2020 Election a Turning Point for Cannabis

Further legalization of cannabis could be one outcome of the US election.
© The Active Times | Further legalization of cannabis could be one outcome of the US election.
Could a new US president see a surge in cannabis states?
By W. Blake Gray | Posted Tuesday, 10-Nov-2020

Lost amid the international tension over the US election was this: cannabis had a huge day at the ballot box in both red and blue states. Every legalization measure on the ballot, in every state, passed.

In fact, 2020's election could be the turning point for cannabis. Kamala Harris said during the vice-presidential debate that if Joe Biden becomes president, they hope to remove cannabis from being classified as Schedule 1 (no medical use and a high potential for abuse) by the federal Drug Enforcement Administration. This would not immediately legalize cannabis nationwide, but it would open the door for legal interstate commerce.

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More immediately, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota voted last week to legalize cannabis for recreational use, bringing the number of states where it's legal to 15. New Jersey is fairly reliably blue; Arizona has long been red, but shifted blue in the last two years. But Montana and South Dakota are rural red states.

South Dakota also legalized medical cannabis, though the distinction isn't important now. Both issues were on the ballot. Medical use passed with 70 percent of the vote while recreational use won 54 percent. This comes in a state Donald Trump won with 64 percent of the vote. In Montana, recreational marijuana got 57 percent of the vote in a state where Joe Biden got just 41 percent.

Mississippi, one of the most conservative states in the country, also voted to legalize medical marijuana.

And in a national Gallup poll released this week, 68 percent of Americans said they support the legalization of marijuana, the highest number yet. Legalization is pretty popular across the board, favored by 83 percent of Democrats and 48 percent of Republicans. Every age group favors it, even people age 65+, 55 percent of whom support it. Support should only go up in the future because younger people support it by much larger margins, including by 79 percent of adults age 18-29.

"I think when you look back to the end of Prohibition for alcohol, the timing is pretty similar," cannabis attorney Rebecca Stamey-White told Wine-Searcher. "States are seeing the opportunity. The regulators are talking to each other. And you are starting to see regions. The West and the Mountain West are becoming cannabis states, red and blue."

Recreational cannabis has not yet progressed much east of the Mississippi River, which makes New Jersey's legalization very important.

"New Jersey legalizing it is going to put a lot of pressure on New York," Stamey-White said.

And in fact, two days after the election, New York governor Andrew Cuomo said in a radio interview that he thinks conditions are "ripe" for legalizing cannabis in his state in 2021.

"The question becomes about the money and the distribution and the power," Cuomo told WAMC radio. "I think this year (2021) it is ripe, because the state is going to be desperate for funding, even with [the possible election of Joe] Biden [as president], even with a stimulus. We're still going to need funding, and it's also the right policy. So I think we get there this year."

Oregon, where recreational cannabis is already legal, went even further and legalized psilocybin mushrooms for therapy and decriminalized possession of all drugs. Similarly to Portugal, people found in Oregon with heroin or cocaine could be fined and ordered to meet with a drug counselor, but not arrested.

"Cannabis criminalization is very closely tied to the protest movements that are going on right now," Stamey-White said. "States are looking at this as a real referendum, an ability to do something for criminal justice reform. And it makes money. It encourages businesses during a terrible economy."

Money for states through taxes has always been a leading reason for legalization. Stamey-White said the attractiveness of legal cannabis to state governments has increased as they have watched their neighbors legalize it and bring in additional revenue without the social problems forecast by doomsayers.

"States are seeing the opportunity. The regulators are talking to each other," Stamey-White said. "Especially the alcohol regulators, they're seeing cannabis and they're getting more comfortable with it. This is an issue that both parties can get behind. It is something that makes a lot of sense. There was a lot more stigma applied to the industry in the past. As people have seen states like Colorado and Washington that aren't liberal California do well with cannabis, it just shows that it's good for these regions."

Moreover, some state officials may even realize that if they don't legalize cannabis, their local consumers' money is going to go ... to liberal California. California still has an enormous illicit cannabis market, but Stamey-White said, with Golden State consumers able to just go to the shop and buy what they want, most of that illegally grown cannabis is being shipped out of state.

For individual consumers, the drawn-out, nerve-wracking 2020 election may also prove to be a tipping point, as there was probably never a greater need in the nation's history for the calming effect of cannabis. Chocolate sales in cannabis-legal states last week must have been immense.

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