Ballot Initiative

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director April 24, 2020

    More than six in ten registered voters say that they intend to vote for a statewide ballot measure this November to legalize the adult-use cannabis market, according to polling data compiled by Monmouth University.

    Sixty-one percent of respondents said that they will vote for the measure, which amends the state Constitution to permit the possession, production, and retail sale of cannabis to those age 21 or older. Lawmakers in 2019 overwhelmingly voted to place the measure on the 2020 November ballot after similar legislation failed to gain majority support in the Senate.

    The proposed ballot question reads: “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.”

    New Jersey is one of a limited number of states that will have marijuana-related questions on the November ballot. If approved, New Jersey will join eleven other states and Washington, DC in legalizing the adult marijuana use. All but two states have done so via voter initiative.

    According to the poll, support for the ballot initiative was strongest among Democratic voters (74 percent) and Independents (64 percent). Only 40 percent of Republican voters said that they will back the initiative. Overall, 62 percent of respondents said that legalization will help the state’s economy, and 64 percent said that the personal possession of small quantities of marijuana should no longer be a crime.

  • 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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.


    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.

  • by Paul Armentano, NORML Deputy Director January 8, 2020

    Marijuana CBD OilA proposed measure legalizing medical cannabis access in Mississippi has qualified for the 2020 ballot.

    Mississippi’s Secretary of State’s Office notified lawmakers on Tuesday that petitioners, Mississippians for Compassionate Care, had gathered a sufficient number of signatures to place Measure 65 before voters this November.

    The proposed constitutional amendment establishes a state-licensed system of dispensaries to provide cannabis products to qualifying patients. The measure places no limit on the number of dispensaries and mandates that local municipalities “shall not impair the availability of and reasonable access to medical marijuana.” The proposal further mandates that state officials begin providing licenses for retailers no later than August 15, 2021.

    According to the Ballotpedia website, Mississippi lawmakers have the opportunity to either adopt of reject the measure prior to the November vote. The legislature may also choose “to approve an amended alternate version of the measure. In this case, both measures would appear on the ballot together.”

    Earlier today, the Mississippi State Board of Health today passed a resolution “strongly” opposing the initiative, opining, “Marijuana consumption has numerous known harms and is contrary to the mission of
    public health.”

    Under state law, the possession of over 30 grams of cannabis is defined as a felony offense, punishable by up to three years in prison. The proposed initiative permits qualifying patients to possess up to 2.5 ounces (71 grams) of cannabis per 14-day period.

    In 2014, state lawmakers passed legislation permitting those diagnosed with intractable epilepsy to possess certain products containing CBD. But the law provides no legal supply source for such products.

    Voters in at least two additional states, New Jersey and South Dakota, will also be deciding on marijuana-specific initiatives this November.

    Additional information about the campaign is available from Mississippians for Compassionate Care.

  • by Randy Robinson, MERRY JANE for NORML December 10, 2019


    Maine Yes on 1On November 5, 2016, Maine’s voters legalized recreational, or adult-use, marijuana. At the time, the state’s legalization bill was one of the most progressive, which included protections for home growers, preservation of one of the nation’s best medical marijuana programs, and a social consumption clause that would’ve made Maine one of the first states to host licensed cannabis bars and lounges.

    But now we’re nearing the end of 2019, and Maine still hasn’t started its adult-use sales. Business licenses will soon be available, but when the state finally makes its first legal sale, it would have done so after a three-year delay.

    So, what happened in Maine? Why did it take so long to roll out its legalization program, and most importantly, how can the next states to legalize prevent similar setbacks?

    To find out, we spoke with one of the state’s most ardent cannabis backers, Diane Russell, who currently resides in Portland, Maine. From 2008 to 2016, Russell served as a state representative in Maine’s government. During her terms, she introduced two marijuana legalization bills, first in 2011 and again in 2013. Although her two bills didn’t make it through the legislature, she got people talking about legalization, not just in Maine, but across the US, as well.

    “It was the first [legalization] vote we had in any state legislature, ever. That was not a small thing,” Russell said during a phone call, referring to her first attempt to push a legalization bill through Maine’s government. “A lot of folks were like, ‘Haha, you failed.’ But you don’t win these things out the gate. You have to build toward it.”

