Despite its numerous growing pains over the past year and change, marijuana remains one of the fastest expanding industries on the planet. After logging $10.9 billion in legal worldwide sales in 2018, Wall Street has global pot sales hitting anywhere from $50 billion to $200 billion by 2030.
Although cannabis is a global growth story, there’s no question that the U.S. is at the center of this expansion. The United States is already responsible for the lion’s share of legal weed sales, in spite of the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule I (i.e., illicit) substance at the federal level. Even with presidential candidates Joe Biden (D) and Donald Trump (R) unlikely to alter this classification, that’s not going to stop legalization momentum at the state level.
With less than five months left before Americans hit the polls, a dozen states have proposed various marijuana initiatives, 10 of which are looking to legalize medical marijuana, recreational cannabis, or both at the same time. While many of these proposals are still in the signature gathering stage or pending official review, the following four states look to have the best chance to “go green” come November.
Perhaps the state with the best chance of legalization is the Garden State. In December, New Jersey’s two legislative houses voted very decisively in favor of putting a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana. Similar to the other states to have OK’d the recreational consumption and sale of adult-use weed, adults 21 and over would be allowed to purchase cannabis, and an excise tax would be collected on all sales.
According to a Monmouth University poll released in April, 61% of New Jersey voters favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis, which would appear to signal a victory is imminent for pot enthusiasts come Election Day.
Of course, Curaleaf (OTC:CURL.F) will be doing some cheering of its own. Curaleaf already has a medical marijuana presence in the Garden State, and it’ll likely aim to use its deep pockets to build a considerably larger presence in what could well become a state capable of more than $1 billion in annual pot sales. Among U.S. multistate operators, none have more currently operational dispensaries than Curaleaf.
Although Arizona has five separate marijuana initiatives being considered at the moment, and none of them are a lock to make it onto the ballot, it, too, looks to have an inside path to adult-use legalization.
Why Arizona? Back in 2016, it was the only one of nine states whose medical or recreational pot initiative/amendment didn’t pass. Arizona’s Proposition 205 came awfully close, with the “yes” votes for the measure totaling nearly 48%. History has shown that when adult-use legalization initiatives wind up on a ballot a second time following an initial defeat, they pass. This is what happened in both California and Oregon last decade.
Based on a new poll highlighted this week by Marijuana Moment, a whopping 65% of likely Arizona voters favor adult-use legalization, which is up considerably from the 54% support garnered last year in favor of legalization.
Though it’s struggled of late, Harvest Health & Recreation (OTC:HRVS.F) would absolutely welcome the idea of recreational legalization throughout the Grand Canyon State. Harvest Health has the largest presence among multistate operators in Arizona, and has pared down its expansion activities in recent months to conserve capital, likely giving it even more reason to focus on its home market.
New poll numbers suggest that most Arizonans want to be legally allowed to buy, use, and grow cannabis under state law.
The poll, by HighGround Public Affairs Consultants, was conducted among 400 likely voters between May 18 and May 22. The numbers reflect how far Americans, in general, have come in their thinking about marijuana prohibition over the past few years. And it reveals something of a sea change in Arizona conservatives’ view on cannabis.
The legalization measure proposed for 2020, Smart and Safe Act Arizona, is supported by 65 percent of voters, plus or minus the poll’s margin of error of 4.9 percent. That’s substantially higher than 2016’s failed effort, Prop 205, ever polled.
Democrats and Independents, naturally, support the initiative in overwhelming numbers.
Yet even older folks and Republicans are in favor of this year’s cannabis legalization initiative, according to the poll.
Fifty-six percent of Republicans definitely or probably will be voting for it; 63 percent of voters aged 50 to 64 were in the category of definitely or probably, as were 55 percent of voters 65 and older.
Support from the latter category was a “bit of surprise,” said Paul Bentz, HighGround’s vice president of research and strategy. The firm noted in its release about the findings that it hasn’t been hired by any group related to the initiative or its opposition.
The 65-and-older group usually polls at 50 percent support or less for marijuana legalization, Bentz said. Besides the country’s overall momentum toward legalization, the Smart and Safe campaign seems to have worked out the “nitty-gritty” details that have bogged down other legalization campaigns in Arizona and other states, he said, smoothing over worries that some Republicans have by banning the sale of THC-infused gummies and other candy-like edibles that appeal to kids.
“The Highground poll is encouraging and tracks with what we know — Arizonans are ready to legalize marijuana,” said Stacy Pearson of Strategies 360, which is running the campaign on behalf of its sponsors, a group of the state’s legal medical marijuana dispensaries. “And in this economic environment, the need for new tax revenue is even more important to our state.”
