by regulated business that test and properly package products while generating tax revenue for the state. It is also way beyond time we stop punishing adults for using a substance less harmful than alcohol. This is especially true in the minority communities, where marijuana laws have been enforced more harshly. Passage of Question 2 will enhance public safety and advance social justice.”

Recently harvested marijuana buds at Laura Costa’s farm near Garberville, Calif. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)
Recently harvested marijuana buds at Laura Costa’s farm near Garberville, Calif. (Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP)

Medical marijuana

State: Florida

Ballot initiative: Amendment 2 — Use of Marijuana for Debilitating Medical Conditions

What’s at stake: The amendment would legalize medical marijuana “for individuals with debilitating medical conditions as determined by a licensed Florida physician” and allow caregivers to assist patients in their use of medicinal cannabis. In 2014, a similar ballot initiative that would have legalized medical marijuana in the Sunshine State was supported by 58 percent of Florida voters, falling just short of the 60 percent approval it needed to pass.

This time around, medical marijuana activists are confident the influx of younger voters in a general election year will put them over the top. And Americans in general overwhelmingly support medical marijuana use.

“This election year — with a hotly contested presidential race on the ballot — turnout is expected to be much higher,” Paula Dockery, a former Republican state representative from Lakeland, said in the Orlando Sentinel. “Remember, the first ballot proposal failed by only two percentage points.”

Will it pass? Most likely. According to a recent University of North Florida survey, 73 percent of voters approve of the amendment, well above the 60 percent needed to pass.

Grow lights turn the color of marijuana plants under cultivation a golden yellow. (Photo: David Zalubowski/AP)
Grow lights turn the color of marijuana plants under cultivation a golden yellow. (Photo: David Zalubowski/AP)

State: Arkansas

Ballot initiative: Issue 6 — The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment

What’s at stake: The amendment would legalize medical marijuana in the Razorback State for 17 qualifying conditions, create a Medical Marijuana Commission and allocate tax revenue from sales of medical marijuana to technical and vocational schools.

A competing ballot initiative — Issue 7 — would have legalized medical marijuana for 56 qualifying conditions and allowed patients who don’t live near a dispensary to grow their own marijuana. But the Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified that measure, saying the group that created the proposal, Arkansans for Compassionate Care, violated state laws regarding the reporting and registration of paid canvassers. (The group has asked the court to reconsider.) But even if were reinstated, medical marijuana faces an uphill battle in Arkansas.

Last month, the state’s governor and lieutenant governor held a joint news conference with business leaders to argue that legalizing medical marijuana would hurt the state’s efforts to keep and attract businesses, particularly when it comes to issues arising from drug testing of employees.

“It will not help us in the direction we need to go in Arkansas in terms of increased economic success in this state,” said Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration.

But Ryan Denham — deputy director for Arkansans for Compassionate Care, one of the groups in favor of the amendment — said that hasn’t been a problem in the 25 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

“They don’t have these types of societal or workforce problems,” Denham told reporters. “And largely it’s been a net positive for the state economies.”

Will it pass? Unclear. A poll released Wednesday found 51 percent of Arkansas voters are in favor of legalizing medical marijuana, with 49 percent opposed. The measure requires a simple majority to pass. And in 2012, Arkansas voters narrowly rejected legalizing medical marijuana.

A medical marijuana dispensary in Sparks, Nev. (Photo: Scott Sonner/AP)
A medical marijuana dispensary in Sparks, Nev. (Photo: Scott Sonner/AP)

State: North Dakota

Ballot initiative: Initiated Statutory Measure 5 — The North Dakota Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative

What’s at stake: The measure would legalize the use of medical marijuana to treat debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease), glaucoma and epilepsy, and develop regulatory procedures for growing, dispensing and using medicinal pot. In 2015, the North Dakota House declined to pass a similar bipartisan bill that would have allowed patients and caregivers to possess cannabis for medical use.

In a late push ahead of next week’s vote, supporters of the measure have launched a statewide TV ad campaign — the “Faces of Measure 5” — featuring seriously ill people making emotional pleas for legal access to medicinal marijuana. (They all end their stories by saying, “Medical marijuana would help me.”)

“These are real North Dakotans who would experience real benefits from medical marijuana,” Anita Morgan, who represents the North Dakota Compassionate Care 2016 campaign, wrote in an email. “It is a sensible and compassionate proposal that would ensure patients safe and legal access to medical cannabis if their doctors recommend it.”

Will it pass? Hard to say. While a recent poll conducted by the University of North Dakota found 47 percent of voters supported the measure compared to 41 percent who oppose it, state law requires at least 50 percent support for it to pass. The same poll found more than two-thirds (68 percent) of North Dakotans oppose legalizing recreational marijuana, while 24 percent support it.

Opposition

Not everyone is welcoming the increasingly liberal attitudes and policies concerning marijuana.

Carla Lowe, founder and co-chair of Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana (CALM), a political action committee in California, argued that Proposition 64 will exacerbate the social ills she attributes to pot use.

“What it’s going to do to neighborhoods, we’re concerned about that. People are already complaining about the horrible smell from pot grows,” Lowe told Yahoo News. “We’re concerned about the increased use of marijuana. Any time kids think it’s no big deal. Just go back and look at Colorado and Washington. Kids’ use will go up. The bottom line is that the people who are behind this issue are in it for huge money.”

When asked if anyone has the right to control what otherwise law-abiding citizens ingest, Lowe said that the United States government does because “we are a nation of laws.” Under federal law, marijuana is still classified as a schedule 1 drug — in the same category as heroin.

Marijuana laws as they stand

Here’s the current makeup of marijuana access in the United States looks leading up to the election:

Legal recreational marijuana is available in four states — Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington — and the District of Columbia. Legal medical marijuana is available in D.C. and 25 states: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.

In 2013, the Justice Department announced that it would not challenge or block state laws that conflict with federal law regarding marijuana policy.


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