It’s election year in the United States. That means marijuana legalization will be a hot topic on ballots across the country.
Colorado and Washington became the first two states to approve marijuana legalization in 2012. Since then, new states have joined them in each successive election year.
2020, however, could be a banner year for cannabis on the ballot.
Experts believe that at least 16 states could put forward marijuana-related measures before voters in 2020. Some of those states are considering full-scale recreational legalization of marijuana, while other states are focusing on the legalization of medical cannabis.
In some of these states, citizens are leading the way. Activists have collected the signatures required to qualify a measure for the ballot, and the states must now add the measure to the ballot.
In other states, lawmakers are placing referendums before voters or leading their own initiatives.
Marijuana activists are active in every state in America. In some states, however, activists were unable to gather sufficient support to place initiatives on the ballot. In other states, there simply isn’t enough public support to make marijuana initiatives feasible.
In any case, here’s an overview of the states where marijuana legalization has a strong chance of being added to the ballot before the federal election in November 2020.
Marijuana legalization was almost on the ballot in Arizona in 2016. However, due in part to sizable contributions from the pharmaceutical industry, the marijuana legalization measure was left off the ballot the last election year.
In 2020, however, Arizona’s largest medical cannabis companies are working to pass an initiative making marijuana usage legal for adults. The companies have come together under a campaign called Smart & Safe Arizona. The companies propose a system where adults 21 and older are allowed to possess, consume, cultivate, and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers.
Under the new system, individuals with prior marijuana-related convictions could apply to have their records expunged. The new system also proposes using some tax revenue from legal sales to invest in communities that were disproportionately affected by prohibition.
Some of the notable Arizona companies funding the marijuana legalization campaign include dispensary chains like MedMen, Harvest Health and Recreation, and Curaleaf Holdings.
The next step? The Smart & Safe Arizona campaign needs to collect 237,645 signatures before July 2 for the measure to be placed on the ballot. If they get enough signatures, the ballot will go ahead – and it’s certainly possible recreational use of marijuana will be legal in Arizona by this time next year.
In 2016, Arkansas voters approved a constitutional amendment allowing patients to have legal access to medical cannabis. Now, activists are taking the logical next step to end marijuana prohibition, expunge past records, and legalize recreational use of marijuana statewide.
The measure will be placed on Arkansas ballots as long as the main activist group, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, gathers 89,151 signatures by July 3. The organization must also meet required minimum voting totals in at least 15 counties.
The organization is proposing a system in Arkansas where adults over 21 are allowed to possess up to four ounces of marijuana, two ounces of cannabis concentrate, and edible products with less than 200mg of THC. Adults would also be allowed to cultivate up to six cannabis seedlings and six cannabis flowering plants for personal consumption.
Under the proposal, Arkansas would also create a proposal for legal and regulated sales. Tax revenue from that legal and regulated system would fund the implementation of the program. A portion of tax revenue would also fund public pre-kindergarten programs, after-school programs, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences.
As for expungements, Arkansans with certain types of prior marijuana convictions would be able to petition courts for relief. That relief could include relief from incarceration, reduction of remaining sentences, and restoration of voting rights.
Connecticut advanced marijuana legalization legislation through its state government in 2019, although lawmakers were ultimately unable to form the consensus needed to get a bill to the desk of Governor Ned Lamont (D). That’s unfortunate, because Governor Lamont has previously indicated support for marijuana legalization.
Making things more complicated for Connecticut is that the state does not have the same system as Arizona and Arkansas where activists only need to collect a certain number of signatures to have the proposal added to the ballot. However, some elected officials have suggested holding a referendum that would end marijuana prohibition across the state.
A general referendum would require subsequent implementation legislation. To get it on the ballot in 2020 would require a super majority of 75% of legislators. However, this is the preferred path forward for activists because a full-on activism campaign would be expensive at a time when resources are needed in other states.
Ideally, Connecticut’s legislators will agree to the marijuana legalization proposal, the proposal will be added to the ballot in 2020, and voters will vote to end prohibition. This could all reasonably happen by January 2020 – so stay tuned, Connecticut
Florida is the third most-populated state in America, behind only Texas and California. Statewide legalization of recreational marijuana usage in Florida would be a big deal.
In 2016, Florida voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis. Moving into 2020, a group called Make It Legal Florida is working to add a full-scale marijuana legalization measure to this year’s ballot.
Under the Make It Legal Florida proposal, adults 21 and over would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would be able to sell marijuana to adults over age 21.
Notable cannabis companies like MedMen and Paralel (formerly known as Sunterra Wellness) are supporting the Make It Legal Florida campaign.
Meanwhile, a separate group called Regulate Florida was also active in recent years with similar goals. However, that group recently announced that it would be unable to successfully collect enough signatures to qualify for the 2020 ballot, so the effort was abandoned.
Idaho is one of the few states in the America that doesn’t even allow patients to access CBD medications with low THC content. After the 2020 election, however, that could change.
