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There was a clear winner on election night: Marijuana

There was a clear winner on election night: Marijuana
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Voters in various states across the country approved a series of statewide ballot proposals on Election Day legalizing the use and distribution of marijuana for either medical or adult-use purposes.

Their voices were unmistakable and emphatic. Majorities of Americans decided in favor of every marijuana-related proposition placed before them — a clean sweep. 

Specifically, voters legalized the possession of marijuana by adults in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. The measures in Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota each permit adults to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use and establish a regulated retail market. In New Jersey, voters decided on a public ballot question. Garden State lawmakers must now enact enabling legislation in order to amend state law to comport it with the voters’ decision. 

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Additionally, voters approved the legalization of medical cannabis access in two states, Mississippi and South Dakota. In Mississippi, voters chose between two dueling initiatives — favoring a measure placed on the ballot by patient advocates and rejecting a more restrictive alternative measure placed on the ballot by state lawmakers. 

Voters’ actions last evening were an unequivocal rebuke to the longstanding policy of federal marijuana prohibition, and is an indication that marijuana legalization is far from a fringe issue, but rather one that is now embraced by mainstream America,

As was the case in 2016, when voters in deep red states like Arkansas and North Dakota joined voters in deep blue states like California to reform their cannabis laws, last night’s results once again affirm that marijuana legalization is a uniquely popular issue with voters of all political persuasions — with majorities of Democrats, Independents, and Republicans consistently endorsing legalization in national polls. The results also continue a multi-decade long trend of marijuana legalization advocates achieving success at the ballot box. Prior to this election, voters had decided affirmatively on 28 separate ballot measures legalizing cannabis (18 measures legalizing medical marijuana, 10 measures legalizing adult use). 

Yet, despite this public consensus, elected officials have far too often remained unresponsive to the legalization issue. This dereliction of representation has forced advocacy groups to directly place marijuana-related ballot question before the voters. 

These election results once again illustrate that support for legalization extends across geographic and demographic lines. The success of last night’s legalization initiatives proves definitively that marijuana legalization is not exclusively a blue state issue, but an issue that is supported by a majority of all Americans — regardless of party politics.

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Marijuana reform’s massive electoral victories come just weeks after Democratic House Leadership prepared for, but ultimately pulled a vote on the bipartisan Marijuana Opportunity, Reinvestment, and Expungement (MORE) Act. The vote would have marked the first time either chamber of Congress had ever voted to lift the federal prohibition on marijuana since the passage of the Controlled Substances Act of 1970. 

While House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats face increasing pressure to back smaller COVID-19 stimulus Hoyer on Trump election challenges: 'I think this borders on treason' Capitol's COVID-19 spike could be bad Thanksgiving preview MORE did provide a public commitment to hold a vote by the end of the year, the decision nonetheless left many voters puzzled with respect to why federal lawmakers would fail to move forward on such a popular issue. 

Since 1996, 15 states (and the District of Columbia) have either enacted or have voted to enact adult-use legalization laws, while 36 states (and DC) have either enacted or have voted to enact medical marijuana access laws. 

For over two decades, the public has spoken loudly and clearly. They favor ending the failed policies of marijuana prohibition and replacing it with a policy of legalization, regulation, taxation, and public education. Elected officials — at both the state and federal level — ought to be listening.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of NORML — the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and serves as the Science Faculty Chair at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif. Justin Strekal is NORML’s Political Director and federal lobbyist.