While there were any number of big victories on election night, one of the biggest wins at the state level was for marijuana, which racked up an impressive eight wins in the nine states where it was on the ballot. Five states – Arizona, California, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada – fielded proposals on full legalization. Four states – Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota – voted on medical marijuana proposals. However, with a new administration whose stance on legalized marijuana is not clear-cut set to occupy the White House in January, the issue may remain in flux for years to come.
On election night, three states – California, Massachusetts and Nevada – approved measures that will legalize possession, sale, use and cultivation of marijuana, to varying degree, for adults over 21. A fourth, Maine, also approved the measure according to the first count of results, though opponents may seek a recount of the election results.
These four states will join Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington as those that have fully legalized the still-federally illegal drug. Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota all passed ballot initiatives to legalize medical marijuana, bringing the total number of states that have approved these programs to 29.
Arizona was the only state where the ballot measure to legalize marijuana failed to pass. The result was narrow, 48 percent of voters supported the measure, while 52 percent opposed it.
To date, the Obama administration has followed a policy of choosing not to enforce the federal prohibition on states that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana, which has allowed programs to operate and flourish in states where one or both have been legalized.
Trump’s pick for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, is a vocal opponent of marijuana legalization whose elevation could deal a blow to state-level marijuana legalization efforts across the country.
At a Senate drug hearing last April, Sessions said that “we need grown-ups in charge in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it’s in fact a very real danger.”
Sessions also voiced concern over statistics showing more drivers testing positive for THC, in certain states.
President-Elect Donald Trump’s stance on the issue will be of vital importance to the states that have gone for full legalization. Should he or his attorney general choose to enforce federal law, state-level programs that have legalized recreational or medical marijuana could be in peril.
In the past, President-Elect Trump has stated that he is, “in favor of medical marijuana 100%.” However, his stance on legal recreational marijuana is less clear. He has said that it should be a “state issue, state-by-state,” but also called Colorado’s marijuana industry a “real problem.” His running mate, Vice President-Elect and current Indiana Republican Gov. Mike Pence, is an opponent of marijuana legalization.
Whatever policy the new administration chooses to pursue, it is certain that states will continue to push forward with measures to legalize marijuana. Bills to legalize marijuana recreationally have passed at least one legislative chamber in both New Hampshire and Vermont, and both states, among others, are likely to see the issue reintroduced in the coming 2017 legislative sessions.