State of the Leaf: The Election That Changed America

Published on November 11, 2016 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Voters cast their ballots at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise, Idaho, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. (AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger)

 U.S. News Updates


After a long and grueling campaign, Arizona’s bid to legalize adult-use cannabis lost narrowly on Tuesday, with 52.2 percent of voters casting ballots against Proposition 205. Of the nine marijuana measures on the ballot this year, Arizona was the lone one to fail Tuesday night. Arizona’s result isn’t a complete surprise, however, considering that opposition groups Arizonans for Responsible Drug Policy and No on Prop. 205 sunk nearly $5 million into campaigning against the measure, airing numerous anti-legalization ads in the weeks leading up to the election. Arizona may have missed its chance to legalize this year, but the fight to end prohibition is far from over.


With more than 53 percent in favor, Arkansas made history as the first state in the Bible Belt to legalize medical cannabis. As the results came in, many advocates were nervously watching the reaction of Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former DEA chief and outspoken prohibitionist. After Issue 6 passed, however, Hutchinson announced at a press conference that not only will he make no efforts to block the program, but he’s also asked Arkansas lawmakers to set aside $3 million for the program’s implementation. “The people voted this in,” he said, “and I intend to implement it according to the will of the people of Arkansas.”


In a move that surprised no one, California voters approved Proposition 64 to legalize cannabis for adult use. The measure went into effect the day after the general election, although retail cannabis licenses are not expected to be issued until January 2018. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom said at a victory party that temporary licenses could be issued before the law is fully implemented. For now, while the possession, consumption, and home cultivation of cannabis is legal, no non-medical sales are yet allowed.


Initiative 300, a local Denver measure that would allow the consumption of cannabis onsite at specially licensed businesses, enjoys a narrow lead but is still too close to call—and could be until next week, the Denver Post reports. The ordinance would allow the consumption of cannabis in certain establishments with the support of their neighborhood in addition to a permit from the city. Drafted as a pilot program, the measure would in 2020 unless extended by the City Council or a new voter initiative. Meanwhile, voters in Pueblo County rejected a measure that would’ve banned the cannabis industry from the county. As the measure’s failure was announced, cannabis advocates announced plans to establish a national cannabis museum in Pueblo, billed as the nation’s first.


After the stunning defeat of medical cannabis in 2014, it was inspiring to see how quickly and overwhelmingly Floridians voted in favor of Amendment 2 to legalize medical cannabis. Florida was one of the first states with a cannabis measure on the ballot to call the race, and with 71 percent of the vote in favor, it’s clear that Florida wanted to make up for lost time. The new law will not go into effect until Jan. 3, 2017 and there are quite a few rules and regulations to be worked out before patients will have legal, accessible medicinal cannabis.


Mainers watched the legalization measure with bated breath all night, but by 3 a.m. EST, the results were still inconclusive and ballots were still being tallied. Trying to sleep with legalization worries on the brain meant a stressful post-election day, and the votes continued to roll in, slowly but surely. Question 1 to legalize cannabis in Maine was projected to pass on Thursday, with 50.17 percent in favor and 49.83 percent opposed. If and when state officials finalize the results, the measure would take effect 30 days after the governor makes the announcement, but opponents have already begun the call for a recount. A leader of the opposition campaign, Scott Gagnon, has already called on President-elect Donald Trump to use the Department of Justice to shutter state-legal cannabis programs.


Massachusetts residents voted to legalize cannabis despite vocal opposition a number of state leaders. The law technically won’t go into effect until Dec. 15, but after that adults 21 and older can possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis at home and up to 1 ounce of cannabis flower in public. The law passed with 54 percent support even amid vehement opposition from Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healey. The measure’s success was one of the election’s major cannabis victories and, along with Maine, will bring adult-use cannabis to the East Coast.

