Compared to 2016, when Donald Trump won an upset presidential victory, four states voted to legalize the adult use of cannabis, and four more legalized medical use, 2017’s election season promises to be a much quieter affair.
In fact, this year’s most cannabis-relevant race may be the New Jersey governor’s race, which is notable for who isn’t running. That would be Gov. Chris Christie, the outspoken cannabis prohibitionist. The end of the Christie era could open the door for adult-use legalization via the state Legislature, which has been readying a measure for much of the past year.
Otherwise, most of this year’s cannabis-related politicking involves laying the groundwork for 2018, when at least a half-dozen medical and adult-use measures may go up for a vote.
As the season opens, here are the most interesting races so far:
Regulate Florida is circulating petitions to put an adult-use measure on the 2018 ballot. If successful, this measure would amend Florida’s constitution to end cannabis prohibition.
“Florida citizens have no other method for changing the laws besides a constitutional amendment,” Karen Seeb Goldstein, director of NORML Florida, told Leafly.
“This petition is partially a reaction to the poor implementation of Amendment 2 [a 2016 measure to legalize medical cannabis], but there’s more to it than that. The war on drugs is a failure. Prohibition just doesn’t work.”
A Quinnipiac poll taken last spring found that 56% of voters support legalizing recreational cannabis.
The Michigan Regulation & Taxation of Marijuana Law is spearheaded by the Michigan Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol (CRMLA).
“We surpassed the 200,000-signature mark last week, and, assuming all goes well [over Labor Day] weekend, we expect to be well on our way to 250,000 by next week,” Josh Hovey, CRMLA spokesperson, told Leafly.
That 250,000-signature estimate comes tantalizingly close to the total of 252,523 verified signatures organizers must submit by Nov 22, 2017. To be safe, the campaign hopes to collect at least 360,000 signatures before the November deadline.
“We have been thrilled to have nearly 60% of the public in support of legalizing cannabis in Michigan,” Hovey said. “But at the same time, this is far from a sure thing. There are big-money business interests that would love for us to fail, because they would rather see the law written in a way that allows them to monopolize the market.” His group’s initiative, he explained, is intentionally set up to benefit small businesses.
“There are also plenty of prohibitionists out there who will use Reefer Madness fear tactics to mislead the public,” Hovey said. “That’s why our coalition is working hard to raise the funds necessary to keep up our paid signature-collection effort to make the ballot and then run a professional, disciplined campaign that can win in November 2018.”
New Approach Missouri is actively gathering signatures to place a constitutional amendment on the 2018 ballot to permit medical cannabis in Missouri. Advocates have until May 6, 2018 to gather 160,199 verifiable signatures to qualify.
“We are circulating a petition for November of 2018 and currently have about 60,000 signatures, gathered by volunteers,” New Approach Missouri Campaign Manager John Payne told Leafly. “Our campaign got off to a great start with immense support from our volunteer base, and now we are about to shift signature collection into high gear by bringing in a professional signature-gathering company. Our current timeline calls for us to complete signature collection in January, well ahead of the May 6 deadline for signature submission.”
The most recent statewide medical cannabis poll, conducted in June 2016, showed support for medical cannabis in Missouri at 62%. Only 27% of respondents singled a no vote.
New Approach South Dakota is circulating petitions to place two marijuana-themed measures on next year’s ballot. One would legalize medical cannabis, while the other would permit recreational cannabis for adult use.
“Both measures require 13,871 (verified) signatures,” Melissa Mentele, who directs New Approach South Dakota, told Leafly. “I don’t have exact numbers, but we’re about two-thirds of the way there, roughly 6,000 signatures short for both of them, so South Dakota voters need to come out of the woodwork and sign my petition!”
Melissa Mentele, New Approach South Dakota
With a Nov. 8 deadline looming, advocates aren’t taking any chances. New Approach SD volunteers spent the past week “camping out” near the South Dakota State Fair in Huron, the group said. The fair was an organizing bonanza for both ballot measures.
“Our booth at the state fair is on point,” Mentele told Leafly. “We’re exhausted and we’re sunburned, but we’re all working really hard to reach our goal of 25,000 total signatures for both petitions.”
