Marijuana legalization 2016: Everything you need to know about state ballot initiatives in a pivotal presidential election year
Legal cannabis has been a hot topic in the march to Election Night 2016.
Dozens of petitions have circulated across the United States. Some have successfully cleared the necessary regulatory hurdles to secure a spot at the ballot box. Others have fallen short.
Come November, voters in at least a half-dozen states will decide on whether to legalize either the recreational use or the medical use of marijuana. As it stands now, those states include: Arkansas, California, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana and Nevada.
More states could join that list in the coming months. Several proposals — including an unprecedented one that could strip a state of its medical marijuana program — remain in the wings, awaiting official confirmation.
Below is a rundown of the states with legal recreational and medical cannabis on the line as well as those with potential ballot measures.
Recreational marijuana on the ballot
Proposition 64: If successful, this well-heeled initiative would make recreational marijuana legal all along the West Coast and establish what some view could be a linchpin for federal legalization.
The passage of Proposition 64, a.k.a. the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would legalize marijuana for people 21 years of age and older. Adults could possess up to an ounce of cannabis, purchase dried flower and cannabis products from licensed retailers and grow up to six plants for personal use. The proposal has restrictions on where cannabis can be consumed.
Counties and municipalities would have the ability to limit or ban commercial marijuana operations, as well as set local tax rates.
The initial taxes imposed would be a 15 percent state excise tax on retail sales, and cultivation taxes of $9.25 per ounce of flower and $2.75 per ounce of trim/leaves. Backers estimate that the Adult Use of Marijuana Act could potentially result in $1 billion annually in state tax revenue.
Other provisions include a restriction on marketing toward minors and allowing for resentencing and the expungement of records for prior marijuana convictions.
Tech billionaire Sean Parker, the Napster founder and former Facebook president, has plunked more than $1 million into the legalization campaign. Groups opposing the recreational measure include the Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana and the California Police Chiefs Association.
California was the first state in the nation to legalize medical marijuana, in 1996.
Question 1: This proposal’s path to voters was not a simple one.
In February, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol delivered more than 99,200 signatures to the Maine Secretary of State. The Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy and lobbying organization, is coordinating a number of the state initiatives and campaigns under the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” umbrella.
A month later, 47,686 of those signatures were invalidated, leaving the campaign roughly 9,500 John Hancocks short of the threshold to make the ballot. Soon, a notary landed in the spotlight and a court battle ensued.
By the end of April, the referendum proposal was successful in making it to the ballot. Voters will decide whether to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 years of age and older, which would also allow an adult to grow up to six plants. The proposal includes a 10 percent sales tax on retail marijuana and marijuana products.
The initiative has prohibitions on places of consumption, including restricting use to a private residence, and it allows municipalities to regulate the number of retail stores or ban them entirely.
Question 4: Like its neighbor to the north, Massachusetts had a legal scuffle over its ballot initiative.
Lawsuits alleged that those who signed the petitions were misled because it was not clear that the proposed law could allow for the sale of edibles and concentrates. Those arguments eventually were struck down by the state’s Supreme Judicial Court, which opted not to disqualify the proposal.
Under the measure, adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of pot, keep up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home and grow up to six plants. Marijuana sold in licensed shops would be subject to an excise tax of 3.75 percent in addition to Massachusetts’ 6.25 percent state sales tax.
The initiative allows for the creation of a 15-member cannabis advisory board to study and make recommendations on regulations and marijuana products.
Individual counties, cities and towns would have the ability to enact additional taxes as well as bans on recreational marijuana operations. The use of marijuana would be restricted to private places.
Massachusetts voters approved medical marijuana in 2012; the first dispensary opened in June 2015.
Question 2: While some states’ marijuana initiatives are successfully skating in before key 2016 deadlines, Nevada’s has been on the ballot for nearly 18 months.
At the tail end of 2014, Nevada Secretary of State Ross Miller certified that the recreational marijuana initiative received the necessary signatures to place it on the November 2016 ballot.
The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act follows moves by various Nevada counties to adopt medical marijuana regulations and would make it legal for adults age 21 and older to buy marijuana for recreational use, possess up to an ounce and grow up to six plants at home — if that residence is more than 25 miles away from a licensed dispensary.
The initiative includes some limitations on the number of retail outlets in a specific county — the populous Clark County, home to Las Vegas, can have up to 80 shops, while every other county under 55,000 people can have no more than two recreational stores.
Retail marijuana would be subject to a 15 percent excise tax. Cannabis consumption would be restricted to private premises, which could include a retail marijuana store.
Medical marijuana on the ballot
It’s possible that voters in the Natural State could be voting on two medical marijuana initiatives come November.
In early July, the Arkansas Secretary of State verified the signatures of one cannabis-related proposal: the Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act.
This initiated act, if approved by voters, would allow for no more than one nonprofit “cannabis care center” per 20 pharmacies, which sponsor Arkansans for Compassionate Care estimates at 38 dispensaries. The Arkansas Department of Health would provide program oversight, funded completely by taxes imposed on the medical marijuana.
People who have obtained a written recommendation from a physician and received a license from the state Department of Health can purchase from a licensed “cannabis care center.” Individuals who reside more than 20 miles from a cannabis care center could apply for a “hardship cultivation” certificate that would allow them to grow up to 10 plants.
Signatures for the second measure, the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, are being verified by the Secretary of State. This proposed constitutional amendment would allow up to eight grow facilities and up to 40 for-profit dispensaries statewide, which would be awarded by an independent commission. Home growing is not allowed.
Amendment 2: Under the proposal, the state Department of Health would register and regulate dispensaries as well as issue ID cards to patients and caregivers. Individuals with medical conditions such as HIV/AIDS, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, PTSD and Crohn’s would have to receive approval from a licensed Florida physician to be eligible for medical marijuana.
The amendment requires parental consent for minors.
A successful constitutional amendment in Florida requires the approval of at least 60 percent of voters to pass. Two years ago, a medical marijuana measure also on the ballot as Amendment 2 fell just 2.4 percent shy of that threshold.
Some Floridians suffering from cancer and epilepsy are allowed to possess low-THC cannabis oils containing cannabidiol (CBD), but the use of medical marijuana currently does not extend much further beyond that.
Ballot Issue 24 (I-182): The state program, approved by voters in 2004, has been in flux this year amid a court battle. In February, the Montana Supreme Court upheld 2011 state laws limiting medical marijuana providers to three patients apiece; the law will go into effect Aug. 31.
Initiative 182 was filed as a means of expanding legal access to medical marijuana. The proposed initiative would repeal the three-patient limit and other requirements such as unannounced inspections and required reviews for physicians who provide certifications. The qualifying conditions under this initiative would include chronic pain and PTSD.
I-182 could see some company on this year’s Montana ballot. Two other initiatives — one to repeal the medical marijuana law entirely and the other to allow for recreational sales — are awaiting confirmation of signatures. Keep reading for more info on those.