While immigration, health care and gun control continue to divide the country, at least one issue is starting to bring us together: legalizing cannabis.
After the November 6 election, Michigan will be joining Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Maine and Vermont as the tenth state to legalize recreational cannabis, while Utah and Missouri each approved medical marijuana measures. And those weren't the only victories for cannabis.
Florida voters approved Amendment 4, a change to their constitution that restores state voting rights for people previously convicted of felonies outside of murder and felony sex offenses. Florida had nearly 1.7 million disenfranchised voters as of 2016, according to anti-incarceration organization the Sentencing Project. We couldn't find data on how many of those felons had cannabis-related convictions, but the plant is still illegal in Florida for recreational purposes and wasn't allowed medically until 2016.
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Another huge victory for cannabis was more about who lost than who won. Republican Texas Congressman Pete Sessions, a vocal and stubborn opponent of pot legalization since he was first elected in 1997, was defeated by Democrat Colin Allred, a former NFL player who had never before run for public office. Chairman of the House Rules Committee since 2013, Sessions had blocked the advance of over 36 marijuana-related federal amendments alone. Now that the Democrats control the House of Representatives, it's virtually guaranteed that whoever takes his spot will be easier on the plant.
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“This election proves that U.S. voters are ready and eager for comprehensive cannabis policy reform at the state and federal level,” National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith says in a statement. “This is no longer a third-rail issue. Members of Congress need to listen to their constituents, allow states to determine their own cannabis policies, and start treating this burgeoning legal industry fairly.”
According to the NCIA, twelve states elected gubernatorial candidates who have publicly supported legalizing and regulating cannabis, with three of those winners — including Colorado governor-elect Jared Polis — making it a central issue of their campaigns. Polis, a Democratic Congressman and longtime advocate of legalizing the plant nationwide, defeated Republican Walker Stapleton on November 6 by nearly 130,000 votes.
During his time on the campaign trail, Polis hired a cannabis-policy outreach coordinator and promised that he would have signed three pot-related bills vetoed by current Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper after the most recent legislative session. This past April 20 (the 4/20 holiday), Polis visited a cannabis dispensary and cultivation in Northglenn, antagonizing Attorney General and noted cannabis-hater Jeff Sessions on Facebook Live as he did it.
Still, not every legalization measure was successful last night. Although North Dakota voters overwhelmingly approved medical marijuana in 2016, they rejected a measure that would have legalized adult-use cannabis. The measure was criticized for its lack of regulation surrounding any future pot industry as well as personal possession and cultivation; it lost with only 41 percent of the vote.