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Election 2017: Legalization Candidates and Measures Win Big

Published on November 7, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
A person casts her ballot during voting for parliamentary elections at a polling station in Bucharest, Romania.

Final Update: This was a small but significant night for cannabis-tied races and measures around the country. New Jersey’s pro-legalization gubernatorial candidate, Phil Murphy, won handily, and will take over for the nation’s most notorious prohibitionist, Chris Christie. In Detroit, two medical marijuana reform ordinances passed easily, with about 60% of the vote. And in Athens, Ohio, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure to de-penalize cannabis possession, with a whopping 77% of voters approving the measure.

Final Results

10:15pm EST:

Democrat Phil Murphy, Legalization Advocate, Will Be New Jersey’s Next Governor.

This is fantastic news for the folks in NJ who’ve been battling Chris Christie over medical marijuana for thousands and thousands of years. Murphy isn’t just a medical cannabis believer. He wants to adopt adult-use and has pledged to sign the bill that legalization advocates are readying in the state legislature.

Democrat Ralph Northam Defeats Republican Ed Gillespie in Virginia

If you’re a legalization advocate, this is a slight victory. Neither candidate has embraced adult-use legalization. Northam wants to decriminalize, while Gillespie would have allowed for tightly restricted medical marijuana (maybe). Don’t look for major change on the cannabis front here.

Detroit Approves New Medical Marijuana Ordinances

With 90% of the vote in, both measures are passing with about 60% of the vote.

Athens, Ohio, Voters “De-Penalize” Cannabis in Their City

The measure to zero-out the fine for cannabis possession within the city limits passed by a whopping 77%. That’s amazing. Folks, the school levy in Athens only passed by 65%.

Colorado Municipalities OK Cannabis Tax Increases

Voters around Colorado approved new local taxes on cannabis.

In Eagle County, residents OK’d new sales and excise taxes on adult-use cannabis. The taxes, which will fund mental health programs, will start at 2.5% and eventually reach 5%. The tiny western Colorado town of De Beque approved a new sales tax of 5% on medical cannabis, although the town doesn’t have any medical marijuana dispensaries.

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In Longmont, a 3% tax on adult-use cannabis sales appears headed toward victory there, and voters in Berthoud appear to have approved a 7% adult-use cannabis sales tax there.

New York State Voters Really, Really Don’t Want a Constitutional Convention

A landslide here. 83% of ballots cast said “no” to this idea. Got to give a hat tip to the folks at Cannabis 4 NY, though, for this painfully honest email sent out Wednesday morning:

9:48pm EST: Don’t Hold Your Breath for Those Athens Results

The good public servants in Athens, Ohio, are still tallying the votes on their decrim measure. At least we hope somebody’s in the office with the lights on. Not sure. Their web page has been nothing but 404 all night.

9:31pm EST: Not Looking Good for NY State Constitutional Convention

This is the measure that could, in theory, lead to a state constitutional convention that might include an amendment to legalize cannabis. It’s going down heavily in early returns. With 26% of precincts reporting, the “no” votes are leading by about 80% to 20%.

8:26pm EST: Phil Murphy Looks Like Solid Winner in New Jersey

NBC has him as their projected victor, and their exit polls offer pretty overwhelming evidence. Those polls have him as a 58-40 winner over Guadagno. Early ballot results are tracking along those lines. This is excellent news for legalization advocates, who are ready to move through the NJ legislature as soon as Murphy is sworn in.

8:18pm EST: CNN Now Projecting Northam as Next Virginia Governor

They have him at 51.3% and climbing, while Ed Gillespie seems to be stalling out at around 47.5%.

8:09pm EST: NBC Projects Northam in Virginia, Murphy in NJ

Okay we get Northam, but seriously the polls just closed in New Jersey. Like 9 minutes ago.

8:04pm EST: CNN Has Virginia for Northam at 51% Now

That’s a flip-flop from about half an hour ago.

7:58pm EST: One More Reason to Watch NJ Gov’s Race

NYU scholar makes a good point, in re New Jersey Sen. Bob Menendez (D-Bribery Trial).

7:52pm EST: Bit of a Disparity There

NBC News reporter Steve Kornacki has these exit poll results from New Jersey:

7:42pm EST: Polls Close at 8pm in New Jersey, Murphy Gathers in Asbury Park

Greetings from…the Asbury Park Convention Hall, where Democrats are gathering to await the first returns.

