Acceptance of legal cannabis is rising across the United States and the 2020 election season was an eventful one for the cannabis legalization movement.
Though COVID-19 restrictions prevented several legalization proposals from making it to the ballot, measures in five states ended up making it to the ballot and passed easily.
Mississippi voters approved medical cannabis, while voters in Arizona, Montana and New Jersey approved adult-use. South Dakota voted to legalize medical and adult-use cannabis at the same time—making it the first state to do so. These new legalizations bring the total population of states with medical cannabis to 241.1 million (71% of the country) and the total number of adults in adult-use states to 83.3 million (34% of the country.)
The next question is: When will these newly legal states be able to begin selling product to consumers?
Arizona, where adult-use passed with almost 60% support only four years after narrowly losing, is a state to watch in 2021. Arizona’s 130 dispensaries brought in $700 million in sales in 2019 and are expected to reach nearly $1 billion in 2020—one of the strongest markets among the medical states that passed adult-use this year. Applications for adult-use licenses will be open on Jan. 19, 2021, and sales are expected to start soon after, assuming state legislators do not hinder the process.
Passage in New Jersey will have profound effects on the northeast region, even though the state’s top cannabis regulator says not to expect sales to begin in the next few months. Cannabis regulators in the Garden State are delaying the launch of adult-use sales, citing an expected influx of both in-state and out-of-state customers that would decimate the state’s limited product supply, leaving patients without access. This illustrates one of the biggest side effects of New Jersey’s legalization: Neighboring states’ will likely quickly move toward legalization. New York, for example, has been teasing the prospect of legalizing for almost two years. Passage in New Jersey will likely speed up passage in New York, as part of its 2021 budget, which will be approved in March or April.
Of the five states that passed legalization initiatives, four lean conservative. Legalization passed in Montana with 57% of the vote, while many of those same voters elected a Republican governor and delivered the state’s three electoral votes to Donald Trump. Ruby red South Dakota made history by becoming the first state to legalize both adult-use and medical with the same proposal, despite stiff opposition. Mississippi also voted for a much bolder legalization measure than the one proposed by its own conservative legislature.
Clearly, cannabis legalization is becoming less of a partisan issue, attracting support from all political corners. BDSA expects federal prohibition to end by 2022, and while a majority of Americans support legalizing cannabis, the process of rolling back prohibition will still take place on a state-by-state basis.