After the results of the 2020 election, one-third of the entire US population now lives in a state where adult-use weed is legal.
A strong majority of voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota approved full adult-use legalization in their home states this week. With these additions, pot is now fully legal for adults living in 15 states, plus Washington DC. This new wave of legalization victories means that a third of all Americans are now living in a jurisdiction that has closed the doors on cannabis prohibition.
Before the election, 93 million Americans lived in the 11 states where adult-use was already legal. The four states that legalized this week add another 16 million people to that pot, accounting for a third of the country's entire population. New Jersey and Arizona account for the largest share of this population, but the fact that conservative states like Montana and South Dakota also legalized clearly indicates that support for cannabis reform transcends party affiliations.
The federal government still continues to prohibit cannabis at every level, despite the fact that medical marijuana is legal in 35 states. But now that adult-use is legal in a third of the country, that is likely to change at last. A third of all Representatives in the House and a quarter of the Senate now represent states that have legalized, increasing the chances that Congress will finally pass a bill to kill prohibition for good.
This year might have been an even brighter year for adult-use legalization if not for the COVID pandemic. Activists in Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, and Oklahoma all launched cannabis legalization ballot campaigns this year, but all were forced to abandon their signature collection efforts during the lockdown. Many of these activists are planning to relaunch their campaigns in 2022, and if successful, these initiatives could bring legal weed to half of the country.
And even though there are no major elections next year, several states could still legalize weed by act of law. The governors of Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and New York are all pushing to legalize as soon as possible, in order to prevent their states' residents from spending millions of dollars buying legal weed in New Jersey and Massachusetts. And in New Mexico, the pressure for legalization has increased now that pot is legally available in neighboring Arizona and Colorado.
The future of cannabis reform in the US seems brighter every day, but there is still much to be done to leverage the damage wreaked by decades of prohibition. “The ‘yes’ vote is only the first step toward justice," ACLU New Jersey Executive Director Amol Sinha told POLITICO. "Lawmakers must create an inclusive, racially just, equitable cannabis industry, enable robust expungement of records, and invest revenue in the communities hit hardest by unjust drug law enforcement, especially Black and brown communities."