    And building toward legalization worked. By the end of 2016, and after a lot of heated political infighting, Maine’s voters approved the bill by a hair, at just 50.3 percent. In fact, the vote was so close — by a difference of about 4,000 votes out of 750,000 ballots total — that some municipalities held recounts that carried through the holiday season. Ultimately, cannabis and its champions prevailed, but the state’s governor at the time, Paul LePage, blocked every effort he could to derail legalization’s rollout. And LePage was successful until term limits forced him out of office this year.

    Today, Russell runs the Maine Cannabis Chronicle, a magazine devoted to all things cannabis in the Pine Tree State. She recently joined NORML’s Board of Directors, and she’s also starting up a Maine-based hemp company. On top of this, Russell is organizing the first National Legislative Cannabis Conference, which will bring lawmakers, activists, entrepreneurs, and attorneys together to school our nation’s politicians on marijuana’s basics — from the plant’s biology and the history of prohibition, to how other states’ legal industries function.

    Given that Russell has served as a legislator and now works in the cannabis industry, MERRY JANE phoned her up to find out more about Maine’s legalization hiccups, why many politicians know almost nothing about the nation’s fastest growing industry, and how other states can avoid Maine’s legalization woes as they consider ending prohibition.

    This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

    MERRY JANE: You introduced two legalization bills that didn’t make it through the legislature, but a voter referendum in 2016 finally got adult-use marijuana legalized in Maine. In your experience, why wasn’t Maine ready to legalize in 2011? 

    Diane Russell: There’s a difference between the politicians and the people. The politicians have proven that they’re not ready for it, which is why I’m putting together the National Legislative Cannabis Conference. But that’s starting to change. Take a look at Illinois, the first state to pass [commercial retail] legalization through its legislature. [Editor’s Note: Vermont was the first to legalize adult-use cannabis through its legislature, but commercial sales are still banned there. Vermonters can grow and use their own cannabis, but they can’t sell it.]

    Lawmakers were buying into the prohibition rhetoric. Some of them secretly wanted to vote for it, but they were afraid of their people [constituents and party peers]. Some thought I was crazy. They came up with all sorts of reasons why they wouldn’t vote for legalization. So, in 2016, we took our case to the people, and we won. It wasn’t that Maine wasn’t ready. It was that Maine’s politicians weren’t ready.

    Governor Paul LePage abused his office to block legalization’s launch in Maine, even though a (slight) majority of voters approved it. Were there any other factors that complicated legalization’s launch?

    Nope. I mean, the legislators didn’t know what they were doing. But, nope, it was exclusively on LePage.

    For states that are considering legalization, what should they do to prevent a governor or legislators from intentionally delaying rollout?

    One, it has to be a referendum state, and the law has to be [passed] by referendum. [Editor’s Note: A referendum is any bill that is approved solely by the voters. Some states do not allow voter-led referendums, where only elected politicians can write and approve laws.]

    Two, you have to require that rules pass into law, not just the statues. In the referendum, you must include dates for when the rules must be finalized. So, it’s not what may be done, but what shall be done.

    How can states prevent the common issues of rollout, such as product shortages or price issues, or do you believe those are just part of legalization’s growing pains?

    There are always going to be issues when you roll out a new market. You need to include adequate time for cannabis cultivation in the laws. A lot of states are allowing business owners who want to sell for adult-use to cultivate the first supply under their medical licenses. But you have to be careful with that, because you don’t want to limit the medical cannabis supply. That can really hurt patients, especially if people grow normally for medical, and suddenly they want to grow high-THC for adult-use. They may stop growing the type of products that medical patients need.

    Additionally, when you supply from a [medical to adult-use] crossover, you take cannabis supply from the medical community. The fix to this is to let the medical cultivators grow an adult-use supply separate from the medical supply. That way you’re rewarding people who are already in the industry.

    Or, you can roll-out the licensing in a way that allows for the cultivation of adult-use cannabis to literally grow. There’s an expectation that once an adult-use store opens, there’s magically going to be product. But if you haven’t gone through the time it takes to grow cannabis, and you haven’t awarded those licenses in a timely manner so those businesses can get off the ground and complete their cultivation, you’re going to have a real shortage of supply pretty quickly.

