2020 Cannabis Reform Election Preview

By Johnny Green


When it comes to cannabis policy, the United States is unique. We are the only country on earth where there are two conflicting policies operating simultaneously. At the federal level non-hemp cannabis is completely prohibited in the U.S. However, in a growing number of states cannabis is legal at the state-level for medical and/or adult use.


The first state to legalize cannabis for medical use was California in 1996. Zoom forward to today, and almost every state in the U.S. has some type of medical cannabis law, with some obviously being more limited than others.


Colorado and Washington State were the first to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2012, and since that time several other states have done the same. Most of the states have legalized via the ballot box, however, a couple have legalized via the legislative process (Illinois and Vermont).


With the 2020 election right around the corner, several states have the opportunity to get on the right side of history and legalize cannabis for medical and/or adult use. The 2020 election will not be as big of a year for cannabis reform as the 2016 election, however, it still has the potential to be a very big election for reform efforts.

Arizona will be voting on adult-use legalization in November. Arizona was one of five states to vote on cannabis legalization in 2016, and unfortunately, it was the only state during that election cycle to fail to approve legalization. Hopefully the second attempt will prove to be successful.

Montana will also be voting on an adult-use cannabis legalization measure. Montana is home to a well-established medical cannabis industry, and polling for the initiative has been favorable. With that being said, only time will tell if Montana voters approve the initiative and add Montana to the list of legal adult-use states.



New Jersey is a state that is of particular interest to cannabis reform advocates. When Governor Phil Murphy was first elected he famously stated that New Jersey would legalize cannabis for adult use ‘within 100 days.’ However, multiple years passed and New Jersey’s legislature failed to make good on Governor Murphy’s promise. Fortunately, New Jersey lawmakers decided to put a legalization measure on the November ballot for voters to decide, and the measure is expected to pass.



South Dakota is one of just a few states that does not have even a limited medical cannabis law. The state will make history in November when voters get the chance to vote on not just a medical cannabis legalization initiative, but also an adult-use legalization initiative. It’s the only state in U.S. history to see both types of measures on the same ballot.



Lastly, Nebraska will vote on a medical cannabis legalization initiative. Out of all of the states voting on cannabis reform in November, Nebraska likely has the least favorable odds of winning. However, that’s not to say that the initiative is dead on arrival. It’s quite possible that Nebraska voters could approve the measure. Only time will tell.


The votes in November, if successful, could prove to be the tipping point for federal cannabis reform efforts. If every state wins, the number of adult-use states will increase significantly in the U.S. and further build momentum for a national reform victory.


It’s not just the number of states involved that builds momentum - it’s the types of states involved. Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey are very significant when it comes to national politics, and South Dakota and Nebraska are historically very conservative. If reform happens in all of those states, it will likely raise the eyebrows of federal lawmakers that have sat on the ‘cannabis reform fence’ for many years and hopefully push encourage them to finally step up.


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