Ever since Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve marijuana legalization initiatives in 2012, additional states have joined them in each biennial election that has followed. And 2020 could be a banner year for cannabis on the ballot.
There are at least 16 states where advocates believe marijuana measures could go before voters next year—some considering full-scale recreational legalization while others would focus on medical cannabis.
Some of these would be citizen-led voter initiatives where activists collect signatures to qualify a measure for the ballot, while others would be referendums that lawmakers place before voters.
“Since the first adult-use legalization ballot initiative victory in 2012, the marijuana reform movement has successfully maintained its momentum,” Matthew Schweich, deputy director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “For four elections in a row there has been a legalization victory at the ballot box, and the upcoming election could deliver more victories in one day than ever before.”
Of course, not every initiated effort will end up securing enough funding, or formulating solid enough campaign plans, to collect sufficient signatures to qualify their measures for voters’ consideration on Election Day—but these are all states where activists or lawmakers have talked seriously about putting cannabis questions on ballots.
It’s not feasible to list every measure that activists took the modest trouble to initially file, and this overview looks primarily at efforts that seem most poised to advance. This post also doesn’t include the long list of states that might legalize marijuana through actions by lawmakers, as opposed to citizens via the ballot—which will be the focus of a separate piece.
In alphabetical order, here’s a comprehensive overview of the states where marijuana could be on the ballot in 2020.
Voters in Arizona narrowly rejected a marijuana legalization measure in 2016, thanks in part to sizable campaign contributions from the pharmaceutical industry. In 2020, though, the state’s medical cannabis companies will be working to pass an initiative making marijuana legal for adults.
The effort, known as Smart & Safe Arizona, would allow people 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It would also create a pathway for individuals with prior convictions to have their records expunged, and it proposes using some tax revenue from legal sales to invest in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.
Dispensary chains MedMen, Harvest Health and Recreation and Curaleaf Holdings are helping to fund the campaign. Advocates must collect 237,645 valid signatures from voters by July 2 in order to put the measure on the ballot.
In 2016, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing patients to have legal access to medical cannabis. Now, activists are floating separate measures to more broadly end marijuana prohibition and expunge past records.
In order to place the measures on the ballot, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform must gather 89,151 signatures by July 3, including required minimums in at least 15 counties.
Under the legalization proposal, adults over 21 would be allowed to to possess up to four ounces of marijuana, two ounces of cannabis concentrate and edible products containing cannabis with THC content of 200 mg or less. They could also cultivate up to six cannabis seedlings and six cannabis flowering plants for personal use.
A system of legal and regulated sales would be created, with tax revenue funding the program’s implementation, public pre-kindergarten and after school programs as well as the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
Under the separate expungements measure, people with certain prior marijuana convictions would be able to petition courts for relief, including release from incarceration, reduction of remaining sentences and restoration of voting rights.
Despite the advancement of marijuana legalization legislation through several General Assembly committees this year, lawmakers weren’t able to form the consensus needed to get a bill to the desk of supportive Gov. Ned Lamont (D).
But while Connecticut doesn’t have the initiative process where activists can collect signatures to place a question on the ballot, some elected officials have floated the idea of advancing a referendum that would let voters weigh in on ending prohibition.
Most activists would prefer that lawmakers go ahead and just pass a legalization bill—because running a public education campaign to ensure a ballot measure passes would be expensive at a time when resources are needed in other states. A general referendum question would also require subsequent implementation legislation, and even putting it on the ballot in time for 2020 would take a supermajority of 75 percent of legislators.
Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis in 2016. Now, a group called Make It Legal Florida is working to place a full-scale marijuana legalization measure on the key swing state’s 2020 presidential ballot.
The proposed amendment to the state constitution would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be permitted to sell marijuana to adults. While the measure doesn’t mention a licensing system to establish separate recreational shops, lawmakers will likely enact detailed regulations should it pass, as they did with the prior medical cannabis measure.
The campaign is being backed by cannabis companies such as MedMen and Parallel (formerly known as Surterra Wellness).
A separate group, Regulate Florida, recently acknowledged that its lesser-funded effort wouldn’t be be able to successfully collect enough signatures to qualify for the ballot.
Idaho is one of only a handful of states in the U.S. that doesn’t even allow patients to access CBD medications with low-THC content. That could change, however, under a proposed medical marijuana ballot measure for which activists are currently collecting signatures.
