A night that was certain to be historic lived up to its billing. Many of the races were nail-biters and kept cannabis pundits and writers up into the wee hours of the morning. But in the end, the forces behind cannabis legalization were clearly victorious.
Here’s a rundown of all the big events on marijuana law reform’s historic night:
Proposition 64’s victory was called soon after the polls closed in CA by the Associated Press, but other outlets soon followed in announcing the biggest marijuana law reform victory of the night.
“This is the most important moment in the history of the marijuana legalization movement,” Tom Angell, founder of pro-legalization group Marijuana Majority, told The Marijuana Times. “California is the sixth-largest economy in the world and is hugely culturally influential. Most importantly, this vote will dramatically accelerate the end of federal marijuana prohibition.
“California alone has just added 53 more U.S. House members to the list of federal lawmakers who represent places where marijuana is legal. Last year we came only nine votes shy of winning an amendment to stop federal interference with state marijuana laws. Do the math.
“With California’s huge vote and other results tonight, our movement is in perfect position to increase our already strong momentum. Both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton have repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws. And in an interview last week, President Obama said federal marijuana prohibition would be ‘untenable’ if California legalized marijuana. He was right, and it’s time for Congress to get to work passing legislation to get the DEA out of the way of full and effective implementation of these state laws.”
“With its carefully crafted provisions for helping to heal the damage caused by the war on marijuana to poor communities and people of color, Prop 64 represents the new gold standard for how to legalize marijuana responsibly,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “This not only protects youth from accessing marijuana products, it also protects them from being harmed by the criminal justice system. Young people can no longer be arrested for marijuana offenses, which data consistently show us is a primary gateway to the criminal justice system. And with hundreds of thousands of residents eligible to have their records cleared, Prop 64 is a major victory for Californians who care about justice.”
The vote on Maine’s Question 1 was a close one all night, at one point closing to a gap of about 7,000 as the votes came in. The gap never really got above 15,000 votes and was at about 10,000 when the Bangor Daily News called the race.
“With Maine and Massachusetts both joining California and Nevada in voting to legalize marijuana tonight, it’s clear that voters from coast to coast are ready to replace failed marijuana criminalization policies with effective regulation,” said Tom Angell.
“The impact of Maine’s decision won’t be limited to its own borders. Lawmakers elsewhere in New England and other parts of the country are ready to move ahead, and now they have a reason to move a lot more quickly. Maine voters just gave their state a leg up on reaping the job creation and tax revenue benefits of an emerging new industry that will soon spread throughout the region.”
Question 4 jumped out to an early lead in the vote counting and never looked back. Despite some formidable opposition, it passed with more than 53% of the vote.
“Western states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Massachusetts powerfully demonstrates that this movement is now bicoastal and soon to be national,” said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Indeed, I’d wager that the next states to legalize marijuana will also be in the Northeast – and they’ll be the first in the country to do so through the legislature rather than the ballot box.”
Of all the state marijuana measures on ballots Tuesday night, Proposition 205 in Arizona performed the worst. It struggled all night as the vote counts were announcing, failing to get to 48% approval.
“It looks like it will be at least another two or four years until the existing recreational marijuana market in Arizona is brought above ground where it can be regulated and taxed,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority about the results in Arizona. “That’s unfortunate for the state, but it doesn’t change the fact that the clear trend nationally is toward legalization and away from prohibition.”
In a night of historic victories, Prop. 205 in Arizona stands as the lone dark mark that will send activists there back to the drawing board.
Question 2 in Nevada passed quite easily, probably more easily than many predicted, with over 53% of voters saying ‘yes’ to recreational marijuana legalization in the state. This was an outcome a certain casino magnate probably didn’t like at all.
“Despite scare tactics funded by Sheldon Adelson and other casino interests, Nevadans just took a strong stand for smart marijuana policy,” Tom Angell told us. “The state now stands to create jobs and generate millions in tax revenue by bringing the existing market for cannabis above ground.
“Although Adelson’s money was enough to flip longstanding legalization support by the Las Vegas Review-Journal editorial board, he just couldn’t buy the votes of Nevadans who are eager to move beyond decades of failed prohibition policies.
“It’s also important to point out that legal marijuana seems likely to get more votes than either candidate in the presidential and U.S. Senate races. With California also voting for legalization, a huge chunk of the Western U.S. is now legal marijuana territory. And Massachusetts has brought legalization to the East Coast. It’s clearly time for federal law to change.”
“We are thrilled that the people of Nevada have put an end to the failed policy of marijuana prohibition,” said Joe Brezny, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “Marijuana consumers in Nevada will no longer be subject to state-imposed penalties for merely enjoying a substance less harmful than alcohol. Instead of chasing marijuana users, members of law enforcement will now be able to spend their time preventing and investigating serious crimes that actually harm people. As we move forward, we look forward to working with legislators and regulators to ensure that this system is regulated in a manner that benefits consumers and enhances public health.”
“It’s great to see that the power and money of Sheldon Adelson were not sufficient to dissuade Nevadans from doing the right thing,” said Ethan Nadelmann of the Nevada result.