The Idaho Cannabis Coalition is proposing a system where approved patients and their caregivers could legally access up to four ounces of marijuana. The proposal would establish a system of licensed and regulated growers, processors, testers, and retail dispensaries across the state.
Unlike other legal states, however, patients in Idaho would not be allowed to grow their own medicine unless they qualify for a hardship exemption. The hardship exemption would apply to anyone with a physical, financial, or distance-related impediment to accessing a dispensary. In cases where an exemption is granted, patients could grow up to six plants.
What’s stopping the proposal from being on the ballot in 2020? Just signatures. The Idaho Cannabis Coalition only needs to collect 55,057 valid signatures from voters to add the proposal to the 2020 ballot.
In September 2019, legalization advocates in Mississippi submitted what they believed are more than enough signatures to qualify a medical cannabis measure for the state’s 2020 ballot.
If the initiative is approved, then patients with one of 22 specific conditions would be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis in any 14 day period. The specific listed conditions include cancer, chronic pain, and PTSD, among others.
In early 2020, the Mississippi secretary of state will announce whether or not activists collected a sufficient number of signatures.
Voters in Missouri voted for medical cannabis in 2018. Next, activists want to expand on that legalization effort with a broader statewide legalization of recreational marijuana.
Multiple proposals to legalize recreational cannabis usage have been filed with the Missouri secretary of state. However, all of these proposals are currently under the radar, and no single group has emerged as a major contender. It’s currently unclear if any one state will have the funding required to mount a successful signature gathering drive.
In 2019, three different medical cannabis measures qualified for the ballot although two were rejected by voters. In 2020, it’s possible we’ll see multiple recreational marijuana proposals on the ballot – although more work needs to be done by the activists between now and November for that to occur.
Montana has a medical cannabis system, although activists in the state want to expand that program to include legal, recreational use of cannabis. If those activists are successful, then the proposal will be on Montana ballots in 2020.
The effort is led by a group called New Approach Montana, which is currently in the process of drafting two separate legalization measures, including one constitutional measure and one statutory measure. Neither of these proposals have been made available to the public. However, we do know that the statutory measure needs 25,500 valid voter signatures to qualify, while the constitutional proposal needs 51,000 signatures.
New Approach Montana is receiving financial support by two national groups, including Marijuana Policy Project and New Approach PAC.
Meanwhile, a separate group called MontanaCan is also launching its own legalization proposal. If either MontanaCan or New Approach Montana is successful, then voters in Montana will be voting to legalize recreational use of marijuana in November 2020.
New Jersey’s legislators had originally hoped to pass a bill legalizing recreational use of marijuana earlier this year, although the votes never materialized Instead, lawmakers decided to throw the issue to voters in the form of a referendum.
Because of the 2020 New Jersey marijuana legalization referendum, the November ballot will include a question that reads, “Do you approve amending the Constitution to legalize a controlled form of marijuana called cannabis.”
If the proposed constitutional amendment is approved, then New Jersey legislators would start working on regulations for the legal cannabis industry.
Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) submitted a budget early in 2019 that included language regarding marijuana legalization. Despite receiving support for the idea from leading lawmakers, however, there was disagreement over particular items – like how to spend tax revenue – that ultimately prevented the proposal from being approved.
Analysts believe that Cuomo and lawmakers will try the legislative route again in 2020. However, it’s also possible that the issue will make its way to voters in the November 2020 ballot box.
Ultimately, Cuomo has insisted that marijuana legalization is one of his top agenda items. If lawmakers can’t agree on the implementation of legalization during the first half of 2020, then it’s possible we’ll see the issue on ballot boxes in November 2020.
In 2016, voters in North Dakota approved a medical cannabis proposal. Two years later, North Dakota voted against a proposal to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
However, optimistic advocates believe they have a better chance of legalizing recreational use of marijuana in 2020. One issue with the 2018 proposal was that it contained no limits on the amount of cannabis people could possess or grow. The new initiative, which was written by the same group of activists, has more detailed recommendations, including specific regulations like a ban on home cultivation.
To give further optimism to North Dakota marijuana enthusiasts, there’s a separate proposal vying to collect the 13,452 valid signatures needed to get added to the November 2020 ballot.
In 2015, voters in Ohio rejected a marijuana legalization measure. That sounds bad. However, many long-time marijuana activists also voted against the regulation because it granted control of cannabis cultivation to the same group of wealthy individuals who paid to put it on the ballot.
Unfortunately for Ohio, no major activist groups have filed proposals for recreational use of marijuana to be added to the ballot in 2020.
There are some signs of optimism. Voters in a number of communities throughout the state have voted in support of efforts to decriminalize marijuana possession locally. That could indicate support for marijuana legalization statewide. However, Ohio is a large and populous state, and any initiatives to legalize marijuana in the state will need extensive support and strong funding.
Oklahoma subverted expectations in 2018 when it approved a medical marijuana ballot during midterm primary elections by a sizable margin. The measure was approved even though demographics that tend to support marijuana are typically absent during midterm elections compared to presidential voting years.
