Marijuana was on the ballot in nine states Tuesday, gaining sometimes-sweeping approval in all but one.
California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine all approved measures legalizing the recreational use of the Schedule I drug, while Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voted to allow cannabis for medical purposes only. Arizona was the lone holdout, with 52 percent of voters rejecting the recreational use legalization measure. Additionally, while Montana already had a medical marijuana law, voters decided to roll back restrictions on that law.
The recreational use of cannabis is now legal in eight states, which are home to almost a quarter of the nation’s overall population. Cannabis for medical use is now legal in 25 states and the District.
Activists are pointing to marijuana’s triumph in this election as a turning point for the drug, which is federally classified as Schedule I, indicative of the “most dangerous” label, alongside heroin and LSD. For one, California is the most populous state in the country; and Massachusetts puts the east coast on the board.
The Associated Press said, collectively, it was the closest the U.S. has ever come to a national referendum on marijuana. Under President Barack Obama, individual states have been afforded the opportunity to go forward with their own legalization measures, despite the ban on cannabis at the federal level. However, that could all change when President-Elect Donald Trump enters the office in January 2017. This could all quickly go south for marijuana activists depending who Trump appoints to his cabinet, as well as his own personal feelings on the drug. He has flip-flopped in the past, saying he supports state’s rights to choose, but also calling Colorado’s legal marijuana industry a problem.
“This is the most momentous Election Day in history for the movement to end marijuana prohibition. From Los Angeles to Boston, voters are casting their ballots in favor of sensible marijuana policy reforms,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “Today’s results are right in line with national polls showing record-high support for making marijuana legal…Congress must take action to ease the tension between state and federal marijuana laws. Once this new batch of state laws takes effect over the next couple of months, marijuana will be legal in more than half a dozen states, and we expect several more to follow during the 2017-2018 legislative and election cycles.”
Florida’s medical cannabis legislation—which passed with 71 percent support—has the potential to be one of the more permissive laws in the nation.
As The Washington Post writes citing the Florida ballot, in addition to diseases like HIV, cancer and PTSD, the measure also allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for “other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class as or comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.” The measure does require a patient to show their illness is severe, though the wording gives physicians leeway in determining which conditions would meet that criteria.
DEATH PENALTY ON THE BALLOT
Of course, cannabis was not the only measure on Americans’ ballots on Tuesday. Four states were voting on capital punishment—Nebraska, Oklahoma, Colorado and California.
Nebraskans reinstated the death penalty, reversing a decision legislated last year. The state has not executed an inmate since 1997, although 10 men currently sit on death row.
Californians defeated a ballot measure to repeal the state’s death penalty, and instead passed a proposition that aims to expedite it. Proposition 66 will speed up executions by designating trial courts to hear petitions challenging death row convictions, limiting successive petitions and expanding the pool of lawyers who could take on death penalty appeals.
Oklahoma residents approved a measure to make it harder to abolish capital punishment. It seeks to ensure the state has a way to execute prisoners even if a given method is blocked.
And finally, Colorado voters approved a measure known as “physician-assisted suicide,” which allows physicians to assist a terminally ill person in dying. That’s already a practice in five other states.