5 States Vote On Cannabis This Election: Here’s What You Need to Know

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After the 2020 election, there might just be a few more green states.

Cannabis policy is on the ballot in five states on November 3rd – Arizona, New Jersey, South Dakota, Montana, and Mississippi. Out of these, three are voting on the legalization of recreational cannabis, one is voting on a medical marijuana program, and the other will be voting on both (making it the first state to do so in the history of U.S. cannabis policy reform.)

A little context:  Going into election day 2020, 33 states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, and 11 of those states (along with Washington, D.C.) have legalized its use recreationally. Check out our map of cannabis law by state here (we’ll be updating this as polling results come in next week.)

According to a 2019 PEW Research Center study, 32% of U.S. adults believe cannabis should be made legal for medical use, and an additional 59% believe it should be made legal for both medical and recreational use, making the overall percentage of Americans who support cannabis legalization on some level a whopping 91%.

On top of that, the 2016 election resulted in eight out of nine cannabis measures passing in what some called an American “green wave.” All to say, cannabis enthusiasts are liking their odds.

“We’re cautiously optimistic that we’re going to see five positive outcomes this election,” Matthew Schweich, Deputy Director of Marijuana Policy Project, a cannabis advocacy group that sponsored campaigns in Montana and South Dakota this year, told GreenState. “11 states have legalized cannabis over the past eight years, and none of them have repealed legislation, so we’re seeing that Americans across the political spectrum have come to understand that marijuana prohibition has failed.”

We broke down everything you need to know about cannabis policies, state-by-state.

RELATED: Election Could Stoke U.S. Marijuana Market


On November 3rd, Arizona votes on a bill to legalize recreational marijuana in the state titled Proposition 207, spearheaded by Smart and Safe Arizona.

Here are the key components of Arizona’s recreational cannabis initiative:

  • It would legalize possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years and older.
  • Those found with more than one ounce but less than 2.5 ounces will be charged with petty offense if over 21 years of age and charged a $100 fine and drug counseling on first offense if a minor.
  • Those 21 years and older would be able to cultivate up to six plants at home (but no more than 12 permitted in homes containing more than one adult.)
  • The Arizona Department of Health Services would be in charge of licensing and regulating cannabis businesses and testing facilities. (This is the same group that is currently in charge of the state’s medical marijuana program.)
  • Retail cannabis would be subject to a 16% excise tax on top of the regular state sales tax.
  • Those with prior marijuana convictions would have the ability to have their criminal record expunged.

If approved by voters, the bill would take effect immediately, according to Arizona’s constitution. However, The Arizona Department of Health Services is not required to start licensing recreational marijuana dispensaries until January, 2021, so it could be a few months before recreational cannabis is available in the state.

Proposition 207 held the lead in recent polls. According to a Suffolk University and USA TODAY Network live-interview poll taken in late September, 45.6% of 500 likely voters in the state supported it, while 34.2% were opposed. Still, that leaves a critical 20% of the state undecided.

Arizonans have been pushing cannabis policy reforms for a long time, though. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 2010, and there have been movements to legalize adult use since. Arizona was the only state out of nine to reject a recreational marijuana measure in the 2016 election.

Read the full text of Arizona’s Proposition 207 here.


Big Sky Country votes on two cannabis initiatives, both spearheaded by New Approach Montana. Initiative 190 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and over and regulate cannabis sales, while Constitutional Initiative 118 would amend the Montana constitution to make the legal age for marijuana consumption a minimum of 21 years old.

Here’s some more on what these initiatives would do, if approved:

  • They would legalize the possession, use, and cultivation of “limited amounts” of marijuana for those 21 years and older.
  • Provide regulation and licensure for commercial cultivation, manufacturing, production, distribution, and sale of cannabis and cannabis-infused products.
  • Cultivation of “four marijuana plants and four seedlings” at home is permitted.
  • Local governments would have a role in establishing the standards for cultivation, manufacturing, and sale in their jurisdictions.
  • A state adult-use cannabis regulatory program (under the Department of Revenue) would be in charge of licensing and regulating cannabis businesses and testing facilities.
  • Retail cannabis would be subject to a 20% excise tax.
  • Those with prior marijuana convictions would have the ability to have their criminal record expunged.

If passed, the adult-use cannabis regulatory program would be required to issue its first licenses by October, 2021.

Montanans are mostly supportive of these initiatives. The most recent poll, conducted in February of this year by University of Montana Big Sky, showed 54% of the state supports the two initiatives on the ballot, with 37% opposed.

To read the full text of Montana’s cannabis legalization initiatives, see Initiative 190 and Initiative 118.

RELATED: How Kamala Harris Learned to Love Marijuana


Mississippi votes on two versions of a medical cannabis program. The first, Initiative 65, would permit those with qualifying conditions to possess and use medical marijuana. The initiative, spearheaded by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, was put on the ballot earlier in 2020.

