Cannabis and the 2020 Election

There is a lot to consider in the 2020 elections and in some states, cannabis is one of them.  Five states will entertain ballot initiatives that if successful would authorize the use, possession, cultivation and sale of medical and/or recreational cannabis. Ballot initiatives have been the most common way that cannabis has been legalized among states. The way that works is that motivated citizens obtain petition signatures, or a state legislature authorizes a popular vote referendum under state election rules on various public issues.  If enough eligible voters petition the state to allow the question to appear on ten next election ballot, or enough members of the state legislature vote to authorize the ballot initiative, the question is placed on the ballot and the voters vote for or against it in the next election.  The states have different rules to determine the number of valid petition signatures or legislative members who are required to place the question the election ballot. 

The other way to achieve state cannabis legalization is when the state legislature passes a law to permit cannabis possession, cultivation, sale and use. Ballot initiatives can be quite broad and usually require some immediate legislative or Executive action to implement the new statewide provisions.  This is especially true when the ballot initiative is in the form of a state constitutional amendment as it was in Colorado and California.

Five States to Consider Cannabis in the 2020 Election

In 2020 voters in five states will consider some form of cannabis legalization.  


Notable among these are Arizona where medical cannabis has been legal since 2010 and a recreational ballot initiative narrowly lost in 2016.  In 2020 Arizona will try again with Proposition 207 (Prop 207) and it is expected that the ballot question will be approved by voters. If passed, Prop 207 will authorize possession and use of marijuana by adults aged 21 years or older. Cultivation centers and dispensaries would come under the control of the Department of Health Services.  Individuals would be able to grow up to six plants in their homes.  Recreational sales would be subject to a 16% excise tax, the same as on cigarettes and alcohol. 

New Jersey

New Jersey’s Governor Phil Murphy was unable fulfill his campaign promise to legalize cannabis legislatively, but supporters were able to place the question on the ballot this year as a Constitutional amendment.   The measure, if passed, would authorize the recreational cultivation, possession and retail sales of marijuana by adults, 21 or oldee.  Recent polling shoes well over 60% favorable support. If approved, recreational cannabis products would be subject to the state sales tax (currently 6.625%) and municipalities could add another 2%.

South Dakota

South Dakota has two initiatives, one to permit only medical use and another separate proposition for recreational use.  Usually states start with a medical cannabis program and then advance to adult use. South Dakotans will get to vote on both at the same time.

Measure 26 is the medical initiative and would permit medical marijuana use for patients with certain qualifying medical conditions.  

Amendment A is the adult use/recreational measure.  It would legalize adult use cannabis.  If approved the state would need to adopt laws governing the medical use of cannabis and hemp cultivation and use.  The state will levy a 15% tax on adult use cannabis.


In Montana Ballot Issue I – 190 will give voters a chance to legalize cannabis for adult recreational use.  It comes with a 20% tax; some of that would help fund substance abuse and veterans’ programs. The measure would also allow opportunities for resentencing or expungement for cannabis related offenses. 


In Mississippi, there are two initiatives to legalize medical cannabis. Initiative 65, a citizen petition, would allow physicians to recommend medical cannabis for patients who have one or more of 22 qualifying conditions.  These include cancer, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder, among others.  

Initiative 65 is a proposed state constitutional amendment, but in Mississippi the legislature has can amend a citizens’ initiative, redraft it and propose an alternative which it did as Initiative 65A. The alternate ballot question requires pharmaceutical grade cannabis and limits use to people who are terminally ill.  All other rules would require legislation as would any recreational use.   

Cannabis legalization has not been a big part of the national election debate this year. That’s probably a good thing, since the states have been leading the way and the federal control would be sloppy and hard to supervise. That said, some federal relaxation of marijuana rules is in order, as was done with hemp under the 2018 Farm Bill. 

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