Smart and Safe would allow Arizonans 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana, five grams of which could be in the form of concentrates. Possessing between one and 2.5 ounces would be a petty offense only. Arizonans could grow six marijuana plants, or a maximum of 12 if two people live in the home. The proposal also requires penalties for minors who possess or buy cannabis; caps the number of dispensaries to 150 initially; provides for “social equity” licenses for communities harmed by prohibition; and gives the Department of Health Services oversight of the adult-use program.
The initiative needs 237,645 valid voter signatures to qualify for November’s ballot. Pearson said the campaign is “on track to turn in more than 400,000 signatures next month.”
Collecting signatures has been tougher because of the pandemic, and a bid to the state Supreme Court to allow electronic signature gathering failed. But Bentz said he still believes the campaign’s in good shape.
“I think they’re going to make it now,” Bentz said. “They’re padding it as much as possible.”
The best bet to derail legalization at this point would likely be a legal challenge of some sort, he said.
Such a challenge could succeed if the initiative has an as-of-yet-unknown Achilles’ heel. In 2018, for instance, supporters of a plan to raise money for schools by taxing wealthy residents turned in more than 270,000 signatures, seemingly qualifying them for the ballot. But after a committee backed by the Arizona Chamber of Commerce sued, the state Supreme Court agreed the initiative’s wording was imprecise and kicked it off of the ballot.
Prop 205, which failed in 2016 by almost three percentage points but was similar in many ways to Smart and Safe, had iffy polling from the beginning. A poll the month before the November 2016 election showed no more than 50 percent in favor, and 40 against, with 10 percent undecided. The prop couldn’t poll more than about 40 percent with people 50 and older or Republicans.
But four years and a better-crafted bill appears to have made a big difference.
One potential shortfall for the poll: It didn’t ask what voters thought of legalizing home cultivation, an issue that industry insiders say has sometimes polled poorly among Arizona voters. Bentz agreed that the question might have pulled down the poll results “a little bit,” and said the firm didn’t leave out the question on purpose.
Like all elections, an element of the unknown remains, including how voters who split their tickets might vote on the cannabis initiative, Bentz said. The biggest “ticket splitters” are people who tell pollsters they’re going to vote for Democratic Senate candidate Mark Kelly, but also vote for President Trump’s reelection. Trump is trailing Biden by only two points, Bentz pointed out, while incumbent Senator Martha McSally is currently trailing Kelly by 10 points. The eight-point difference represents quite a few potential Trump-Kelly crossover votes, he said.
“I don’t know where those folks are on marijuana,” he said.
Another x-factor is the opposition. Opponents of Prop 205 got an early start, raising money and lobbying communities against the measure in 2015. The next year, they leaned on Governor Doug Ducey to help raise millions for ads that helped defeat Prop 205. But so far, opposition to Smart and Safe Act has been largely absent.
No need to adjust your reading glasses or clean off your computer screen — that really does say “Mississippi.” Despite being a historically conservative state — conservatives are less likely to support the legalization of cannabis in any form — Mississippi looks to have a good shot at joining the other 33 states to have previously legalized medical marijuana.
Mississippi voters will face up to two questions when they go to the polls in November. The first requests their vote (in a roundabout way) on whether medical marijuana should be legalized in their state. Should they agree with legalization, they’ll then need to pick between Initiative 65 and Initiative 65A. Initiative 65 allows for a more lax use of medical cannabis by patients with more than 20 qualifying conditions. Meanwhile, Initiative 65A would make smoking medical pot available only to terminally ill patients and dramatically increase the medical oversight of patients using cannabis.
A survey conducted by Millsaps College and Chism Strategies earlier this year found that 67% of respondents favored the idea of legalizing access to medical cannabis, with just 24% opposed.
Although Mississippi is unlikely to be a major target of pot stocks in a post-legalization environment, we could see larger players dip their toes into the pond if the less-restrictive Initiative 65 passes.
Lastly, the Mount Rushmore State appears to have a really good shot at legalizing marijuana in some form. That’s because South Dakota is the first state to put a medical marijuana measure and a recreational initiative in front of voters at the same time. Currently, cannabis is illegal throughout the state.
First up in Constitutional Amendment A, which would legalize recreational marijuana, and require the state’s legislature to pass laws providing for the use of medical weed and hemp by no later than April 1, 2022. The other possibility is Measure 26, which supports establishing a medical marijuana program in South Dakota for patients with qualifying debilitating conditions.
While it’s unclear if South Dakota would have enough support to go from marijuana being completely illegal to recreationally allowed (cannabis surveys in the Mount Rushmore State are hard to come by), the numbers are on medical pot enthusiasts’ side. Nationally, around 9 in 10 Americans support the idea of legalized access to medical cannabis products. Even in traditionally conservative states, favorability tends to handily outweigh opposition. This makes it pretty likely that Measure 26 passes with ease on Election Day.