Here are some key components of Mississippi’s Initiative 65:

  • It would legalize the provision of medical marijuana by licensed treatment centers.
  • It would allow patients with one of 22 qualifying conditions (including PTSD, cancer, and epilepsy) to use and access medical cannabis.
  • Patients would be required to apply for a medical marijuana card, which would be renewed annually.
  • Patients would not be permitted to have more than 2.5 ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
  • It would not permit at-home cultivation.

If Initiative 65 is approved by voters, the Mississippi Department of Health would be required to create an operational medical marijuana regulatory program by August, 2021.

In response to Initiative 65, conservative leaders in the Mississippi legislature have pushed a second medical marijuana initiative on the November 3rd ballot – the highly restrictive and controversial Initiative 65A.

Here are some restrictions that would be imposed on medical marijuana under Initiative 65A:

  • It would require patients use only “pharmaceutical-grade” cannabis (which is scarce).
  • It would allow only terminally ill patients to smoke cannabis.
  • It would require patients receive treatment oversight from licensed health practitioners.

A poll conducted in January of this year by Millsaps College and Chism Strategies showed 67% of Mississippians want medical marijuana, but it remains unclear whether the state prefers Initiative 65 or 65A, and many medical cannabis supporters fear having the two medical marijuana programs on the ballot will confuse voters into implementing a program too restrictive to affect patients in need.

To read the full text of Mississippi’s medical marijuana programs, see Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A.

RELATED: Dueling Medical Marijuana Measures on the Mississippi Ballot

New Jersey

New Jersey votes on Constitutional Amendment SCR183, which would legalize recreational marijuana in the state.

Here’s a quick breakdown of New Jersey’s recreational cannabis amendment:

  • It would legalize marijuana use for adults 21 and older.
  • It would legalize retail cannabis cultivation, processing, and sale.
  • Specific cannabis taxes are prohibited, but cannabis products would be subject to regular state sales tax.
  • The New Jersey legislature would authorize an agency (likely the Cannabis Regulatory Commission, who currently regulates the state’s medical marijuana program) to regulate adult-use cannabis.

If approved by voters, the amendment would take effect January 1st, 2021.

Because they’ve left most of the policymaking to the legislature, New Jersey’s cannabis measure is not as detailed as other state’s. However, that is partly because medical marijuana has been legal there since 2010, and the state has since taken action to ease the process of expungement for cannabis-related crimes. In December of last year, the New Jersey legislature approved a bill that allowed those convicted of minor drug offenses to more easily seal their record after a decade.

The latest polls showed an overwhelming amount of support for Amendment SCR183. An October poll of likely voters statewide conducted by Fairleigh Dickinson University showed 61% supported legalizing recreational cannabis, with 29% against and 10% undecided.

Read New Jersey’s full Marijuana Legalization Amendment here.

South Dakota

South Dakota is making history in 2020 as the first state to vote on adult-use cannabis (which would be legalized by Constitutional Amendment A, spearheaded by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws) and medical cannabis (which would be legalized by Measure 26, spearheaded by New Approach South Dakota) in the same election.

Here are the key components of these initiatives:

Constitutional Amendment A

  • It would legalize the possession, cultivation, distribution, and recreational use of up to one ounce of marijuana for a adults 21 years and older.
  • It would require the South Dakota State Legislature to pass laws providing for and regulating a medical marijuana program and for the sale of hemp (which has previously been suppressed in the state) by April, 2022.
  • Marijuana sales would be taxed at 15%.
  • Cultivation of up to three marijuana plants at home would be permitted.
  • Recreational cannabis stores would be licensed by the Department of Revenue.

Read the full text of Constitutional Amendment A here.

Measure 26

  • It would establish a medical marijuana program for those with qualifying medical conditions (including cachexia, debilitating pain, severe nausea, and severe muscle spasms.)
  • Patients would be able to possess a maximum 3 ounces of medical marijuana.
  • The Department of Health would be in charge of regulating medical marijuana dispensaries.

Read the full text of Measure 26 here.

The cannabis policies in South Dakota are currently some of the most rigid in the country (simply possessing drug paraphernalia can get you a misdemeanor charge and up to 30 days in jail), so it’s no small thing that voters have thus far shown an overwhelming amount of support for medical cannabis. According to a poll conducted at the end of October by Argus Leader Media and KELO-TV, 74% of 600 likely voters surveyed supported legalizing medical marijuana in the state, with 23% against and 3% undecided.

Adult-use legalization, however, is proving to be more of a wild card. In the same poll, 51% of those surveyed said they approved of recreational cannabis legalization, while 44% were against and 5% were undecided.

Remember, if you don’t live in one of these states, your vote can still effect cannabis policy in the U.S.

See GreenState’s breakdown of which presidential candidate is the most cannabis-friendly here

Elissa Esher is Assistant Editor at GreenState. Her work has also appeared in The Boston Guardian, Brooklyn Paper, Religion Unplugged, and Iridescent Women. Send inquiries and tips to elli.esher@hearst.com.

Elissa Esher