The Idaho Cannabis Coalition’s proposal would let approved patients and their caregivers possess up to four ounces of marijuana. A system of licensed and regulated growers, processors, testers and retail dispensaries would be established.
Patients would not be allowed to grow their own medicine unless they qualify for a hardship exemption for those who have have a physical, financial or distance difficulty in acquiring marijuana at a dispensary. Those patients could grow up to six plants.
Organizers need to collect 55,057 valid signatures from voters in order to qualify the measure for the ballot.
In September, activists filed what they believe are more than enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis measure for Mississippi’s 2020 ballot.
If the initiative is approved, patients with any of 22 conditions—including cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder—be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis per 14-day period.
The secretary of state is expected to announce whether organizers collected a sufficient number of signatures for ballot access early in 2020.
Voters in the Show Me State approved a medical cannabis measure in 2018.
Now, activists are looking to expand on that with a broader marijuana legalization. Several different proposed measures to end cannabis prohibition have been filed with the secretary of state, but the campaigns at this point seem to be operating largely under the radar, so it remains to be seen whether any group will have the funding needed to mount a successful signature gathering drive.
Last year three separate medical cannabis measures ended up qualifying for the ballot, but two were rejected by voters.
Montana already has a medical cannabis program, and activists are looking to expand that to include legal adult use of marijuana in 2020.
The group New Approach Montana is currently in the process of drafting two separate legalization measures—one constitutional and one statutory.
The details of the proposals aren’t yet publicly available, but the statutory proposal will need roughly 25,500 valid voters signatures to qualify for ballot access, while the constitutional amendment would require nearly 51,000 signatures.
The national groups Marijuana Policy Project and New Approach PAC are backing the effort.
A separate group, MontanaCan, has already filed its own legalization proposal.
While legislative leaders in the Garden State, along with Gov. Phil Murphy (D), had hoped to simply pass a bill legalizing marijuana this year, the votes didn’t materialize. Instead, lawmakers decided to put the question of ending cannabis prohibition directly before voters.
Under the referendum adopted by the Senate and Assembly, the November 2020 ballot will contain a question that reads, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called cannabis?”
If the proposed constitutional amendment is approved, lawmakers would then get to work adopting regulations for the legal cannabis industry.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) put marijuana legalization language in his budget submission earlier this year but, despite support for the idea from leading lawmakers, disagreement over particulars such as how to spend tax revenue meant that the proposal didn’t get over the finish line.
Indications are that Cuomo and lawmakers will try the legislative route again in 2020, but the governor has floated the idea of referring the question to voters at the ballot box.
“The opposition Senate position is there is no state that has passed it without a referendum. It’s never been done just by the legislature,” he said in a radio interview this year. “I believe Jersey may be moving to a referendum also, but Massachusetts, et cetera, the legislature acted after a referendum. So that’s what the senators who oppose it say—they think it’s an overreach by the legislature.”
If lawmakers can’t agree on the details of legalization again this year, Cuomo may call skittish legislators’ bluff and seek to advance a cannabis referendum to fulfill what he has said is one of his top agenda items.
North Dakota voters approved a medical cannabis ballot measure in 2016 and two years later swiftly defeated a proposal to more broadly legalize marijuana.
But advocates may have another chance in 2020. While the unsuccessful 2018 measure contained no limits on the amount of cannabis people could possess or grow, the new initiative, written by the same group of activists, has robust regulations—including a ban on home cultivation.
Legalization supporters hope more voters will agree to the narrower proposal this time around.
There is also another proposed legalization measure vying to collect the 13,452 valid signatures needed for ballot access.
In 2015, Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a marijuana legalization measure that even many longtime activists opposed due its proposed regulatory structure that would have granted control over cannabis cultivation to the very same group of wealthy individuals who paid to put it on the ballot.
Advocates have cited the Buckeye State as a potential target for another try in 2020, though no proposals have yet been filed.
Voters in number of communities throughout the state have in recent years approved measures to decriminalize marijuana possession on a local basis, indicating that there is public support for cannabis reform if placed on the state ballot again next year.
That said, Ohio is a large state, and qualifying initiatives there is very expensive, so any successful effort will likely need to have industry support.
Voters in Oklahoma shocked national observers by approving a medical cannabis ballot measure last year during a midterm primary election by a solid margin, even though demographics thought to be most supportive of marijuana reform tend to turn out in bigger numbers during general elections in presidential voting years.
