Since 2012, statewide elections every two years have provided legal cannabis with huge wins across the nation. The 2018 midterm election was no exception.
Across America, four big statewide ballot initiatives for legal or medical cannabis dominated the conversation, while plenty was on the line for state and federal cannabis policy through races for congressional seats and governor’s mansions.
Here is a breakdown of last night’s election results and the biggest wins and losses for the cannabis cause.
Win: Michigan Legalizes Adult-Use Cannabis
The biggest win of the day was for sure Michigan’s Proposal 1. Local media called the race early in the night, declaring that the Michigan effort to legalize marijuana for adults over the age of 21 was successful. Michigan is now the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes.
“This is yet another historic election for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. Voters have once again sent a message loud and clear that it is time to legalize and regulate marijuana,” Marijuana Policy Project Executive Director Steve Hawkins said in a statement. “The victory in Michigan highlights just how widespread support is for marijuana policy reform. This issue does not only enjoy strong support on the coasts, but also in the Midwest and all throughout the country.”
Hawkins went on to note the bigger picture of Tuesday night’s results in Michigan, stating that cannabis has now been legalized for adult use in one out of every five states, which he said should inspire Congress to change federal cannabis policy.
Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, noted that Michigan changes the conversation around cannabis legalization, which typically has been isolated on the West Coast and Northeast.
Western and northeastern states have led the way on legalizing marijuana, but the victory in Michigan powerfully demonstrates the national reach of this movement,” said McFarland Sánchez-Moreno. “With such overwhelming public support for marijuana legalization, even including majorities of Republicans and older Americans, there’s only so long that the federal government can continue to hold out.”
Loss: North Dakota Rejects Adult-Use Cannabis
North Dakota’s Measure 3, which would have legalized adult-use cannabis in the state, looked to be in rough shape as soon as the numbers started coming in. Down the whole night, it was called with 80 percent of the vote in and over 60 percent of North Dakota voters rejecting the legalization plan.
David Jones of Legalize ND took to North Dakota’s local radio as the numbers came in against the effort.
“I think the greatest thing about this measure is that we didn’t rely on out-of-state money,” Jones said of the losing effort. “We were a grassroots organization with grassroots support. It was done by North Dakotans, for North Dakotans, and we’ll see how they decide.”
The main opponent of the bill was Bob Wefald, chairman of North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, who said he would support legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana in the upcoming legislative session.
Win: Missouri Passes Amendment for Medical Cannabis
Missouri had three different competing medical marijuana proposals on the ballot. Only one amendment prevailed, Amendment 2, which includes a 4 percent tax on cannabis that would see all proceeds go to health care services for veterans. The amendment won out over Proposition C’s 2 percent tax rate and Amendment 3’s 15 percent tax rate.
“This is a patient-centered proposal that puts power in the hands of state-licensed physicians and their patients, not politicians or bureaucrats,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “Passage of Amendment 2 creates a robust statewide system for production and sale of medical cannabis. Of the three proposals on the ballot, we believed that Amendment 2 was the clear choice for voters, and the voters agreed.”
Win: Utah Passes Medical Cannabis Bill, Proposition 2
While Prop 2 passed in Utah last night, the stakeholders had already come together before the election. Now, activists will be on even better footing as they attempt to find common ground with Utah lawmakers and the Church of Latter-Day Saints in bringing safe access to Utah patients. The vote will expand Utah’s recently approved program that would have provided limited access only to the terminally ill when products eventually become available.
Win: Florida Restores Voting Rights to Non-Violent Felons
The success of Amendment 4 in Florida changes the state constitution to restore voting privileges to those with non-violent felony convictions. Many of those impacted by this law will be cannabis consumers as, under Florida law, first-time possession of marijuana in amounts greater than 20 grams is classified under state law as a felony offense. That’s less than three-quarters of an ounce. NORML noted the only one other state, Arizona, classifies minor marijuana offenses so punitively. It’s believed 1.5 million Florida residents had their right to vote restored on Tuesday.
