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Thursday, April 18, 2024 | Back issues
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Marijuana Wins Big on Election Day

(CN) - Supporters of marijuana legalization won major victories on Election Day, with California, Nevada and Massachusetts voting to approve recreational use of the plant.

Wins for medical marijuana initiatives in four other states also tipped the scale, making some form of cannabis use legal in more than half of U.S. states — even though it remains illegal under federal law.

Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML, which advocates for the reform of marijuana laws, has been working to get cannabis legalized in California for nearly 30 years.

"It was always my intent to get marijuana legal by my retirement," Gieringer said in an interview Wednesday morning. "I'll say the mission was accomplished."

Gieringer touted a generational shift in America as the reason some form of cannabis is now legal in 27 states. Older Americans who largely opposed the drug are dying off, Gieringer said, and younger generations tend to be more comfortable with the drug.

"People have been around it now for a couple of generations," he said. "They see it's even quasi-legal as we speak because of the medical dispensaries that have proliferated around here for years. People have seen the sky hasn't fallen."

In October, a Gallup poll found 60 percent of Americans support marijuana legalization, the highest level of support since Gallup started tracking the issue 47 years ago.

Before Election Day, 19 states had legalized medical marijuana and four states authorized recreational use of the drug.

Tuesday's vote makes medical cannabis legal in in 23 states, and recreational pot use legal in seven others.

States that voted to approve medical marijuana on Tuesday include Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota.

Arizona voted down a proposal to legalize recreational pot use with 52 percent opposing, according to the Associated Press. A margin of about 80,000 votes separated Arizonans for and against legalization as of Wednesday morning.

A proposal to legalize recreational pot use in Maine remained too close to call on Wednesday. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, approval had a slim 3,531-vote lead.

In California, 4.9 million voters, or 56 percent of the electorate, voted in favor of legalizing recreational pot use, according to the state's semiofficial election results.

Under California's new law, the nation's largest state in population and economy will transition locally licensed medical cannabis dispensaries into state-licensed businesses that sell pot for recreational use within the next few years.

California stands to gain more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue and save tens of millions in criminal justice costs, according to a state budget analysis.

However, opponents have not given up their fight to block further expansion of marijuana legalization.

Kevin Sabet, executive director of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalization measures, said he was feeling "optimistic" about efforts to stem the rising tide of marijuana legalization across the states.

"We won in Arizona," Sabet said. "The overarching lesson was that if we could raise enough money early, we can win. Arizona was the only state where we were toe-to-toe with the yes side, and it's the only state we started early in. In every other state, we were late and way outspent."

In places like California, Sabet said marijuana opponents will now take their fight to the local level. Under the state's newly approved Adult Use of Marijuana Act, local municipalities can still ban pot dispensaries from setting up shop in towns and counties.

Sabet said his group raised $1 million for a new Marijuana Accountability Project that will collect data on the impacts of marijuana legalization, empower municipalities to ban dispensaries and make sure "the industry pays for their damage."

On efforts to legalize marijuana on a federal level, Sabet said President-elect Donald Trump promised to be "a law-and-order president," and he thinks "all of the state legalization laws are up for discussion now."

However, Trump has made statements in recent months indicating he would not challenge state marijuana laws.

The president-elect told Fox News this past February that he is "a hundred percent" in favor of medical marijuana. However, in that same interview with Bill O'Reilly, Trump also called issues with the pot industry in Colorado "a real problem."

On Oct. 29, Trump told voters in Nevada that he thinks marijuana legalization should be "a state issue, state-by-state," according to the Washington Post.

Gieringer, of California NORML, said his group has been pushing for marijuana legalization on a federal level for decades to no avail. The presence of "rock rip social conservatives" chairing congressional committees has blocked marijuana reform bills from making it to committee hearings, he said.

"The only thing our side has been able to do is pass budget amendments that bypass the committees," Gieringer said. "I suspect there will be more budget amendments in the next congress denying the Department of Justice funding to bust marijuana."

Results of Marijuana State Ballot Measures:

Here are the results for state marijuana ballot initiatives as of Wednesday morning, according to the Associated Press and semiofficial election results reported by the states.

In Arizona, 52 percent of voters opposed recreational marijuana use, with 983,500 voting against the measure and 902,300 in favor.

In California, 56 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana use, with 4.9 million voting in favor and 3.8 million voting against the proposal.

In Maine, it was still too close to call with 373,359 voting in favor and 369,828 voting against. With 97 percent of precincts reporting, legalizing recreational use was winning by a slim margin of 3,531 votes.

In Massachusetts, 54 percent of voters approved recreational pot use, with 1.7 million voting in favor and 1.5 million opposing.

In Nevada, 56 percent of voters approved recreational marijuana use, with 602,400 voting in favor and 503,600 voting against.

In Arkansas, 53 percent of voters approved medical marijuana use, with 581,200 voting in favor and 511,977 opposing.

In Florida, 71 percent of voters approved medical marijuana use, with 6.49 million voting in favor and 2.6 million opposing.

In Montana, 57 percent of voters approved medical marijuana use, with 264,200 votes in favor and 199,400 opposing.

In North Dakota, 64 percent of voters approved medical marijuana use, with 215,200 voting in favor and 122,400 opposing.

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