“I think that recreational, after what happened last time, honestly, this is going to be a hate vote,” Mentele said. Last year’s legalization measure was tossed from the ballot due to a clerical error. “So yeah, it’s gonna be a spite vote, and so far I’ve gotten a lot of spite signatures. Voters are mad, you have no idea!”
The Utah Patients Coalition is currently gathering signatures to place State Question 788 onto the 2018 ballot. Advocates need at least 113,143 verified signatures by April 15, 2018 to qualify.
Momentum for medical cannabis in Utah is strong, with 75% of Utah residents in favor of legalizing medical cannabis, according to a poll taken earlier this summer.
In addition to the ballot measures described above, there’s momentum in several state capitals to end prohibition through legislation. Thus far in America, the path to legalization has been at the ballot box—at least in terms of adult use. Bragging rights are due to whichever state legislature that ushers in legal markets first.
It may seem like the movie Groundhog Day in Vermont, where legalization has been on—and off—the table multiple times. “But it’s not Groundhog Day,” MPP’s Matt Simon told Leafly.
Matt Simon, Marijuana Policy Project
Simon, a keen observer of Vermont’s many, many ups and downs, said he’s “extremely confident” that Vermont will pass a limited legalization bill that permits home cultivation and possession.
“The votes are there,” he said. “In fact, the House has passed [a similar bill] before and the governor has agreed. If he backtracks now, that’s really a major flip-flop. That’s why I’m extremely optimistic progress will happen in January.”
What about the multiple misses in Vermont already? “Sometimes you gotta lose before it’s your time,” Simon said.
In a few months, Gov. Chris Christie will be gone. The most likely candidate to replace him is Democrat Phil Murphy, who’s been very vocal about drug reform while on the campaign trail. He says he’s motivated by both economics and social justice.
“By carefully watching what other states have already done, we can ensure a legalization and taxation program that learns from their experiences and which will work from the outset,” Murphy told Leafly. “But we must keep in mind this also is about social justice, and ending a failed prohibition that has served mainly to put countless people—predominantly young men of color—behind bars and behind a huge roadblock to their futures. New Jersey should choose to be a leader.”
Legislative leaders in Trenton are on board. State Sen. Nick Scutari chairs the state’s Senate Judiciary Committee. He’ll gavel in the first hearings on the topic. He’s also the prime sponsor of NJ’s cannabis legalization bill.
“In New Jersey, we now have a Democratic nominee, who I believe will be our next governor, who supports legalization,” Scutari told Leafly. “That’s why it is so important that we begin shaping our recreational marijuana program now, so that we are prepared to move forward with a program that ends the prohibition on marijuana and that treats our residents fairly and humanely. We’ve already done extensive research on how legal cannabis programs are faring in other states and are continuing the process of working on legislation to create the best recreational marijuana program for New Jersey.”
Delaware has flirted with legalization for a while now. Could 2018 be the year?
“Delaware took one step closer to legalization last week with the first meeting of the Adult Use Cannabis Task Force,” said Zoë Patchell of the Cannabis Bureau of Delaware.
The group’s job?
“To recommend a model of legalization that would best fit Delaware,” Patchell told Leafly. “The conversation for cannabis legalization has officially moved from an ‘if’ to a ‘how’, and we are confident that, with continued pressure, Delaware will legalize in 2018.”
What does Delaware’s new task force look like?
“Cyn Ferguson, John Sybert, and Tom Donovan [all of whom support cannabis reform] were appointed by the governor,” Patchell explained. “They represent cannabis advocates on this 25-member panel comprised mostly of various state agencies and stakeholders. The report is due Jan. 31, at the end of the first month Delaware’s legislative session reconvenes.”
Judging from the locals, it ain’t happening in Rhode Island—this year or next.
“Our laws will remain rooted in injustice and oppression in 2018,” Rhode Island legalization advocate Melissa Bouchard told Leafly. “Rhode Island won’t legalize cannabis until the small sector of hand-selected triple their money on their ‘medical’ dispensaries. Economies in neighboring states, like Massachusetts and Maine, will be supported by Rhode Island residents traveling across the border. Meanwhile, Rhode Island misses out on a huge opportunity by continuing to study this program. They are studying for a test they already failed.”
Mike Falade, another long-time New England cannabis reformer, offered a similarly dim forecast. “Rhode Island will legalize as soon as they figure out how to get ALL of the growers money and not just MOST of the growers money,” he said.