Commenting on the vote result, NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano said: “Florida is a national leader in annual marijuana arrests. In many cases, those arrested are charged with felony offenses for simple possession. Passage of Amendment 4 restores voting privileges to those tens of thousands of Floridians who have been stigmatized by a felony marijuana conviction, and makes it clear that the collateral consequences of a non-violent drug possession conviction should not forever bar one from participating in the democratic process.”
Win: Prohibitionist Pete Sessions Loses His House Seat
The biggest event in the House was that Rep. Pete Sessions lost his seat. Sessions worked prolifically to block every piece or marijuana legislation that came across his path from making it to the House floor. His departure from Congress is a major win for activists on Capitol Hill pushing various federal reforms.
“Representative Pete Sessions was the single greatest impediment in the U.S. House to the passage of common-sense, voter-supported marijuana law reform measures,” NORML Political Director Justin Strekal said. “His departure opens the door for the possibility of House lawmakers in 2019 enacting a number of significant, NORML-endorsed policy changes.”
Up-in-the-Air: Cannabis Ally Dana Rohrabacher Likely Unseated
Cannabis appears to have lost its oldest ally in Congress, as it appears that longtime California congressman Dana Rohrabacher has lost his seat in his Southern California district on the border of true Republican SoCal. While the race has yet to be officially called and Rep. Rohrabacher has not yet conceded his seat, he is currently trailing by 2,682 votes with 100 percent of precincts reporting.
Over the last couple years, Rohrabacher’s longtime Moscow connections were a cloud over the decade of work he had done to prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to go after state legal and compliant medical marijuana providers.
Gubernatorial races around the country featured more candidates voicing their support of marijuana reform than ever before. While many of the Democrats who took a pro-pot stance in their attempt to reach the pinnacle of state government failed, there were plenty of success stories too.
Win: Pro-Cannabis Jared Polis Secures Colorado Governorship
One of the marijuana industry’s greatest defenders in the halls of Congress, former Rep. Jared Polis, will move over to the governor’s office in Colorado. In the past, Polis has championed banking access for the industry and was among the first to lash out at the threat of crackdowns by Attorney General Jeff Sessions. In addition to possibly being the best governor on pot in America, Polis is also the first openly gay governor in America.
Win: Cannabis Ally Gavin Newson Earns California’s Governor Seat
In California, long-time cannabis reformer Gavin Newsom is now the governor of the most populous state in the union. Since his earliest entry into the political arena locally in San Francisco, Newsom has been pro-reform of cannabis laws. Most recently, he led California’s blue-ribbon commission on marijuana legalization prior to the Adult Use of Marijuana Act being filed. Newsom was the most visible politician in the state supporting the cannabis legalization effort in 2016 when he served as Lieutenant Governor.
Win: Illinois’ New Governor J.B. Pritzker Has Vowed to Fully Legalize Marijuana
In Illinois, the state has a new Democrat governor, J.B. Pritzker, who committed to fully legalizing marijuana back when he was on the primary trail. However, the Chicago Sun-Times says Pritzker’s plan will likely require more political wrangling and will face stiffer opposition than those cannabis measures the state has already passed, which legalized industrial hemp and gave students and opioid patients access to medical pot.
Win: New Mexico’s New Governor Is a Cannabis Champion
Advocates had a big horse in the race for New Mexico’s next governor, and the folks at the Drug Policy Alliance are saying Governor-elect Michelle Lujan Grisham is a real path forward for legalization. She may very well end up being the second governor in the country to oversee the legalization of cannabis via an act of the legislature.
“Marijuana legalization has a good chance of becoming a reality in New Mexico in the coming years with our new governor and a more supportive legislature,” said the DPA’s Emily Kaltenbach in a statement. “Michelle Lujan Grisham will move drug policy reform forward in New Mexico — reform that has been stalled for the last eight years during the Martinez administration.”
Win: Minnesota’s New Governor Campaigned on Legalization
Former Congressman Tim Walz is Minnesota’s new governor. In the earlier going of the campaign last year, Walz said he supported creating a system of smart and enforceable regulation of marijuana sales, sales which would provide new opportunities for agriculture in the state and benefit Minnesota’s economy.
