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State of the States: 2020 Ballot Initiative Efforts

  • by Carly Wolf, NORML State Policies Coordinator April 23, 2020

    As we all learn to cope with our new socially distant realities amidst a global pandemic, its difficult to think of any aspect of society that hasn’t been affected by COVID-19. Unfortunately for marijuana reform, what began with at least a dozen states optimistically working to qualify state level ballot initiatives in advance of the November 2020 election, has slowly dwindled to a number that can be counted on one hand.

    Activists have been working for months registering new voters, collecting signatures, and educating the public, in hopes of giving voters in their state the opportunity to make their voices heard and cast their vote for marijuana. But social distancing guidelines have made this work virtually impossible.

    Below is an overview of key 2020 ballot initiative efforts and where they stand now.

    New Jersey

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Qualified
    The question:

    Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called “cannabis”?

    Only adults at least 21 years of age could use cannabis. The State commission created to oversee the State’s medical cannabis program would also oversee the new, personal use cannabis market.

    Cannabis products would be subject to the State sales tax. If authorized by the Legislature, a municipality may pass a local ordinance to charge a local tax on cannabis products.

    Members of the New Jersey state legislature approved a proposed constitutional amendment in December 2019 by a three-fifths majority, firmly placing a question to allow regulated cannabis sales on the November 2020 ballot. According to a recent Monmouth University survey, 61 percent of respondents said they would vote in support of the proposal, while 34 percent said they’d vote against it.

    Mississippi

    Issue: Medical marijuana
    Status: Two competing measures have both qualified
    The questions:

    Initiative 65 (citizen initiated):

    Should Mississippi allow qualified patients with debilitating medical conditions, as certified by Mississippi licensed physicians, to use medical marijuana?

    A citizen driven campaign, spearheaded by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, turned in over 200,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot in January to allow patients to access up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day time period.

    HC 39 (legislature approved):

    NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED BY THE LEGISLATURE OF THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, That the following amendment to the Mississippi Constitution of 1890 is proposed to the qualified electors of the state at the November 2020 election, as an alternative to the amendment proposed by Initiative Measure No. 65:

    Article 16, Section 290, Mississippi Constitution of 1890, is created to read as follows: “Section 290. There is established a program in the State of Mississippi to allow the medical use of marijuana products by qualified persons. The program shall be structured to include, at a minimum, the following conditions and requirements:

    Members of the Mississippi state legislature approved an alternative ballot measure in March that will appear alongside Initiative 65 on the November ballot. Activists view this less clear, more restrictive initiative as an effort by lawmakers to undermine the will of the people and confuse voters at the polls. Under this proposal, patients would be prohibited from smoking whole-plant marijuana.

    South Dakota

    Issue: Medical & adult use marijuana
    Status: Two separate measures have both qualified
    The questions:

    Constitutional Amendment A (adult use):

    Title – An amendment to the South Dakota Constitution to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana; and to require the Legislature to pass laws regarding hemp as well as laws ensuring access to marijuana for medical use.

    If approved, the constitutional amendment would allow adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to three plants for personal use. The initiative is backed by a former federal prosecutor as well as the Marijuana Policy Project, a national advocacy organization.

    Initiative 26 (medical):

    Title – An initiated measure on legalizing marijuana for medical use.

    If approved, the statutory initiative would allow registered patients, with a physician’s approval, to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow up to three plants for therapeutic use.

    Arizona

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Minimum # of signatures collected
    The proposal: Initiative 23: Smart and Safe Arizona, the campaign behind the ballot initiative, is confident that they have enough signatures to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. With about 320,000 signatures already collected, they say they have about 80,000 signatures more than the 237,645 needed to qualify. The campaign is asking the state supreme court to allow electronic signature gathering due to COVID-19. If approved, the statutory measure would allow adults to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. It also includes expungement and social equity provisions.

    Missouri

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Campaign suspended
    The proposal: After launching the campaign early this year, Missourians for a New Approach, the group backing the initiative, most recently announced that they are suspending their campaign due to COVID-19 restrictions severely limiting their ability to collect in-person signatures. They had already collected about 80,000 signatures out of the needed 160,199 to qualify. The initiative would have allowed adults to purchase and possess marijuana from licensed retail outlets and grow up to three plants for personal use.

    Montana

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: A proposal to legalize marijuana for adults was submitted to the Secretary of State back in January by New Approach Montana, clearing the group to begin collecting the 25,468 signatures required to officially qualify for the November ballot. Most recently, activists sued the state, arguing that preventing electronic signature gathering is unconstitutional.

    North Dakota

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Campaign suspended
    The proposal: Legalize ND, the group behind the failed 2018 legalization initiative, submitted another proposal to legalize marijuana for adults in the state late last year in hopes of qualifying for the November 2020 ballot. Most recently, the campaign announced its suspension due to the inability for the group to collect signatures in-person due to COVID-19. They needed 13,452 signatures before July 6 in order to qualify. The measure would have allowed adults to purchase and possess up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use.

    Oklahoma

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: SQ 807 would allow adults to legally purchase and possess marijuana for personal use. Advocates in the state say it is unlikely that collecting enough signatures would be feasible.

    Arkansas

    Issue: Adult use marijuana
    Status: Unclear
    The proposal: Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, the group behind the initiative, has already collected 15,000 signatures out of the required 89,151 to qualify an adult use legalization initiative. It is unclear whether the campaign will continue collecting signatures before the July 1 deadline.

    Nebraska

    Issue: Medical marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, the campaign behind the initiative, announced that they are temporarily suspending signature gathering after being cleared to start collecting signatures over a year ago. They must collect about 130,000 signatures by July 8 in order to qualify. The constitutional amendment would have allowed qualifying patients, with a physician’s approval, to access medical marijuana and “discreetly” grow marijuana for therapeutic use.

    Idaho

    Issue: Medical marijuana
    Status: Signature gathering suspended
    The proposal: The Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the group backing the initiative, most recently announced that in-person signature gathering would be suspended due to COVID-19. They need to collect 55,057 signatures by May 1 in order to qualify, which is unlikely. They already collected about 40,000.

    California

    Issue: Marijuana and hemp regulations
    Status: Electronic signature gathering requested
    The proposal: The California Cannabis Hemp Heritage Act would make changes to the state’s licensing and taxation rules in an effort to expand access to marijuana. Most recently, celebrities Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith asked state officials to allow electronic signature gathering due to COVID-19.

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