    Lastly, we can make it a lot easier for people to get their medical cards, such as by qualifying patients for overall wellness, not just debilitating conditions. For folks that live in our state and are going to want a [cannabis] product, they can get it through the medical chain. That way they can start getting their product earlier, and that will increase demand in the medical market, but doing it while adult-use is still getting developed. So, you’re increasing the supply and the demand naturally, then when adult-use goes online, there are fewer people who don’t already have access to the market. 

    In your experience, what’s legalization’s best strategy going forward?

    You have to do it state by state. We need to get all the legislators in a room together and educate them, because they don’t understand cannabis. They need a Cannabis 101 education. They need to be taught, “What is cannabis?” What’s the difference between a cannabis plant and a hemp plant? What are people using cannabis for? What are the terms? What’s a dab, right? Then, building from that foundation, we get them to a place where they understand the key areas that really do need to be regulated.

    Here’s an example. I was in a Portland city council meeting the other day. They were discussing a social equity component for the adult-use program, and it was aimed at helping women, minorities, and immigrants who’ve been here less than 10 years. The broader rule covers black communities, but nobody on the council mentioned that this social equity component was restorative justice for the disproportionate impact prohibition has had on black communities. They thought it was a welfare program. And it was because they didn’t understand where it came from; they just copy-and-pasted the text from another state’s legalization bill. 

    This wasn’t a welfare program. It was a restorative justice program, and the council didn’t understand it because they just copy-and-pasted it. Copy-and-pasting works fine in some instances, but if you’re going to do it, you should do your due diligence and know why you’re copy-and-pasting something.

    How do you think legalization will soon unfold in Maine?

    This week, the recreational applications open for submissions. One of the big issues in the bill is we let municipalities opt-out, meaning towns or cities could opt-out of allowing adult-use stores. Then the legislature came in and changed it to opt-in, and that has been a regulatory nightmare at the municipal level. Now, communities have to decide to opt-in, rather than having a business approach them and say, “I’d like to open a business here, and this is what I’ve been doing.”

    These municipal officials also don’t know what they’re doing. And I want to be clear: Most people who serve in public office, they’ve had other careers. Being in office isn’t the only thing they do; most of them are just doing it to give back to their community. So, when I say they don’t know what they’re doing, I don’t say that as a pejorative. They actually just don’t know.

    But, for companies that have already gone through the municipal process, and they’ve already been licensed by their municipality, then getting the state license shouldn’t be that hard. And then they should be able to open adult-use stores in the next few months. 

    That’s the big hurdle right now though: Municipalities opting in. 

    The opt-in requirement means everyone in Maine is effectively voting twice on legalization?

    Yes. We always thought municipalities had the right to be “dry,” like with liquor stores. The difference is, most people are beyond their concerns for prohibition of alcohol, whereas weed seems scary still.

    For legalization to succeed on a national or even international level, what needs to happen next?

    The issue comes down to educating politicians. The industry leaders are very much focused on the industry, but they’re not as focused on the politics. Maine has a robust group of caregivers who consistently show up to the state house, and they fight for the things that they care about. But they’re often not listened to. 

    Even though we have public financing — and I strongly support that — if the industry wants to be heard, they have to start writing checks. And they can’t just write checks for low-level, local politicians; they need to write big checks to the state’s leadership. To the PACs. They need to host fundraisers for pro-cannabis candidates. When you start doing that, and you start funneling money from an industry — which every other industry does — into campaigns, you’re going to be given a better seat at the table. 

    Right now, I think people are just being run roughshod over. It’s a sad state of affairs that you can’t just be an Average Joe or Jane and talk to your politicians and make a difference. To some degree you can do that, but when we’re talking about rolling out an industry that every politician is terrified of — even I was terrified of it, even as I was championing it — it’s frightening to step out on this issue. 

    Do you have any more advice to cannabis industry leaders?

    Invite these politicians into your grow site and into your stores. Bring them in. One person can’t do this on their own. Every business owner needs to say, “Come check out my grow site. Come see my retail space.” Most politicians think everything in a dispensary is decked out with Grateful Dead imagery. Don’t get me wrong, that’s a huge part of the culture, but there’s a large consumer base that wants something more refined, something that feels like walking up to a Macy’s makeup counter. That exists, too. 