“This system would include investments in youth education, proper testing of all marijuana products, and a regulatory structure that puts controls on growing, distribution and sales,” Walz told the Southern Minnesota News last fall. “We have an opportunity in Minnesota to replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
Win: Maine’s Anti-Pot Gov. LePage Is Unseated
On Tuesday, Democrat Janet Mills won in Maine. The former Attorney General may not be waving the green flag, but she’s definitely a step up from the state’s previous governor, Paul LePage. LePage did everything in his power to prevent the ball moving forward on legal marijuana sales as approved by voters. Mills has committed to allowing that process to begin.
Win: Michigan’s Governor Approves of Legalization
Democrat Gretchen Whitmer won in Michigan after she came out strong in favor of cannabis legalization. The subject of legalization was a dividing topic in Michigan’s gubernatorial election, but Whitmer ended up winning by a commanding 10 percent.
Slight Win: Phil Scott Retains Seat in Vermont
Vermont’s Phil Scott was the lone pro-cannabis Republican governor on a ballot anywhere in America. After becoming the first governor in America to legalize cannabis via the power of the pen, Scott won by 15 percent. It’s worth noting, however, that it took time for Scott to come around and embrace the cannabis cause, as he vetoed Vermont’s legalization bill in 2017 and has been resistant to setting up a regulated market.
Loss: Anti-Pot Charlie Baker Wins in Massachusetts
Unfortunately, Gov. Charlie Baker retained his governorship in Massachusetts. He hates pot and was the main spokesman against the 2016 effort to legalize marijuana. Many people point to his administration as the reason you still can’t buy a bag of weed in the state two years after legalization, in a place that already had dispensaries.
Win: 5 Ohio Cities Decriminalize Marijuana
Five different Ohio cities voted to decriminalize marijuana Tuesday night. This included the major population center of Dayton, the sixth largest city in the state. A popular theme in the races was winning big. The decriminalization measure took home the win with 65 percent of the vote in Dayton, and a massive 71 percent in the smaller community of Norwood.
Symbolic Win: Wisconsin Passes Non-Binding Support of Legalization
One of the things a lot of people were keeping their eyes during the 2018 midterms was a series of non-binding ballot questions in Wisconsin. The big takeaway was everyone in the state seems down with cannabis legalization, whether it be recreational or medical — especially in Milwaukee, where 70 percent of voters were in favor of a non-binding ballot resolution on recreational cannabis. Milwaukee is twice as large as Wisconsin’s second largest city Madison. That urban voter base is going to play a massive role in passing marijuana legislation should Wisconsin lawmakers toss the ball back their way for legalization. Wisconsin doesn’t have a system for statewide referendums, so only the legislature can put items on the ballot, like a constitutional change lo legalize marijuana if they wanted.
Win: Massachusetts City Refuses to Ban Legal Marijuana
While the state of Massachusetts has already legalized cannabis, municipalities still have the authority to ban the plant within their borders. On Tuesday, the city of Newton, Massachusetts rejected a pair of ballot questions that would have limited access to legal marijuana in their community. Newton voters not only rejected a plan to outright ban marijuana storefronts in town, but also rejected a plan to limit their number.
Neutral: California Municipalities Pass New Cannabis Taxes
California saw lots of cannabis votes at the local level, be it regulations or putting champions of the cause into office. San Francisco voters approved Prop D, adding a new 1-5 percent tax on pot businesses after the first $500,000 they gross annually. The rate will depend on the size of the business.
In San Bernardino County, there were numerous municipalities trying to get in on pot taxes. Businesses in Adelanto looked to be the big winners in America’s largest county, as those based in the former prison town are only getting hit with a tax of $5 per square foot and 5 percent of gross sales. In Colton, the new tax will run $25 a foot on the space, and then up to a 10 percent tax on gross sales. Not a tough decision for perspective businesses.
TELL US, what do you think is the biggest win for cannabis from the 2018 elections?