Washington and Colorado legalized marijuana during the 2012 election cycle. They were subsequently followed by Oregon and Alaska (Washington D.C. as well) in 2014. Support for ending nationwide marijuana and cannabis prohibition has reached a fever pitch, and political conditions are as such that this year — the 2016 election cycle — could be the year that we cross the proverbial Rubicon.
Though the 2016 election coverage has been dominated by Clinton versus Trump — well, mostly Trump — headlines, other things are slipping under the radar and the public’s attention. There are many important Senate races, for example, and of much importance to marijuana legalization advocates, there are some big votes on cannabis as well. The novelty may have worn off a little bit at this point, particularly on the West Coast, but it’s hard to understate just how important 2016 may be to the legalization push.
In fact, with a lot at stake, this may be the year that voters decide there’s no turning back. If voters decide to “go green,” the entire West Coast will have legalized marijuana, and the East Coast will establish its first prohibition-free havens as well.
Here’s the rundown for everything marijuana-related going on during the 2016 election.
Marijuana legalization measures
Let’s start with the biggest and probably most important marijuana measures on state ballots this year. Voters from five states will be deciding whether to legalize marijuana for recreational use, just as Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Alaska have done.
Arizona – Proposition 205
California – Proposition 64
Maine – Question 1
Massachusetts – Question 4
Nevada – Question 2
These are what will be getting the most attention, and deservedly so. Each is a state law, so they’re all different in small ways (just as Colorado’s law differs from Washington’s, for example). But the gist of it is this: These propositions and initiatives will effectively legalize and regulate marijuana for personal use and consumption at the state level in each respective state.
Medical marijuana initiatives
In addition to the five states voting for full legalization, several others will be voting on medical marijuana initiatives.
Arkansas – 2016 Arkansas Medical Cannabis Act
Florida – Amendment 2
Montana – Initiative No. 182
North Dakota – Initiated Statutory Measure 5
Cannabis deregulation in states like Arkansas and North Dakota would be a big step forward for supporters in those regions, which tend to be much more conservative than the coasts, and have stronger opposition to the idea of legalization. Florida, interestingly enough, voted on a medical marijuana initiative back in 2014, which ultimately did not pass despite 57% of voters voting in favor. In that case, it needed to cross a 60% threshold to become law. 2016 gives Floridians another crack at it.
Montana is also in an interesting position. The state passed a medical cannabis law back in 2004, but a 2011 law shut down many dispensaries and greatly limited access for patients. This new initiative seeks to expand things again.
Where the presidential candidates stand
With nine states set to make important decisions regarding cannabis policy, it’s only fair to ask how the presidential candidates feel about it. The Green Party candidate, Jill Stein, and Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson have both come out in favor of cannabis legalization — which isn’t much of a surprise given their respective party’s platforms.
But the two main candidates — Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton — have had to take more nuanced approaches to the subject.
Clinton, eager to win over the Democratic base, has pledged to reschedule cannabis out of the dreaded Schedule 1 category, which may or may not solve the issue. But she’s gone back and forth on the subject before — so some voters are still wary. Still, it’s hard to imagine that she would be dead-set against legalization when President Barack Obama and many other prominent Democrats have levied their support.
Trump, on the other hand, has a tricky tight-rope walk ahead of him. Trump must play to conservatives, many of whom are against the concept of legalization (which, oddly enough, seems to contradict their belief in small government and personal freedom). But Trump doesn’t radiate many conservative values — he’s a businessman by trade, and issues like cannabis prohibition don’t seem to be on his radar, much less a lynchpin of his platform.
We’re still unsure as to where Trump truly stands on marijuana, but he’s surrounded himself with Republicans, like Chris Christie, who are staunchly opposed to legalization. That may impact his decision making as President, would he be elected.
Nationwide legalization, if it were to happen in one fell swoop, would have to come straight from Washington D.C. But there is little reason to think that federal policymakers and regulators are ready or willing to make a move on cannabis policy anytime soon. We’ve seen some promising signs — like the Supreme Court striking down challenges to Colorado’s state law included — but in terms of any new federal legislation or legalization pushes? Zilch.
Some lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon, but there are many entrenched interests that would rather not see cannabis prohibition end. Even reclassification, at this point, is seemingly fruitless.
For now, it appears that the push for cannabis legalization will be left to the states — all of which, if they are to pass their own individual laws, would be doing so with disregard to federal law. And that’s the real problem; a new president can choose to pull the plug at any time. Obama has allowed the states to experiment, but a President Trump? Who knows?
The 2016 election will be remembered for many reasons, and cannabis policy will probably be among them when it’s all said and done.