The presidential race may have ripped the country apart, but cannabis policy successfully swept the nation across Democrat and Republican partisan lines with a clear message: prohibition doesn’t work. While thousands are protesting President-elect Donald Trump, few are contesting the triumph of weed.
Four of five states—California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine—legalized adult use, also known as recreational use, marijuana. Only Arizona rejected it. As for medical marijuana, citizens in every state that had it on the ballot—Florida, Arkansas, North Dakota and Montana—voted in favor. With these eight wins, more than half the states have now legalized cannabis to some degree, adding up to an estimated $8 billion in additional revenue.
California’s Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, specifically has been called a “gold standard” for legalization and a model other states should use toward legalization, even as some California cities are moving to temporarily ban pot sales as a safeguard against their unforeseen effects. Revenue from the initiative’s projected annual $1 billion in revenue and $100 million in savings will go to research, environmental cleanup, education, DUI protocols, drug prevention and support for communities devastated by the Drug War.
Those convicted of marijuana violations can now also petition to reduce them or have their criminal records cleared altogether. The new law reduces a number of marijuana felonies to misdemeanors, and misdemeanors to infractions. “When we’re talking about recreational, people get sucked into the idea that it’s just about getting fucked up and having fun. This is a step in the direction of addressing a horribly unjust criminal justice system—one that unfairly targets people of color,” says Noah Rubin, the editor-in-chief of Merry Jane, a cannabis media company.
For liberals fearing Trump’s presidency, the cannabis wins are a silver lining; as Republicans continue to dominate Congress, however, federal reform is less, if any, of a guarantee. Trump staunchly supports states’ rights, but insiders say he’s likely appoint Chris Christie and Rudy Giuliani to senior positions, both of whom are against marijuana law reform. “Given who has been elected president, we need Republican allies who believe in cannabis legalization and states’ rights to fight back against whoever he might appoint as attorney general,” says Amanda Reiman, a marijuana law and policy manager for the Drug Policy Alliance.
Some cannabis activists are remaining hopeful. “Even if Christie or Guiliani or whomever Trump appoints wants to crack down on state marijuana laws, it will cause a huge distraction and political problems that the new administration does not need right now,” says Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority. “Marijuana policy reformers are way more popular than [Christie and Guiliani] are. Their challenge is to start building bridges and bringing people together. Cracking down on something so broadly supported is not going to work out well for them.”
Most expected California to legalize adult use marijuana, but legalization in Massachusetts and Maine are also major wins for the movement, especially since the Massachusetts is one of the most populous states in the Northeast. In such a small region, wet states sitting adjacent to dry states will ultimately influence policy in the latter. And in Nevada, where the opposition raised huge sums of money to fight legalization, the initiative’s success marks a huge win toward the nationwide effort. Even medical marijuana’s success in the purple state of Florida, as well as in other Republican states, signals the graduation of marijuana law reform from a fringe liberal position to a mainstream public policy.
Voters in liberal bastions like California, the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, are trumpeting pot legalization as a badge of progress in a time of national divisiveness. With 12 percent of the American population, the world’s sixth largest economy, and a forward-thinking cultural gravitas, experts and activists agree that California was a critical state in the path toward national reform. At the very least, it’s a buffer against federal threats of increased regulation, according to Reiman.
Prop. 64 is just one of a handful of leftist policies California championed, including a law requiring gun ammunition buyers to undergo criminal background checks and another rejecting that porn actors should be required to wear condoms. "The outcome doesn’t surprise me on any of these initiatives,” says California Assemblymember Jim Wood. “California is a very progressive state. It’s important that on all these policies, people look to California has a leader on the national level.”
Dustan Batton, a Los Angeles-based public affairs consultant, agrees that the outcome captures the state’s progressive zeitgeist. “People who voted in support of [Prop. 64] come from different walks of life,“ Batton says. "Fifteen years ago, legalization was a hippie ideal. Now we’re seeing conservative facets of the voter population behind that. It’s also the same kind of voter voting to keep condoms out of pornography.” These are people who just want to smoke a joint at home or let porn actors be in control of their own health, he says. “They’re wary of the government intruding on their lives.”
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