Tomorrow voters in five states will decide whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana use. Currently, 5.4% of Americans live in states where recreational marijuana is legal. After the election, that percentage could rise to 23.1%.
Ballot initiatives this year reflect America’s changing attitude towards the drug. Prohibited across the country less than five years ago, marijuana is now legal and regulated in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed current marijuana laws as well as usage rates in the five states that could legalize recreational marijuana this election.
A state’s legislative process is an important factor in its path towards legalization of marijuana. In an August 2016 interview with 24/7 Wall St., Morgan Fox, senior communications manager with Marijuana Policy Project, a marijuana legalization advocacy group, explained, “Traditionally, voters have been far ahead of politicians when it comes to supporting marijuana policy reform.” As a result, states that allow ballot initiatives — through which voters can propose statutes and constitutional amendments — are more likely to legalize marijuana sooner than states that do not allow ballot initiatives.
The four states that have legalized recreational marijuana use have done so through ballot initiatives, and all five states voting to legalize next week are doing so through a ballot initiative.
Relatively high usage rates among voting-age adults in these five states also suggest a tolerant attitude towards the drug. In Massachusetts, for example, nearly one in five adults have used marijuana in the past year, one of the highest usage rates in the country.
While not a critical step towards full-scale legalization, states that allow marijuana use for medical reasons are also more likely to repeal prohibition. Legal medicinal use reflects a relatively tolerant attitude towards pot and also helps voters better understand the issue. “One of the potential benefits of having a functional medical marijuana program is that voters are able to see what a regulated marijuana industry looks like,” Fox said. This, in turn, can help people “envision what it would look like under a legalized system.” All five of the states voting on legalization allow medicinal marijuana use for certain conditions.
24/7 Wall St. reviewed current marijuana laws as well as usage rates in the five states that could legalize recreational marijuana this November. State marijuana laws came from the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and marijuana use and perceptions of risk came from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. In states that have not decriminalized marijuana, maximum fines are listed for the smallest amount penalized for first-time offenders.
These are the next states to legalize marijuana.