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New Jersey, Ariz. Legalize Pot In Ballot Measure Sweep

By Diana Novak Jones & Sam Reisman · Nov 4, 2020, 1:47 AM EST

Election Day proved historic for marijuana advocates after residents in New Jersey, Arizona, South Dakota and elsewhere voted to regulate, tax and sell the drug, expanding the industry even as pot still remains against federal law.

The biggest win for advocates was the Garden State, which became the first mid-Atlantic state to fully legalize marijuana for adult use. Voters' approval of Public Question 1 puts pressure on New York and other states in the densely populated region to follow suit.

New Jersey was just one of five states voting on the issue Tuesday. Ballot measures in Arizona and Montana also asked voters to push the state from medical-only marijuana use to full legalization. And Mississippi and South Dakota approved measures that offered their citizens the chance to legalize some form of marijuana for the first time ever.

By late Tuesday night, four more states had joined the 11 that have fully legalized marijuana for adult use. Another two joined the more than 30 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

Here's what happened in each of the five states on Election Day.

New Jersey

New Jersey became the first mid-Atlantic state to legalize adult-use marijuana with the decisive passage of Public Question 1.

The ballot initiative, which garnered enthusiastic support from Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, will give oversight of the recreational market to the state's Cannabis Regulatory Commission, which currently regulates its medical cannabis program.

As of Wednesday morning, the measure had 67% of the vote, according to the Associated Press.

"The passage of this ballot measure positions New Jersey to take the lead in the Northeast and will push neighboring states, like New York and Pennsylvania, to take action on marijuana legalization," Steve Hawkins, executive director of legalization advocacy group the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement.

Murphy hailed the vote in a tweet, calling it "a huge step forward for racial and social justice and our economy."

Public Question 1 is light on details about how adult-use marijuana will be regulated in the Garden State, directing state legislators to hammer out the details. However, the initiative caps the tax rate that towns and cities can impose on cannabis sales at 2% on top of the state sales tax of 6.625%.

Two proposed resolutions about how to spend tax revenue from adult-use sales are pending in the state Assembly. One directs proceeds to property tax relief and the other toward mental health and drug treatment programs.

Legislators opted in December to put the question of legalizing recreational cannabis to voters after lawmakers in favor of a legalization bill were unable to garner the necessary support earlier in 2019.

The Assembly and Senate bills that died in the statehouse last year provide some potential clues for how lawmakers might regulate recreational cannabis. Among the provisions, the bills allowed individuals to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis and banned cannabis smoking in public.

Arizona

Arizona will legalize recreational marijuana after voters approved a ballot initiative to allow adult-use cannabis just four years after a similar measure was narrowly defeated.

Proposition 207, or the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, passed with 60% of the vote as of 1 a.m. Eastern, according to the Associated Press. It legalizes the sale and possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana for adults over the age of 21.

"The margin of victory today shows just how far this issue has come in a few short years," Morgan Fox, spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said in a statement.

Fox estimated the Arizona market to be worth more than $1.5 billion in the next five years.

The measure allows licensed retailers to sell the drug, but it restricts the number of business licenses to no more than one or two per county, depending on whether a medical marijuana retailer is already operating there.

It also ties the overall number of licenses to the number of pharmacy permits in Arizona, limiting the number of marijuana businesses to one for every 10 pharmacy permits, according to the measure. An additional 26 licenses will be available to social equity applicants, who come from communities disproportionately impacted by laws against marijuana.

The measure puts the regulation of recreational marijuana under the authority of the state's Department of Health Services, which currently regulates the state's medical cannabis program. The measure also provides for a 16% tax on adult-use sales.

Mississippi

Voters in Mississippi resoundingly approved a citizen-led ballot measure to create a comprehensive medical marijuana program in the state, while rejecting the less detailed proposal put forth as an alternative by the state legislature.

Initiative Measure No. 65 received 74% of the vote as of 1 a.m. Eastern Time, according to the Associated Press. Voters approved a plan that would have patients with prescriptions getting marijuana at approved treatment centers.

"This was a grassroots effort to provide patients with access to a treatment option that patients already enjoy in 34 other states and in the District of Columbia," NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a statement after the vote. "By contrast, Measure 65A was a cynical effort by lawmakers to misdirect voters."

The measure does not require any employer, school or prison to accommodate the use of medical marijuana, nor does it require health insurers to cover the drug.

While the Mississippi Department of Health is in charge of drafting regulations on the program, it cannot set a limit on the number of approved treatment centers, according to the measure.

Regulations for the program have to be in place by July 2021, and licenses must be awarded beginning the following month, according to the measure.

Initiative Measure No. 65A, a medical marijuana ballot measure that was put forward by the Republican-controlled state legislature, came with far fewer details on how a medical marijuana program would work in Mississippi and set no deadline for regulators to get the program off the ground.

Advocates for medical marijuana in the state said the legislator-backed proposal was put forward after the citizen-led petition made it onto the ballot and that it was meant to confuse voters. On the ballot, voters were asked to first vote on whether to approve either initiative and then cast a second vote for which one they supported.

South Dakota

South Dakota became the first state to go from total prohibition to legalizing recreational marijuana use, while a parallel ballot question that would authorize only medical use passed by an even larger margin.

Amendment A, which would legalize marijuana for adults over 21, passed with 53% of the vote as of Wednesday morning, with 90% of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press.

At the same time, the passage of Initiated Measure 26 will legalize cannabis use for qualified patients with "debilitating" medical conditions, and had a commanding 69% percent lead on Wednesday morning.

Initiated Measure 26 allows patients to be prescribed marijuana or to cultivate it themselves. Patients can have 3 ounces of marijuana in their possession. State residents with a medical card can grow their own marijuana, but must have at minimum three plants, according to the measure.

The medical marijuana program will recognize out-of-staters' medical marijuana cards, as well.

In addition to legalizing marijuana more broadly, Amendment A would also require state legislators to create regulations for hemp cultivation, processing and sale.

Although the state has legalized the cultivation of hemp, there are currently no regulations governing the crop. A regulatory plan has to be submitted to the U.S. Department of Agriculture and approved before hemp farming can begin, according to the 2018 Farm Bill, which legalized hemp.

Montana

A measure to legalize marijuana for adult use in Montana passed. 

Two state ballot questions to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 or older had the majority of the vote as of Wednesday morning, with just over 68% of precincts reporting, according to The Associated Press.

Constitutional Initiative No. 190, which had 57% of the vote as of Wednesday morning, would levy a 20% tax on marijuana sales and assign the state's Department of Revenue to regulate the legal cannabis market.

Another question, Constitutional Initiative 118, laid the groundwork for the legalization question by allowing either the legislature or another ballot initiative to set a legal age limit for recreational marijuana use different from the state constitution's current adulthood age of 18. On Wednesday morning, it was leading with 58% of the vote.

The measure gives the department until October 2021 to get regulations for adult-use marijuana on the books and limits adult-use licenses to existing medical marijuana businesses for the first year.

--Editing by Jill Coffey.

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