Voters in three states voted to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes on Tuesday, and four more states voted to allow marijuana use for medicinal purposes, the largest mass liberalization of pot laws in the nation’s history.
California, Nevada and Massachusetts join four other states — Oregon, Washington, Alaska and Colorado — to legalize marijuana for recreational use. A similar ballot measure in Maine is leading by just 4,000 votes, less than 1 percent of all votes cast, with most precincts reporting, though the Associated Press has not called that contest.
Only one state with a legal marijuana measure on the ballot, Arizona, rejected the move to liberalize pot laws. Fifty-two percent of Arizonans voted against Proposition 205.
Despite losses in most states, opponents of marijuana liberalization efforts said they took some solace from the results, especially in Arizona, where they ran a well-funded campaign. Their efforts to halt legalization in other states fell short, though what was once a rag-tag assortment of pot opponents has become a more professionalized operation.
“For the first time, we ran incredible campaigns with resources and professionals in California, Nevada, and all of the other states, and we have met lifelong advisors and teammates for the future,” said Kevin Sabet, who heads Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which organized many of the opposition campaigns. “The overarching lesson was that if we could raise enough money early, we can win.”
Voters in Florida, Montana, North Dakota and Arkansas decided to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes. That brings the number of states where a doctor can prescribe marijuana for medical reasons to 29.
Backers of marijuana liberalization efforts said the results on Tuesday will likely lead to new efforts to legalize pot in several other states, both through popular initiatives and through state legislatures. Legislatures in Delaware, Rhode Island and Vermont are all likely to take up marijuana legalization measures next year.
“Literally anywhere could be next,” said Tom Angell, president of Marijuana Majority. He pointed to North Dakota, where a campaign to allow medical use attracted little outside money or attention.
“North Dakota happened with a genuine grassroots effort undertaken by local activists with very little coordination and support from national operatives,” Angell said. “If they can do it, anyone can.”
A drive to get legalization on the ballot in Michigan is already underway. A ballot measure allowing medical use has already qualified in Oklahoma, where voters will weigh in next year.
Even with Republicans set to control the 115th Congress, marijuana legalization advocates are optimistic about their chances of making at least some progress on Capitol Hill.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) to prohibit the Justice Department from suing states over legal marijuana narrowly failed in 2015, though now that three more states have legalized marijuana, more Republicans from those states may be willing to join the effort.
Another bill backed by Reps. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) and Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.) and Sen. Cory GardnerCory GardnerProtecting the outdoors: Three cheers for America's best idea Ex-Sen. Cory Gardner joins lobbying firm Biden administration reverses Trump changes it says 'undermined' conservation program MORE (R-Colo.) could expand access to the banking system for marijuana businesses awash in cash. And Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) has sponsored legislation to allow doctors working for the Department of Veterans Affairs to discuss medical marijuana with their patients.