Despite Unprecedented Challenges, State Efforts to Legalize Cannabis Continue

Come pandemic or plague, there are still people working to legalize pot.  

When it comes to pot and progress, the people have always led the way. Starting with the success of California’s Prop 215 in 1996, the precedent of action and civic engagement as the cornerstones of change would be established. If state citizens wanted to depart from the federal position on cannabis, they’d need to vote for that future.

The results clearly speak for themselves. In the 24 years since California first legalised a statewide medical marijuana market, cannabis has gone from a taboo narcotic to a mainstream wellness product — depending on where you live.

Though 10 states currently permit for the sale and consumption of recreational weed, that still leaves 40 more on the outside looking in. Yes, a majority of those states have themselves enacted medical marijuana policies of some kind, but if you live in Montana and see what California has, you might not be satisfied either.

In normal times, efforts to gather the signatures necessary to get a pro-weed measure on the ballot are still massive undertakings. The coordination, person power, and cost of putting such campaigns together is an incredible amount of effort, and that’s before one takes the ramifications of COVID-19 into account.

The main COVID obstacle facing campaigns to legalize weed is an inability to gather in-person signatures. While requirements differ from state to state, to get a new measure in front of voters, campaigns must amass a requisite number of individual signatures from state citizens by a certain date. That obviously becomes an infinitely harder task when everyone is required to stay indoors and avoiding one another in public.

Such difficulties have unfortunately felled pro-pot 2020 efforts in Missouri, North Dakota and Oklahoma. Likewise, a medical marijuana campaign in Idaho is now on life support after failing to successfully gain permission to obtain signatures online. However, as Politco reports, another lawsuit in the state brought by a different ballot initiative has prevailed, meaning the Idaho Cannabis Coalition is now looking into whether they should rekindle their attempt.

Thanks to early efforts, measures in favor of recreational cannabis will see ballots in New Jersey, South Dakota, and Mississippi this November. While those three campaigns cleared the requisite signature total prior to the onset of COVID-19, another in Montana has also reportedly made the cut after “advocates collected more than 130,000 signatures by its deadline last Friday.”

Thanks to a provision in Montana’s constitution, efforts in the state to put a recreational cannabis ballot before voters this fall required not one but two separate initiatives. Owing to the state defining adulthood as starting at age 18, advocates had to get signatures in support not only of cannabis but also of changing the “legal” age to 21. As an extra bonus, constitutional amendments (as the one related to the age of adulthood is defined) require twice as many signatures as normal.

Undeterred, they pulled it off, delivering more than the minimum signatures by June 19.

One imagines the good news from Montana will be music to the ears of advocates in Nebraska, Arkansas and Arizona, where efforts to get a pot measure on the ballot remain ongoing. In Arizona, the Smart and Safe Arizona campaign has reportedly gathered over 400,000 signatures — close to double the required amount. Though a 2016 campaign to legalize failed in the state, the groundswell of support for its 2020 counterpart is quite promising.

Meanwhile, in Arkansas, shades of Idaho are present in an ongoing court battle over signature-collection rules in light of COVID-19. At first, there was some hope when a judge permitted mail-in signatures as a valid substitute, but an appeal from the state has forced a moratorium on the matter. The result is that the Arkansas campaign must now wait to see if mail-in signatures will be allowed ahead of a July 3 deadline.

Finally, things look more upbeat for the people of Nebraska, where advocates are hopeful they’ll meet the geographic distribution requirements for a medical marijuana ballot petition. The threshold is 120,000 signatures.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told Politco.

Marijuana Policy Project is currently backing the ballot efforts in Montana and Nebraska. As both states appear poised to buck the odds and put the issue in front of voters, it only reinforces the power of people to get the things that matter done. Even with the incalculable hurdle of COVID-19 added to the equation, progress has a funny way of refusing to be stopped.

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