States Voting on Legalizing Cannabis

Written by Asia Mayfield

Ballot initiatives in four states are set to tackle recreational cannabis: Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, and Montana. If the measures are approved, adults 21 and older will be allowed to legally purchase and consume cannabis. Each state has its own distinct plan. Voters in South Dakota and Mississippi will also weigh in on medical cannabis.

Here’s a breakdown of the legislation.


Arizona’s Proposition 207 legalizes cannabis and attempts to address societal wrongs. A 16% tax levied on cannabis transactions will be disbursed to local law enforcement and public programs that aid disadvantaged residents. In addition, people can apply to have past cannabis convictions expunged from their records. Everyone who applies is automatically qualified unless expressly denied by the court.

“We’ve given money to community organizations to process expungements on behalf of folks in that system… The onus is on the prosecuting agency to petition to the court why this person wouldn’t qualify,” explained Stacy Pearson to the news organization The Appeal. Pearson is a spokesperson for the pro-Proposition 207 campaign Smart and Safe Arizona.

Of the 160 recreational dispensary licenses proposed under the law, 26 would be reserved for social equity candidates or applicants residing in small, rural communities.

New Jersey

New Jersey is set to become one of the largest cannabis markets in the nation. The state borders New York and Pennsylvania, two behemoths that have yet to legalize recreational cannabis.

“You have the bridge, two tunnels… People are just going to be shooting back and forth all day,” Joseph Casper, manager of a New Jersey medical dispensary, said about his store’s proximity to New York.

New Jersey’s Public Question #1 does not include social equity measures. However, it’s expected that this will be addressed at a later stage.

“Legalization will not be the end of the story—there is more work to do, particularly in expunging past [cannabis]-related offenses. This is our chance to make history in New Jersey,” said Gov. Phil Murphy.

South Dakota

South Dakota is the sole state in the U.S. where someone can face criminal charges for failing a cannabis drug test. However, residents will now have the chance to vote on two programs— recreational and medical cannabis.

Initiated Measure 26 allows medical patients to possess up to three ounces as well as grow three plants. These limits can be increased with doctor approval.

Constitutional Amendment A legalizes cannabis for adults 21 and over.

“Legalizing adult use is beneficial to the economy, but I’m a patient advocate… We want two distinct markets with a tax break for patients. The people who aren’t medical can buy it and pay taxes, but a true medical [cannabis] program passes savings on to patients,” explained Melissa Mentele, director of New Approach South Dakota, in an interview with Marijuana Moment.


Montana is one of the few states with a residency requirement for cannabis operators. If Initiative 190 passes, only Montana residents will be granted licenses.

“We want to make sure the people who participate have already proven their worth in the Montana system… If you’re going to run a retail operation, or grow here, you’re going to be a resident, someone with roots here,” said Pepper Petersen, spokesman for New Approach Montana.

A second measure, Constitutional Initiative 118, legalizes cannabis for adults 21 and over.


Mississippi is poised to join the 33 U.S. states with legal medical cannabis programs. Voters will settle two questions—should medical cannabis be legal, and if so, what should the rules be? The Medical Marijuana 2020 campaign supports an initiative like other state programs. It’s considered to be a pro-business plan because there are no market caps on the number of industry operators.

Lawmakers responded with their own much more restrictive initiative. Under this plan, only severely ill patients could access cannabis, and the number of dispensaries would be limited.

Image source: David Shankbone, CC BY 2.0

About the author

Asia Mayfield

Asia Mayfield is a freelance writer who focuses on the cannabis industry. She can be reached at

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