Voters in all five states with marijuana legalization on the ballot this November approved the measures, CNN projects.
Montana has voted to both establish 21 as the legal age to purchase, possess and consume cannabis by constitutional amendment and to legalize marijuana for recreational use, CNN projects.
Arizona and New Jersey also voted to legalize recreational marijuana, while South Dakota approved legalization for both recreational and medical use, CNN projects. South Dakota will be the first state ever to approve medical and recreational marijuana measures at the same time.
Mississippi has voted to legalize medical marijuana, becoming one of the first Southern states to do so.
Pre-election polling showed that the ballot initiatives had support in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey.
The initiatives would only be the first step in the process, said John Hudak, deputy director at the Brookings Institution, where he specializes in state and federal marijuana policy.
After voters approve the measures, he said, the state legislatures normally would need to set up regulatory structures within each state.
New Jersey navigates mail-in ballots
In New Jersey, where medical use already is legal, state lawmakers, unable to drum up enough support to pass a bill to fully legalize marijuana, agreed to place the question directly to voters: “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called ‘cannabis’?”
Public Question No. 1 will amend the state constitution to legalize cannabis for personal, non-medical use by adults 21 and older. The state commission that oversees the medical market will also regulate the personal market.
Gregg Edwards, executive director of Don’t Let NJ Go to Pot – the group formed in opposition to the ballot question – called the move to change the state’s constitution “pretty extreme.”
“Now cannabis is going to appear in the New Jersey Constitution alongside the freedom to associate,” he said. “And once it’s in the Constitution, the likelihood of it coming out is slim or next to none.”
Edwards said that normally, he would have spoken with parent-teacher organizations and local chambers of commerce to build support for the opposition effort, but because of Covid this year this year “they just haven’t been available to us.”
“We would have liked to spend the spring, summer and fall talking to folks,” he said. “It’s just been next to impossible.”
The push to legalize enjoyed a healthy lead in the polls.
But organizers – facing the challenges of expanded mail-in voting in the state due to Covid-19 – said they had to help voters, some new to the mail-in-ballot process, find the question on the ballot itself. Depending on the county, it was likely on the backside of the ballot.
“We have to drill down on making sure people know they have to flip the ballot over,” said Tara Martin, with NJ CAN 2020, which is leading the campaign in support of the ballot question.
South Dakota ‘leapfrogs’
South Dakota had two measures on the ballot:
By approving both measures, according to CNN’s projections, South Dakota successfully leapfrogged a traditionally multi-step process.
Many states have followed a multi-year path toward full legalization, starting with decriminalization, followed by medical use and then full legalization. No other state has ever completed multiple steps at once.
South Dakota currently has tough penalties for possession of even small amounts of cannabis.
Republican Gov. Kristi Noem opposed both b