Election Scoreboard: A Near-Full Sweep for Legalization

By David Jenison

Election Scoreboard: A Near-Full Sweep for Legalization

Americans gave prohibition a swift kick in the ass. 

Election results show that eight out of nine states with measures on the ballot voted in favor of recreational or medical cannabis. Residents of California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada made recreational cannabis legal, joining Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska, plus the District of Columbia. Maine and Massachusetts share the honor of being the first east coast states to legalize recreational use. 

“To those who allege that marijuana law reform is a west coast phenomenon, tonight’s votes tell a different story,” said NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano. “The majority of Americans throughout this country recognize that marijuana prohibition financially burdens taxpayers, encroaches upon civil liberties, engenders disrespect for the law and disproportionately impacts young people and communities of color. That is voters are rejecting the failures of criminalization and embracing these sort of regulatory alternatives.”

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Proposition 64) in California passed 56 percent to 44; the Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Question 4) passed 54 percent to 46; the Maine Marijuana Legalization Measure (Question 1) narrowly passed 50.2 percent to 49.8; and the Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Question 2) passed 54 percent to 46. Arizona was the only state that voted to continue prohibition. The Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Proposition 205) failed to pass with 48 percent support and 52 percent opposition. 

In terms of the national picture, California was the most important vote. A recent Gallup poll showed 60-percent national support for legalization, and the pollsters noted, “If recreational marijuana use becomes legal in California this year, many other states will likely follow, because the ‘Golden State’ often sets political trends for the rest of the U.S.” 

“Legalizing marijuana in California will have a national and global impact on marijuana prohibition all over the world,” said retired Lt. Commander Diane Goldstein, a veteran of the Redondo Beach Police Department and executive board member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “We are an epicenter of American culture and values, and we’re sending a very loud message: It’s unethical, impractical and harmful to individuals and families to continue punishing people for marijuana. Today is the beginning of the end.”

Likewise, all four states with medical cannabis on the ballot approved it. Two years ago, a similar ballot initiative failed in Florida because the state required a 60-percent supermajority to pass a state amendment, and the 2014 vote fell short at 58 percent. This time around, 71 percent of Floridians voted to legalize medical cannabis, with only 29 favoring prohibition. Likewise, voters in the Clintons’ old state passed the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment with a 53- to 47-percent split. Montana previously legalized medical cannabis, but the state legislature made prohibitive laws—e.g., only three patients per dispensary, automatic state reviews of doctors who regularly prescribe it—that severely restricted access. Fifty-six percent of Montana residents voted to remove those restrictions, while 44 percent opposed it. North Dakota also voted in favor of legalizing medical cannabis with 64 percent of the residents supporting the measure and 36 percent opposing it. Many expected the latter two states, Montana and North Dakota, to oppose legalization. 

What does this mean for people who live in a state with newly legal recreational or medical cannabis? Here is a basic breakdown of what the measures mean in the eight states that voted for legalization.


  • The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Prop. 64) allows people age 21 and older in California to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and eight grams of concentrates; to use it in privates homes and businesses licensed for on-site consumption; to grow up to six plants; and sets new standards for sales, testing, grow sites and packaging. 

  • The Massachusetts Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Question 4) allows individuals age 21 and older to possess up to an ounce in public and 10 ounces in their homes, grow up to six plants and give another person of legal age up to an ounce. 

  • The Maine Marijuana Legalization Measure (Question 1) allows individuals age 21 and older to possess and transport up to 2 1/2 ounces of cannabis and up to six plants, and cultivate up to six flowering plants, 12 immature plants and an unlimited number of seedlings in their residences. 

  • The Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Question 2) allows adults age 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of cannabis or an eighth of concentrate and grow up to six plants in a locked, enclosed area for personal use. 


  • The Florida Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Amendment 2) allows therapeutic use to treat certain disorders, including cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, HIV, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and others. 

  • The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6) allows therapeutic use to treat qualifying conditions such as cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s disease, fibromyalgia, Alzheimer's disease and others. 

  • The North Dakota Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative (Initiated Statutory Measure 5) allows therapeutic use to treat certain disorders, including cancer, AIDS, hepatitis, glaucoma, epilepsy and others. 

  • The Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative (I-182) repeals the three-patient limit on dispensaries, the automatic state review of doctors and unannounced law enforcement inspections. 

What’s Next

More ballot initiatives are in the works for upcoming elections. Watch for cannabis-law amendments in Ohio in 2017 and the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, the Wyoming Medical Marijuana Initiative and the recreational Mississippi Cannabis Freedom Act (Initiative 52) in 2018. 

David Jenison (david@prohbtd.com) is Editor-in-Chief at PRØHBTD. Street mural by Eduardo Kobra.

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