Since then, people have flocked to the program, with nearly 5 percent of the state’s population registered as approved patients.
Now, seeing potential for expansion, activists are looking to follow up next year with a broader marijuana legalization initiative.
Backed by the national New Approach PAC, the new effort will have to collect 178,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify for ballot access.
Under the measure as initially filed, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. There would be a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales, revenue from which would cover implementation costs and fund schools, drug treatment programs and other public service programs.
Personal possession would be capped at one ounce and individuals could grow up to six plants. The proposal would also provide expungements for those with prior marijuana convictions.
Backers recently withdrew the initial measure, but plan to redraft it with feedback from the medical cannabis community, with a new version expected to be filed soon.
Lawmakers in Rhode Island have filed marijuana legalization bills for the last several sessions but they have never been brought to a vote. In 2019, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) went so far as to put legalization language in her budget proposal, but it was removed by legislative leaders.
The governor has indicated she will make another attempt in 2020, but if that doesn’t pan out, lawmakers may consider putting the question to voters via a referendum.
In 2016, Raimondo said she is “open to” giving voters a chance to decide on legalization via a ballot question. And House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D), said that he was “considering the possibility of placing a non-binding referendum question on the ballot regarding the use of recreational marijuana.”
A bill for a marijuana referendum that was filed in 2018 never received a vote, but it’s an avenue the legislature might consider pursuing next year as legalization comes online in more nearby states.
Lawmakers in Nebraska have repeatedly rejected medical cannabis legislation. Frustrated with their colleagues’ unwillingness to change the law to let patient legally medicate, two senators in the state’s unicameral legislature are partnering with local and national advocacy groups to put the question directly to voters through a ballot initiative.
Under the proposed constitutional amendment, physicians or nurse practitioners would be able to issue recommendations to patients, who would then be allowed to “use, possess, access, and safely and discreetly produce an adequate supply of cannabis, cannabis preparations, products and materials, and cannabis-related equipment to alleviate diagnosed serious medical conditions without facing arrest, prosecution, or civil or criminal penalties.”
The measure would also provide for a system of legal and regulated cannabis distribution through dispensaries.
Organizers must collect valid signatures from roughly 122,000 voters in order to make the ballot.
The South Dakota secretary of state’s office certified this month that activists collected more than enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the November 2020 ballot.
If approved, patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions would be allowed to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary with approval from their doctors. They could also grow at least three plants, or more if authorized by a physician.
A separate campaign led by a former federal prosecutor is currently collecting signatures in support of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for adult use.
That measure would allow adults 21 and older to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The state Department of Revenue would issue licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.
South Dakota voters rejected medical cannabis ballot measures in 2006 and 2010, but advocates hope that the changing national and regional climate on marijuana reform means that voters will be more supportive this time around.
Non-Marijuana Initiatives On State Ballots
Activists in a few states are taking steps to bring broader drug policy reform questions to voters’ ballots in 2020.
A group called Decriminalize California is preparing to soon begin collecting signatures in support of a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms.
In Oregon, organizers are already collecting signatures to qualify separate initiatives to legalize the psychedelic fungus for therapeutic uses and to decriminalize all drugs while expanding funding for substance misuse treatment programs.
2020 Will Be A Big Year For Marijuana
While 2019 was a huge year for marijuana, 2020 is poised to be even more impactful.
Separate from the huge number of states where cannabis and drug policy reform questions could appear before voters on ballots, lawmakers in many states are expected to consider bills to legalize marijuana.
Meanwhile, advocates will push to expand on cannabis reform momentum in Congress, where this year a marijuana banking bill was approved by the full House of Representatives and legislation to federally legalize cannabis and fund programs to begin repairing the harms of the war on drugs advanced at the committee level.
And with presidential candidates increasingly embracing cannabis legalization and other far-reaching reforms, 2020 is poised to be the biggest year for marijuana yet.
“In 2020, hundreds of thousands of Americans will turn out to vote not for the top of the ticket, but for the rights of cannabis consumers in upwards of a dozen states,” said NORML Political Director Justin Strekal. “As we have seen in previous elections, marijuana initiatives increase voter turnout in nearly every demographic. With public support growing by the day, 2020 will be the biggest year yet for expanding the freedoms and liberties of cannabis consumers.”
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.