Given the absurd nature of this year, it should be noted that no one is encouraging voters to actually roll joints with their mail-in ballots. A term that’s gained traction in recent election cycles, “smoking the vote” is a shorthand for getting pro-cannabis voters to the polls.
As a political ploy, the hope is to attract those who might otherwise abstain from voting by including a weed-related measure on the ballot. The fact that cannabis legalization and reform is on the ballot in five states in 2020 does not, however, suggest some shrewd coup on the part of progressive pot politicians so much as it reinforces, yet again, that a majority of Americans aren’t satisfied with pot’s current legal status.
In fact, the money pouring into efforts to get Congress moving on cannabis-related laws hit historic levels in 2020. According to an analysis of federal lobbying disclosure records published by Marijuana Business Daily last week, more than $3.5 million was spent in the first two quarters of 2020 by cannabis industry interests.
While that money was spent to secure lobbyists tasked with garnering support in Congress for bills like the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, it speaks to how seriously those with dollars to spend are taking the prospect of cannabis becoming federally legal.
In the interim, voters in five states will be looking to take matters into their own hands.
In Arizona, where medical cannabis has been legal since 2010, voters will decide whether to approve the Smart and Safe Arizona Act (aka Prop 207), which would legalize use of cannabis for adults ages 21 and up. The act would also set a 16% excise tax, which is what’s currently imposed on alcohol and cigarettes in Arizona, to establish, among other things, funding for community colleges and education.
Things are slightly more complicated in Mississippi, where two measures regarding cannabis will appear on the state ballot.
As detailed in a recent voter guide published by Leaflink, Mississippi’s Initiative 65 and 65A each have the power to legalize medical cannabis in Mississippi.
“However,” they note, ”I-65 would make medical cannabis available for anyone who qualifies, including those suffering from PTSD and cancer. Initiative 65A, on the other hand, would enact a stricter medical cannabis market that, according to opponents, would not guarantee a medical cannabis market even if [the] initiative passes.”
Voters in New Jersey approved medical cannabis for the Garden State only late last year, but already the prospect of legalizing adult-use is before them. The New Jersey Marijuana Amendment (which appears on ballots as “Public Question #1”) would not only legalize cannabis for adult-use but also usher in the ability to cultivate, process, and sell the plant.
In addition, the New Jersey Marijuana Amendment would also, in LeafLink’s words, “mandate the creation of an online portal for those with cannabis convictions to apply for expungement and for pending possession charges to be dismissed or downgraded. Futhermore, 25% of dispensary licensing would be allocated to ‘high impact zones’, or the areas most impacted by cannabis arrests, unemployment, and crime.”
Twin bills are also on tap for voters in South Dakota, though in this case, the legislation is complimentary. While South Dakota’s Constitutional Amendment A seeks to legalize adult-use, Measure 26 is focused on medical access specifically. Should both pass, all tax revenue generated from cannabis sales of all types will be split between public education resources and South Dakota’s state general fund.
“The legalization would also overturn South Dakota’s harsh cannabis laws, which are currently a $2000 fine and/or one year in jail for possession and use,” notes LeafLink.
Last but not least is Montana, where in 2016, the Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative I-182 established access to medical cannabis across the state.
This time around, voters will decide whether to approve Initiative I-190, which would legalize adult-use while also establishing a framework for sales and cultivation. Like the legislation under consideration elsewhere, I-190 also includes restorative justice provisions. Should it pass, those currently or formerly incarcerated in Montana on state-related charges will be allowed to apply for resentencing and expungement, respectively.
Will 2020 vote’s get smoked, so to speak? Ultimately, that still remains to be seen. However, with the prospect of a leafy green rush to the polls certainly well within the realm of possibility, the power of cannabis as a voting bloc is a strength no one can afford to ignore any longer.