Examining Critical State Cannabis Ballot Measures Ahead of the 2020 Election
By Nick Etten, VP of Government Affairs, Acreage Holdings
With the 2020 election now only two months away, many cannabis advocates have their eyes on the presidential and Congressional races to signal further progress in the legalization movement.
Outside of those federal elections, there are a number of state ballot measures to legalize forms of medical or adult-use sales. In this cycle alone, New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and Montana will all be voting on legalization of adult-use cannabis, while Nebraska and Mississippi will be holding a referendum on medical sales.
Today, we want to take a look at two of these ballot measures, New Jersey and Arizona, and discuss the impact they could have beyond their own state borders.
After attempting and failing to legalize cannabis via the state legislature over the past two years, New Jersey has decided to put cannabis legalization directly in the hands of voters. While adult-use legalization would bring a profound shift in cannabis access in the Garden State, it could trigger an even larger shift for the entire Northeast.
New Jersey finally ripping off the band-aid of legalizing recreational cannabis will put an immense amount of pressure on neighboring states New York, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut to do the same.
New Jersey’s multiple attempts to legalize adult-use cannabis have been mirrored by New York. New York’s state government, led by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, has resolved to legalize adult-use cannabis, but has stalled in hammering out the details. In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf has inched closer and closer to recreational cannabis, while greatly expanding his state’s medical program into one of the fastest growing in the country.
The sheer amount of commuting and travel between New Jersey and the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas creates major incentive for New York and Pennsylvania to quickly legalize and not miss out on major tax revenues to New Jersey.
Gov. Cuomo has already said as much via his October 2019 Regional Cannabis Regulation Summit, which he co-hosted with Governors Phil Murphy (NJ), Ned Lamont (CT) and Tom Wolf (PA).
Arizona has flirted with adult-use cannabis sales in previous election cycles, but this year the state seems poised to legalize it via ballot measure. Providing access to legal and safe adult-use cannabis to the state’s population of 7.2 million people is notable, but its impact extends beyond that to a national scale.
While a Democrat-led House of Representatives has stepped up for cannabis reform in a big way, the more conservative U.S. Senate has lagged far behind. The SAFE Banking Act, for example, passed the House with overwhelming bi-partisan support but stalled in the Senate and has yet to even see a vote, and we expect the same to happen with the broader reaching MORE Act later this month.
The legalization of adult-use cannabis in Arizona has the potential to change that. Arizona is a historically conservative state that usually sends two Republican senators to Congress. By legalizing recreational cannabis in the state, those Senators now have a vested interest in the industry. Their state will be receiving much needed tax revenue from cannabis sales and their constituents sending them to the Senate every six years will expect them to pursue reform. If they go against the will of the people, they will risk losing their seats.
“The legalization of adult-use cannabis in Arizona has the potential to change that. As a historically conservative state that usually sends two Republican senators to Congress. By legalizing recreational cannabis in the state, those Senators now have a vested interest in the industry.”
All of a sudden, with potentially two more conservative Senators on the side of the cannabis movement, that represents a major shift for the cannabis movement in Congress.
To conclude, while many throughout the country are pinning their hopes on a Biden presidency to advance the cause of cannabis legalization, it is important to not overlook the power that state referendums have to shift the balance of power. It was only eight years ago that Colorado and Washington become the first two states to vote in favor of legalizing adult use cannabis, and that set off a domino effect that has led to a wave of legalization throughout the country. New Jersey and Arizona represent a similar catalyst that can lead the legalization movement to even greater heights.