In This Election, Voters United Behind Pot Legalization

By R. Scott Rappold
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD

Nov. 10, 2016 --Americans may not have agreed on much this election, but they were united around one issue: marijuana legalization.

Voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada approved recreational marijuana. In Maine, a vote to legalize recreational marijuana appears to have narrowly passed. Voters in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota supported medical marijuana. Only in Arizona did voters reject marijuana in 2016.

"Most voters do not think otherwise law-abiding citizens should be criminalized for using a product that is much safer than alcohol," says Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "They want marijuana to be sold inside regulated, taxpaying businesses, not on the streets, where sales enrich cartels and drug dealers. There is a consensus that law enforcement should be fighting serious crimes rather than enforcing failed and deeply unpopular policies."

The states that legalized recreational marijuana join Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, and Washington in allowing adults to use it.

In California, which with 38 million people will soon become the largest legal marijuana market in the U.S., legalization passed with 56% of the vote. That state already has a robust medical marijuana industry, but Proposition 64 allows anyone 21 and older to possess up to an ounce and to grow up to six plants. It takes effect immediately, though for now there's nowhere to legally buy it. The state has until Jan. 1, 2018, to begin issuing licenses for recreational stores.

In neighboring Nevada, a near-identical ballot measure passed with 54% of the vote. Decriminalization takes effect on Jan. 1, 2017, and the state will begin licensing recreational stores the following year.

Elsewhere, recreational marijuana scored its first major victories east of the Rockies. In Maine, unofficial results indicated 50.5% of voters approved legalization. The vote wasn't as close in Massachusetts, where 53.6% supported legalization. Neither state plans to allow marijuana stores to open anytime soon, but adults in Maine can now possess up to 2.5 ounces and have six plants in their home, while adults in Massachusetts can have 1 ounce on their person, 10 ounces at home, and six plants for personal use.

The only defeat at the polls for marijuana came in Arizona, where 52% of voters disapproved of a measure that would have allowed adults to possess an ounce and grow six plants, and would have eventually established marijuana stores.

Meanwhile, medical marijuana is now legal in some form in 28 states after Tuesday's election. In Florida, 71% of voters supported a measure to allow people with cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, and other conditions to buy and possess marijuana if recommended by a doctor. A similar measure failed two years ago.

In Arkansas, 53% of voters approved medical marijuana for a number of medical conditions -- a measure that had failed at the polls in the past. With a doctor's recommendation, patients can buy marijuana at dispensaries but not grow their own. North Dakota voters also approved medical marijuana by a 64-36 ratio. Patients with a debilitating medical condition and a doctor's recommendation will be able to purchase marijuana from state-regulated stores or, if no store is near their homes, grow their own.

In Montana, 56% of voters said "yes" to a measure expanding patient access to marijuana. It repeals an act of the state Legislature that limited medical marijuana providers to three patients, a controversial move that left most patients without a provider. The ballot measure also adds post-traumatic stress disorder to the list of qualified medical conditions.

In Colorado, where the tide of legalization began in 2012, marijuana was also on the ballot in places. Pueblo County voters were asked to ban recreational marijuana in a measure supported by residents who questioned the benefit of the industry to the public health of the community. The measure would have closed the county's 100 recreational marijuana businesses. Unofficial results show that 55.6% of voters said "no" to such a ban. A similar ban was voted down in the city of Pueblo.

The marijuana industry, which claims it has generated 1,300 jobs in the community along with millions in tax revenue, cheered the outcome.

"What is clear from the vote is that we have a public mandate to preserve jobs and grow an industry that has the ability to create desperately needed resources for our community to address projects and issues that require attention," said Jim Parco, a marijuana store owner and spokesman for the group Growing Pueblo's Future.

What's next for the industry in Pueblo? He says he wants to open the National Marijuana Museum there.


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SOURCES: News release, Marijuana Policy Project. WebMD feature, "Colorado Town Rethinks Legalized Marijuana." California secretary of state.Nevada secretary of state. Pueblo County Elections Department. maineelections. Arizona secretary of state. North Dakota secretary of state. North Dakota Compassionate Care 2016., "Marijuana wins big on election night.", "Californians vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana in the state.", "Nevada looks at life after possible marijuana legalization.", "Massachusetts Question 4 -- Legalize Marijuana -- Results: Approved.", "Voters in Massachusetts approve legalizing recreational marijuana.", "Medical marijuana amendment approved.", "Medical marijuana appears to pass in Arkansas.", "Montana passes measure to expand medical marijuana." Jim Parco, spokesman, Growing Pueblo's Future, via Facebook.

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