Florida’s Amendment 2 came out of the gate strong early in the night and never lost its substantial lead as vote totals came in. The Amendment needed 60% of the vote to pass and it cleared that hurdle with ease, garnering 71% of the vote.
“This is a major tipping point. With Florida’s decision, a majority of states in the U.S. now have laws allowing patients to find relief with medical marijuana, and these protections and programs are no longer concentrated in certain regions of the country like the West and Northeast,” Tom Angell said.
“It looks like medical cannabis will get more votes tonight than whoever ends up winning the presidential and U.S. Senate races, and that shows just how mainstream this issue has become. The next president and the new Congress need to get to work right away in 2017 on modernizing federal law so medical cannabis patients and the businesses that serve them in a growing number of states don’t have to worry that the DEA could knock down their doors at any minute.”
“Better late than never,” said Ethan Nadelmann from the Drug Policy Alliance. “Most states outside the South already have legal medical marijuana, but the overwhelming victory today in Florida is likely to accelerate the momentum for reform throughout the region.
“The victory this time around proves that you can’t keep a good cause down. In fact, I’d wager that more than half of all Floridians now support legalizing marijuana for all adults. It’s just a matter of time before that’s ripe for a new ballot initiative.”
Initiative 6 was close for most of the night, but finally squeezed out a victory with a little over 53% of the vote. “With Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota voters all choosing to allow medical marijuana tonight, the federal government will feel greatly increased pressure to reschedule cannabis and finally acknowledge that this plant has medicinal value,” Tom Angell said.
“Despite intra-movement divisions as well as confusion and vote-splitting caused by two separate measures appearing on the ballot, Arkansans were able to unite tonight and deliver a clear victory for patients who can benefit from medical marijuana.
“Arkansas voters just brought medical cannabis to the South. From here on it will be much easier to get other states on board, particularly Missouri and Oklahoma, both of which are expected to vote on medical marijuana in coming election cycles.”
Voters in North Dakota approved medical marijuana by a wide margin, with well over 63% of voters deciding in favor.
“More than half the states in the country now have medical marijuana laws, thanks to the decisions tonight by North Dakota voters and those in Florida,” Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority told us. “To be candid, very few people in our movement expected this result, and it happened with almost no coordination or major assistance from national organizations.
“The fact that North Dakotans approved medical cannabis with an effort that was largely off the radar of most political operatives shows that truly any state could be the next to change its marijuana laws. Marijuana is medicine, and now North Dakotans will be able to utilize it without fear of being sent to jail.”
Montana is a state that already has a medical marijuana program, but one that has been decimated in recent years by the state legislature. Tuesday night voters decided to restore many of the rights that patients in Montana had taken away over the last 45 years, approving a repeal of the three-patient per caregiver limit with over 56% of the vote.
From Tom Angell: “This win happened because Montanans have seen medical marijuana in action for years, and they know it works. Hopefully the politicians who foolishly tried to eliminate the medical cannabis providers that serve so many patients will hear the message voters just sent. Marijuana law reform is sweeping the country, no matter how hard our opponents have tried to roll back our gains.”
An incredible night to be sure, exhilarating and exhausting. Now the cannabis law reform movement looks to the future with more momentum than ever to reach the ultimate goal of ending marijuana prohibition nationwide.
“This is the most momentous Election Day in history for the movement to end marijuana prohibition,” Rob Kampia, Executive Director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “From Los Angeles to Boston, voters are casting their ballots in favor of sensible marijuana policy reforms. Today’s results are right in line with national polls showing record-high support for making marijuana legal.
“These votes send a clear message to federal officials that it’s time to stop arresting and incarcerating marijuana users. Congress must take action to ease the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. Once this new batch of state laws takes effect over the next couple of months, marijuana will be legal in more than half a dozen states, and we expect several more to follow during the 2017-2018 legislative and election cycles. The end of prohibition is near, and it would be a mistake for the federal government to continue waging war on its own nonviolent citizens. How do you ask a DEA agent to be the last man to enforce a mistake?
“Most voters do not think otherwise law-abiding citizens should be criminalized for using a product that is much safer than alcohol. They want marijuana to be sold inside regulated, tax-paying businesses, not on the streets, where sales enrich cartels and drug dealers. There is a general consensus that law enforcement should be fighting serious crimes rather than enforcing failed and deeply unpopular policies.”
It’s worth noting that there could be some people in a future Trump Administration that are hostile to marijuana legalization. Is that a fight President-elect Trump would want to take on? Much remains to be seen when power changes hands at the White House in January.
“President-Elect Trump has clearly and repeatedly pledged to respect state marijuana laws, and we fully expect him to follow through on those promises, not only because it is the right thing to do but also because these reforms are broadly supported by a growing majority of voters,” Tom Angell reassured us. “Reversing course and going against the tide of history would present huge political problems that the new administration does not need.”
The tide of history is certainly with those who want to see an end to marijuana prohibition. Last night proved that without a doubt.