Voters in Five States Approve Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

Today, 1 in 3 Americans live in a state where some form of marijuana use is legal – whether recreationally or medicinally. Up until Election Day, recreational marijuana was permitted in just 11 states and Washington, D.C., with the total number of states allowing legal medical marijuana use sitting at 33. On November 4, several ballot measures passed to legalize marijuana in five states: Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana and Mississippi. This brings the number of states to legalize recreational marijuana up to 15, and the total number of states allowing legal medical marijuana to 35. But despite the passing of ballot measures and change in marijuana laws, cannabis remains a Schedule 1 drug and illegal at the federal level. So what does this mean for each state? Here’s the breakdown.

Arizona had already approved marijuana for medical purposes. But on November 4, the passing of Proposition 207 expanded legislation to permit the recreational and other nonmedical use of marijuana. The legislation charges the Arizona Department of Health Services with licensing and regulating marijuana businesses and imposes a 16% tax on sales. However, local governments are allowed to ban marijuana businesses within their borders. It also lets people with marijuana-related criminal records petition for expungement. According to Vox Media, supporters of the new legalization claim that it eliminates the harms of marijuana prohibition. The new law goes into effect November 30 once the vote tally is officially announced. However, dispensaries will not be able to legally sell recreational marijuana until they get licensed sometime around March 2021.

New Jersey voters passed the Marijuana Legalization Amendment (2020) that legalizes the recreational use of non-hemp cannabis for persons age 21 and over. It also permits possession, cultivation and sales of retail non-hemp cannabis. According to an article in Real Money, the legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey could create a wave of legalization in the Northeast, with New York, Connecticut and Pennsylvania. The amendment is scheduled to go into effect on Jan. 21, 2021.

South Dakota became the first state whose voters, in the same election, approved to pass the use of both recreational and medical cannabis. Under the measure, individuals 21 years old and older are allowed to possess or distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. According to the South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, the measure was aimed at reforming South Dakota’s harmful and outdated marijuana policies. The amendment requires the South Dakota State Legislature to pass laws providing for a program for medical marijuana and the sale of hemp by April 1, 2022.

Montana also had two marijuana initiatives up for a vote, 190 and 118. The win of Initiative 190 allowed Montana to become the 15th state to legalize marijuana for recreational use and to impose a 20% tax on recreational cannabis sales. It would also allow people currently serving sentences for certain cannabis-related acts to apply for resentencing or records expungement. Initiative 118 amended Montana’s constitution to establish 21 as the legal age to purchase, possess and consume cannabis. The measure will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2021, and the Montana Department of Revenue must begin to accept applications from growers, processors and retailers by Jan. 1, 2022.

Mississippi voters had a two-part ballot measure this election — Initiatives 65 and 65A — of which 65 passed with a 74% majority. Initiative 65 supports the approval of medical marijuana and allows doctors to prescribe it to patients as a treatment for more than 20 debilitating conditions. Had it passed, Initiative 65A would have supported the approval of the legislature’s alternative medical marijuana amendment, which restricts the use of marijuana except for terminally ill patients, along with other restrictions set by the legislature. Voters were asked to vote in support of either 65 or 65A or neither. Since 65 received the majority approval (40%) of the ballots cast, it passed. Initiative 65 will require a medical marijuana program be in place by August 2021.


According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, more than half of U.S. states have legalized some form of medical or recreational marijuana. But because cannabis is considered an illegal substance under the Controlled Substances Act, there will continue to be a division between state and federal status that will challenge businesses as they look to standardize business practices. As an insurance professional, your business clients will be looking to you to provide them with the information they need to make informed decisions about their coverage.

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Other sources used: The Wall Street Journal, CNN Politics.

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