7:38pm EST: Ed Gillespie Out to Early Lead in Virginia

CNN has the Republican leading with 51.7%, to Democrat Ralph Northam’s 47.0%, with about 11% of precincts reporting. Northam favors legal medical marijuana; Gillespie is skeptical and wants a much more “limited” MMJ policy.

7:29pm EST: Polls Close at 7:30pm in Athens, Ohio

You have one minute to vote on that decrim measure, Athenians! We’re just posting this mainly to use the term Athenians. Which we will be doing all night.

7:15pm EST: We don’t know who’s winning yet, but we know who’s losing…

NBC News is exit polling New Jersey voters about their opinion of cannabis prohibitionist and outgoing Gov. Chris Christie. Result?

Races We’re Following:

Statewide Measures

New York

Voters in New York will have the chance to vote on a constitutional convention question on this year’s ballot. Voting yes would trigger a constitutional convention, which would allow changes to be proposed to the state Constitution. Voters would be then able to weigh in on those changes in a November 2019 election.

A constitutional convention could open the door for the statewide legalization of adult-use cannabis via a change to the state’s Constitution, although the likelihood of that change is less than certain, and the change wouldn’t take place for several years.

If voters were to approve the convention, the process would begin in 2018 with the election of more than 200 delegates, with three representing each of the state’s 63 Senate districts and an additional 15 individuals from anywhere in the state.

Citywide Measures

Detroit, Michigan

Voters in Wayne County will decide the fate of Proposal A and Proposal B, both of which would amend current medical marijuana laws.

Proposal A would change the Detroit City Code to require a dispensary to be at least 500 feet from another dispensary and a religious institution, down from the current requirement of 1,000 feet. Proposal A would also allow dispensaries near alcohol retailers, child care centers, arcades, and parks. Under Proposal A, dispensaries would be allowed to stay open until 9 p.m., extending the current required closing time by one hour.

Proposal B, meanwhile, would allow growers and secure transporters to establish and operate within Detroit’s industrial districts (zoned M1-5) and business districts (zoned B1-5).

Athens, Ohio

The Athens Cannabis Ordinance would reduce penalties for cannabis misdemeanors to a fine of $0, effectively “depenalizing” low-level cannabis possession, cultivation, and gifting. Marijuana misdemeanors affected would include:

  • Possession of up to 200 grams of marijuana and up to 10 grams of hash
  • Cultivation of up to 200 grams of marijuana
  • Gifts of up to 20 grams of marijuana
  • Possession and sale of paraphernalia

Gubernatorial Races

New Jersey Governor

New Jersey’s gubernatorial race will pick a replacement for current Republican Gov. Chris Christie, who’s lashed out against both medical and adult-use cannabis legalization—most recently in a report to the Trump administration.

From a cannabis perspective, the stakes couldn’t be higher: While either candidates would likely be an improvement over Christie, Democratic nominee Phil Murphy, who currently leads the race, wants to legalize cannabis for adult-use. His opponent, Republican Kim Guadagno—currently Christie’s lieutenant governor—does not. She’s said she’s “wholly opposed to legalizing marijuana”—although she’s indicated support for limited decriminalization and some expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program.

Virginia Governor

Currently holding a narrow lead in the polls is Democratic nominee Ralph Northam, the state’s lieutenant governor, who has said he supports medical marijuana and would make a push for decriminalizing the drug if he’s elected. He’s called the state’s current enforcement and sentencing laws “costly and disproportionately harmful to communities of color.”

Northam’s opponent, Republican Ed Gillespie, is more sluggish about reform. He’s said he opposes decriminalization because it “sends the wrong signal” to young people, but he said he would support a three-strikes approach that would remove criminal charges for the first and second offenses. By then, he told a crowd in Richmond in September, “you really should know better.” On medical use, Gillespie is similarly half-committed: He’s said he supports “limited, tightly regulated” use of cannabis for some medical conditions.

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Leafly Staff
Leafly Staff
Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis information resource, empowering people in legal cannabis markets to learn about the right products for their lifestyle and wellness needs. Our team of cannabis professionals collectively share years of experience in all corners of the market, from growing and retail, to science and medicine, to data and technology.
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