    A lot of politicians don’t realize just how professional and high-end these adult-use stores are. And they don’t understand how scientific and advanced the technology is around these cultivation sites. Politicians are stunned when they have to put on booties and lab coats to walk into the grow site, because it’s all about preventing new materials from infecting the plants. They don’t understand that some grow rooms you can’t open because they’re in their dark phase. They don’t understand the amount of work that goes into just the lighting. They don’t understand that the industry gets PhD-level chemists and botanists working at these research centers. 

    The more the politicians can see that, the more they’re going to come back to their people — other lawmakers — and talk about it. And that’s when things start to get more mainstream. 

    Follow Diane Russell on Twitter

    You can also check out Russell’s upcoming cannabis education conference for lawmakers at the official National Legislative Cannabis Conference website

    Follow Randy Robinson on Twitter

  • by Tyler McFadden, NORML NE Political Associate December 6, 2019

    Trenton, NJ – Garden State NORML and cannabis consumers across New Jersey are calling on legislators to find an immediate solution to stop arresting nearly 100 people every day for possessing small amounts of marijuana. 

    “Taxpayers are spending millions to put handcuffs on marijuana consumers, the same people who are expected to come out to the polls and vote for a constitutional amendment,” said Garden State NORML Executive Director Charlana McKeithen. “With another delay for full legalization, we hope elected officials will explore every option to stop these needless arrests.”

    In addition to supporting full legalization, Garden State NORML supports decriminalizing marijuana – utilizing civil fines – for all ages. The decrim process requires no arrest, no handcuffs, no custody, no court, no jail, no supervision, no treatment, and no permanent record. Fines are usually between $25-$100. Twenty-one states and over one hundred cities have enacted such provisions. 

    For regional context, Philadelphia decriminalized marijuana in 2014, and 20 additional cities in Pennsylvania followed suit. New York took the first step towards decriminalization at the state level in 1977, and further expanded on their decriminalization policies this year.

    “Unfortunately, lawmakers in Trenton have elected to kick the can further down the road and allow tens of thousands more New Jersey residents to be saddled with criminal records for marijuana offenses due to their lack of action,” said Erik Altieri, Executive Director of NORML and a New Jersey native, “While we are confident the voters in New Jersey will send them an unambiguous message in 2020 in favor of legalization, state legislators must decriminalize marijuana possession in the interim to prevent even more lives from being ruined due to draconic prohibition policies.” 

    “New Jersey’s continued criminalization of cannabis is done at the expense of its most vulnerable population, namely its black and brown residents,” said Tyler McFadden, Northeast Political Associate at NORML. “Enough is enough. If New Jersey legislators are sincere about their work to make their state a better place for all its residents, they need to start by decriminalizing cannabis possession for all ages.”

    Meanwhile, under the antiquated policy of absolute criminal prohibition, New Jersey is seeing a record number of citizens arrested for cannabis. According to recent data released by ACLU-NJ, marijuana possession arrests have risen 35% in just four years. Racial disparities in these arrests are striking in many urban communities. Some towns see black and brown residents enduring 11 times the arrest rate for marijuana than their white counterparts. 

    Longtime NORML organizer and NJ resident Chris Goldstein noted that local governments are also important for progress. 

    “New Jersey’s municipal police departments and prosecutors can stop this needless enforcement against marijuana consumers by passing local decriminalization ordinances at any time,” said Goldstein. “Towns and cities also have a key role in legalization by helping grow a new small business sector with cannabis.” 

    New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney (D-Gloucester) is now promising to offer voters a chance to weigh in on the issue. A constitutional amendment is being considered for 2020. This will require two votes by both chambers of the NJ Legislature and voter approval in the general election. 

    After three years of lively debate and several bills, a voter referendum will extend the process into 2021. 

    ”Marijuana consumers deserve justice right now. People are being arrested for low-level marijuana possession every twenty-two seconds in New Jersey, and that is completely unacceptable,” said McKeithen.

    Garden State NORML will be working to form new coalitions to surge voter turnout in 2020. The proposed ballot question, ACR840/SCR183, will be debated in committee on December 12, 2019, at 10AM. The bill text can be found here


    Garden State NORML is the NJ division of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a non-profit organization fighting to reform cannabis laws nationwide. Our efforts include education, community outreach, and working with lawmakers. Visit Garden State NORML’s Facebook page to stay up-to-date.

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