For many, there wasn’t a lot to celebrate Tuesday night. A rancorous and combative presidential campaign has left deep and painful divisions across the country, while many Americans struggle to reconcile the nation they love with the anger that propelled a temperamental reality TV star to the Oval Office.
But the night did offer some progressive wins in the areas of medical and recreational cannabis use. While Florida kept us tied in knots over the presidential race for hours, a quick, decisive and strong decision was delivered on the ballot measure to legalize medical marijuana with 71.2 percent voting in favor. The win in Florida was followed by strong support in North Dakota garnering nearly two-thirds of the votes and a solid win in Montana. The results in Arkansas were a little tighter through the night but the ballot measure eventually passed with 53 percent of the vote. As a result of these votes, medical marijuana will be legal in a majority of U.S. states.
Five states put legalized recreational cannabis use on the ballot. The ballot question was narrowly defeated in Arizona. But there are four victories which mark a great step forward for legalization. Nevada’s gamble paid off with a comfortable victory for Question 2 that will see a regulatory scheme similar to Colorado’s. The independent-minded residents of Maine also voted to end cannabis prohibition.
Along with Maine, the win in Massachusetts will help create a climate in the northeast which could prompt state legislators to move legalization forward in states where ballot measures aren’t an option. With Massachusetts moving forward and impending legalization across the border in Canada, states like Vermont and New Hampshire would be wise to start to prepare their move toward legalization. I’m sure New Yorkers won’t be happy watching Boston enjoy a recreational market without them either.
No question, the biggest win for the cannabis movement came late in the night with a solid victory in California. Success in California, the world’s sixth-largest economy, was critical to keep momentum moving forward not only because of the size of the state’s population, but for its influence. Legalization in a state that helps shape American and global popular culture is going to have a huge impact on changing the conversation and normalizing cannabis use. And with a move to legalize underway in Canada, there is now a cannabis corridor stretching from Alaska to the California–Mexico border.
The states moving ahead on legalizing the recreational use of cannabis have a great opportunity to look at the experiences in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington to figure out how to get it right.
The results on the ballot measures are good news for those of us who care about this issue but they also offer a glimmer of hope as we wrestle with the question of what comes next for the country. These ballot initiatives prove that states can lead progressive change. If we want to continue to advance progressive issues, social justice and rights, a focus on getting it right at the state level might be our last, best hope during this presidential term.
Derek Riedle is the founder and publisher of Civilized.