Since that pivotal vote in 2018, voters in Oklahoma have flocked to the medical marijuana program. Today, nearly 5% of the state – or 1 in 20 Oklahoman's – are registered as approved medical marijuana patients.
For 2020, Oklahoma’s marijuana activists are seeking even more ambitious goals: statewide recreational legalization of marijuana. These activists are backed by the national organization New Approach PAC. To be added to the 2020 ballot, the initiative will need 178,000 signatures from registered voters.
Under the current proposal, Oklahoma residents 21 and older would be allowed to possess, cultivate, and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. Oklahoma would also charge a 15% excise tax on marijuana sales. Revenue from this tax would be used to fund schools, drug treatment programs, and other public services. Individuals would be permitted to possess one ounce of marijuana or grow up to six plants. Anyone currently in prison for marijuana-related convictions could also have their records expunged.
Backers recently withdrew support for the measure, although they may support the measure once again after it’s redrafted with consultation from the medical cannabis community. A new version is expected to be filed soon.
Over the last several sessions, lawmakers in Rhode Island have filed multiple marijuana legalization bills. However, none of these bills has been brought to a vote.
In 2019, Rhode Island’s Governor, Gina Raimondo (D), even added language about medical legalization of marijuana to her budget proposal, although it was later removed by legislative leaders. Raimondo has indicated that she will make another attempt to add the language in 2020, although if her efforts are not successful, then lawmakers may pose the question to voters via a referendum.
Raimondo has indicated that she is “open to” giving voters a chance to decide on legalization via a ballot question.
A marijuana referendum was almost added to the ballot in 2018. However, the bill for that referendum never received a vote. Nevertheless, this is an option the Rhode Island legislature may consider pursuing next year as legalization biomes more common in neighboring states.
Medical use of cannabis is currently illegal in Nebraska, and lawmakers in Nebraska have rejected multiple attempts at medical cannabis legalization.
However, two senators in Nebraska’s unicameral legislature have partnered with local and national advocacy groups in an effort to put the issue on the ballot in front of voters statewide.
Under the proposal, physicians or nurse practitioners would be able to issue recommendations for patients. Those patients would then be able to “use, possess, access, and safely and discreetly produce an adequate supply of cannabis, cannabis preparations, products and materials, and cannabis-related equipment to alleviate diagnosed serious medical conditions without facing arrest prosecution, or civil or criminal penalties.”
The proposal would also create a system of legal and regulated dispensaries where patients could access medical cannabis.
it’s a long cry from the statewide recreational legalization of cannabis proposed in other states listed here, but it’s a good first step for Nebraska. The next step? Collect 122,000 signatures from voters to be added to the ballot.
South Dakota will officially have a medical cannabis measure on the November 2020 ballot. In late 2019, the South Dakota secretary of state certified that activists had collected sufficient signatures to qualify for this year’s federal election ballot.
If the proposal is approved, then patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions would be allowed to possess and purchase up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed dispensary with approval from their doctors. Patients would also be allowed to grow up to three plants, although this limit could be raised if approved by a physician.
A separate campaign in South Dakota, however, aims to take statewide legalization a step further. That campaign, led by a former federal prosecutor, is currently collecting signatures to support statewide recreational legalization of marijuana usage by adults. Under this proposal, adults 21 and older across South Dakota would be allowed to possess and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to three cannabis plants.
It’s unclear how South Dakota voters will vote. In 2006 and 2010, voters rejected medical cannabis legalization. As activism has increased across the state, however, and as nationwide attitudes have changed, attitudes in South Dakota may have changed – at least, that’s what activists are hoping for.
Other Drug Policy Reform Ballots in 2020
The states listed above plan may reform marijuana-related laws in 2020. However, other drug policy reforms may also be added to the ballot in 2020, and these reforms could affect the overall legalization movement.
An organization called Decriminalize California, for example, is preparing to collect signatures to support a measure to legalize psilocybin mushrooms.
In Oregon, meanwhile, organizers are collecting signatures to legalize psychedelic fungus (i.e. mushrooms) for therapeutic usage. At the same time, organizers are seeking to decriminalize all drugs statewide while also expanding funding for substance misuse treatment programs.
Final Word: 16 States Could Legalize Marijuana in 2020
Technically, its feasible that we could have 16 more legal states after the November 2020 election in the United States. We could have several more states where recreational use of marijuana is legal for adults. We could also have multiple states where medical use of marijuana is legal.
In closing, Marijuana Policy Project deputy director Matt Schweich shared with WeedMaps:
“Since the first adult-use legalization ballot initiative victory in 2012, the marijuana reform movement has successfully maintained its momentum” […] “For four elections in a row there has been a legalization victory at the ballot box, and the upcoming election could deliver more victories in one day than ever before.”
Safe to say there is interesting and intriguing times ahead. Be sure to check out all of the individual CBD state laws as well. Of course, it all comes down to voters. Stay tuned to see what happen in November 2020. Special thanks to the credible sources used in compiling the legal and political information contained within this 2020 marijuana legalization overview.