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One Minnesota physician is pushing to amend the state’s medical marijuana law to allow veterinarians to recommend medical cannabis for our four-legged friends. Dr. Ilo Leppik is a University of Minnesota physician and pharmacy interested in finding treatment for those who suffer from uncontrollable seizures. Dogs have higher rates of epilepsy than humans do, and cannabis remains one of the most viable treatment alternatives for controlling seizures. Many veterinarians remain wary of the idea, having seen the notable increase in animals accidentally ingesting cannabis-infused edible products. However, allowing cannabis use in animals could provide much-needed insight into the potential benefits of cannabis as a treatment option for pets.


By approving Initiative 182, state voters reversed the decision to shutter medical dispensaries across the state by imposing a three-patient limit on medical cannabis providers. A state license will now be required for providers who cultivate and manufacture cannabis products, and the law also repeals the power of law enforcement to conduct unannounced inspections of cannabis establishments. Instead, the inspections will be conducted annually by state officials rather than law enforcement. Patients will now need to register for medical cannabis ID cards, which are valid for one year before they must be renewed.


The Silver State extended the West Coast legalization trend inland Tuesday by voting to legalize cannabis for adult use. Nevada voters approved Question 2 with more than 54 percent in support of the measure. Its success could have a big impact on tourism, especially amid the twinkling lights of Las Vegas and Reno. The state’s cannabis tourism is already ahead of the game, as Nevada accepts out-of-state medical marijuana recommendations. The law takes effect Jan. 1, 2017, and the Department of Taxation is expected to begin accepting applications for marijuana establishments by Jan. 1, 2018.

North Dakota

North Dakota surprised observers byoverwhelmingly passing Measure 5 to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Not only did the initiative pass, it earned 63.7 percent of the vote, stunning advocates and opponents alike. The State Department of Health will have 90 days to implement rules and regulations, and the countdown has already begun.


Four communities in Ohio passed local ordinances to decriminalize cannabis. Newark, in Locking County, Bellaire, in Belmont County; Logan, in Hocking County; and Roseville, on the border of Perry and Muskingum counties, all voted to approve measures to reduce penalties for possession of small amounts of cannabis. A similar measure in Byesville, in Guernsey County, failed. Nearby Toledo passed a decriminalization ordinance in 2015, which provided the basis for the latest measures. Take note: The ordinances only affect their respective jurisdictions.


While Oregon legalized adult-use cannabis statewide last year, the measure allows a significant amount of local control. This election season, the state saw a host of local ballot measures involving bans, taxes, and other changes to local rules around the industry. In all, voters in around 60 municipalities considered bans on cannabis businesses, and about three-quarters of those measures passed. Fifteen proposed bans were rejected, including one in Oregon City and two in Douglas County. More than 100 localities imposed modest sales-tax increases on adult-use cannabis, and Portland passed 3-percent local increase on sales tax.

International News Updates


The national Office of Drug Control recently published guidelines ahead of accepting license applications from would-be medical cannabis cultivators and manufacturers. The rules include a 23-page guide to security that outlines a bevy of onerous provisions: closed-circuit TV monitoring, alarm systems, “climb-proof perimeter fencing,” security staff making regular perimeter sweeps, a safe or vault that cannot be adjacent to an exterior wall—the list goes on and on. The nonrefundable fees for licenses are also so expensive that applicants will need access to serious capital in order to join Australia’s fledgling medical cannabis industry and comply with regulations.


Health Minister Simon Harris promised to take action on medicinal cannabis in January. He made the promise to Vera Twomey, the mother of a 6-year-old girl with Dravet syndrome, a form of treatment-resistant epilepsy. Twomey’s daughter had needed round-the-clock care before beginning a cannabis oil regimen that left her nearly seizure-free. Harris said that the government ordered a review of the policy on medicinal cannabis and asked the Health Products Regulatory Authority (HPRA) to provide expert scientific advice as part of the review. The Oireachtas health committee is also due to discuss the issue this month, and Harris requested recent developments on the use of cannabis for medical purposes, as well as related products that have been approved for use in other jurisdictions.

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Lisa Rough
Lisa Rough
Lisa is a former associate editor at Leafly, where she specialized in legislative cannabis policy and industry topics.
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