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America Votes Yes for Cannabis! 2020 Election Day Roundup

"The country appears uncharacteristically united when it comes to marijuana."

Legalized It!

Cannabis was the big winner of the 2020 election.

Last year, a divided country waited four days to learn who won the presidency, as Election Day turned into election week. On Saturday, November 7 the race was called and Joe Biden declared the winner. But by then it was clear that the biggest winner of the 2020 election was unquestionably Cannabis, which enjoyed a clean sweep at the ballots. 

The country appears uncharacteristically united when it comes to marijuana, as voters in four states decisively approved measures to legalize, tax and regulate pot. Those four states – Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota(!) – join the 11 states that already legalized Cannabis, bringing the total number of legal pot states in the country to 15 (along with the District of Columbia). 

While recreational legalization stole the headlines on Election Day, medical marijuana also deserves a mention as voters in Mississippi and South Dakota legalized Cannabis for medicinal use (it was a big day for pot policy in South Dakota, as residents approved both adult-use and medicinal marijuana measures). Medical Cannabis is now legal in 35 states and Washington, D.C.

No two state’s pot laws are the same. So let’s take a closer look at what was passed on Election Day and see what residents of the latest legal states have to look forward to.

New Jersey

New Jersey voters were given the opportunity to do what state lawmakers had been unable to accomplish when the question of Cannabis legalization was placed on the ballot. Leading up to the election, polling indicated that legal marijuana had strong support in the Garden State and campaign finance records showed that pot proponents outraised opponents 130:1. So it was no surprise that voters easily passed the constitutional amendment legalizing recreational Cannabis. Still, the 2-to-1 margin is impressive, as the measure passed with 67 percent of the vote. It’s near impossible to get 67 percent of people to agree on anything.

Now that adult-use Cannabis has been approved, lawmakers in New Jersey must create (and, importantly, agree on) the corresponding legislation. Just about all aspects of the program, like the number of cultivation and retail licenses that will be allowed, the rules for regulating and testing marijuana and even possession limits, have to be decided. So while Cannabis will officially become legal for adults 21 and older on January 1, 2021, the state is likely about a year away from beginning retail sales as it works through the process of crafting the program.   

Recreational Cannabis will be subject to New Jersey’s sales tax (6.625 percent) and local governments can decide to add additional taxes on sales in their jurisdictions.


Support for marijuana policy reform was on the rise over the last decade in Arizona, culminating in a resounding victory for recreational Cannabis this November.  

In 2010, voters narrowly approved the use of medical marijuana, passing Prop 203 with just over 50 percent of the vote. In 2016, Arizona had its first chance to tax and regulate recreational Cannabis with Prop 205 but the initiative failed, receiving only 48.7 percent of the vote. This year, Arizona succeeded in legalizing Cannabis for adults 21 and older when an incredible 60 percent of voters approved Prop 207. 

The new law takes effect once the election results are made official on November 30, 2020 and allows possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, “of which five grams can be concentrate.” The measure also permits home cultivation of up to six plants or up to 12 plants in homes with two or more adults, and allows for expungement of past Cannabis crimes. 

Under the law, Arizona’s Department of Health Services is responsible for establishing the rules for retail sales and issuing licenses. Adult-use sales could begin as early as the spring of 2021.


Fifty-seven percent of voters in Montana approved Initiative 190, which legalizes the possession, cultivation and sale of Cannabis. Beginning January 1, 2021 adults 21 and older can possess up to an ounce of flower or eight grams of concentrate. Home cultivation of up to four plants will also be permitted.

Montana’s new marijuana law tasks the Department of Revenue with establishing the state’s retail program. Yet while possession will be legal this coming January, Montanans will have to wait a bit for the debut of adult-use sales. The Department of Revenue will start accepting applications for dispensaries and providers by January 2022.

When retail sales begin, the state will impose a 20 percent tax on pot products.

South Dakota

Voters in South Dakota passed a constitutional amendment to legalize Cannabis for adults. The amendment allows possession of up to an ounce of Cannabis and establishes retail sales. 

The state’s Department of Revenue will be responsible for issuing licenses for the retail program. Once sales are implemented, the new law imposes a 15 percent tax on marijuana products. The law also allows local governments to ban Cannabis sales in their jurisdictions. Those who live in an area without a licensed retail shop are permitted to grow up to three plants at home, or as many as six plants in a single household. 

South Dakota’s recreational Cannabis amendment passed with 54.2 percent of the vote – easily the lowest percentage of the four states that approved adult-use pot laws. Only an election boasting such resounding victories for marijuana-law reform could trivialize the fact that recreational Cannabis got over 54 percent of the vote in South Dakota.

About Mike Gianakos

Mike is the former editor-in-chief of High Times magazine, where he also spearheaded video and podcasting for the company. He has produced a number of Cannabis-related podcasts, including Free Weed, and is currently the producer and co-host of Grow Bud Yourself. Mike is the senior editor for Northeast Leaf magazine. Email story ideas to mikeg@leafmagazines.com

This article was originally published in the December 2020 issue of All Magazines.

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