A Pew Research poll shows that 59% percent of Americans support legalizing both medical and adult-use marijuana—and at least a dozen states showed signs of progress on the issues by the start of this year. Now that widespread social distancing to slow the spread of COVID-19 has altered the daily lives of people everywhere, you may be wondering about the outlook for pro-cannabis efforts in the U.S. this November.
States can legalize marijuana through the ballot or the legislature. Ballot campaigns usually require a minimum number (ranging from around 20,000 to hundreds of thousands) of signatures from registered voters. Typically, signature-gatherers will canvass at malls, outside of grocery stores, and even door-to-door in an effort to garner support. In the last six months, several states saw significant movement toward getting the requisite number of signatures and seeing their initiatives on the November 2020 ballot.
In South Dakota, for instance, both a medical and an adult-use measure have already qualified. Advocates in Arizona also met the signature threshold that will now let voters decide whether recreational sales will co-exist with their already-established medical marijuana program. Unfortunately, signature-gathering efforts in Missouri, Nebraska, and Idaho are not likely to make the cut.
For states taking the legislative route, governing bodies must be in session for any pro-marijuana bills to pass. Lawmakers in New York, Connecticut, and Vermont were set to bring up further marijuana reforms this year, but some state legislatures have been suspended to comply with social distancing guidelines. For those legislatures continuing to meet, addressing the impacts of the pandemic at the state level will take higher priority than cannabis issues.
There remain, nonetheless, a few bright spots for marijuana legalization this year. States could approve electronic signature-gathering at this unprecedented moment, perhaps giving more of these measures a chance. Additionally, if the entire 2020 election moves to a mail-in ballot, we may see higher voter turnout—and, assuming that the polls are reliable—that could boost marijuana’s performance this year.