Overview: States Voting on Recreational Marijuana Laws in 2016

By Michael Cheng | May 18, 2016

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2016 looks like a promising year for the recreational marijuana sector.

To date, there are four states that will be voting on full cannabis legalization in the upcoming November ballot: California, Arizona, Maine, and Nevada. If approved, the states will be joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia in pioneering the way for recreational cannabis.

California

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California is one of the most promising states going for full legalization on this year’s ballot. The state legalized medical marijuana almost two decades ago in 1996 through Proposition 215. Since then, the medicinal cannabis sector has grown prolifically. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, California’s legalization initiative, may help the state monitor the selling and consumption of weed in the area. A 15 percent excise tax that is applicable to all retail cannabis sales was proposed with the measure. Residents over the age of 21 would be allowed to hold up to one ounce of the herb, and harvest up to six marijuana plants. Getting caught with more than one ounce is punishable with a maximum fine of $100.

The state has been pushing for full legalization for more than five years. Initially, a previous attempt in 2010 to legalize cannabis recreationally failed to materialize. Moreover, in 2014 an identical proposal failed to make it on the ballot due to lack of funds for the collection of signatures. Organizations backing the initiative learned from their mistakes and this time around, analysts are expecting positive results. “This November, California voters will finally have the opportunity to pass smart marijuana policy that is built on the best practices of other states, includes the strictest child protections in the nation and pays for itself while raising billions for the state,” said Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom.

Arizona

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Arizona, through the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative, has collected over 200,000 signatures for the November ballot, making the possibility of full legalization official. Adults over the age of 21 would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of cannabis under the proposal. Individuals found carrying more than the regulated standard would be fined accordingly up to $300 for amounts over 2.5 ounces. Residents can also grow up to six plants in their homes. An excise tax of 15 percent will be implemented to recreational cannabis sales, and the collection will be used to the support various educational and healthcare programs in Arizona.

Officials predict that the industry could bring in $72 million per year for the state. To establish industry practices, the measure will enforce a regulatory division (Department of Marijuana Licenses and Control), which will oversee cultivation, testing, manufacturing, transportation and sales.

Locals in the area are currently torn when it comes to legalization on a recreational level. A survey from Arizona State University indicates that 49 percent of respondents are in favor of the initiative, while 51 percent will likely decline the measure. In 2010, the state’s medical marijuana proposal barely passed with a buffer of 4,000 votes. “It’s not a matter of people saying marijuana is good, or marijuana is bad. What we are making the decision to do is taking this away from the illegal criminal cartels and instead tax and regulate it for the benefit of Arizona’s education and health care,” highlighted Ryan Hurley, an attorney based in Arizona.

Maine

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Maine is the latest state to make its full legalization initiative official on the ballot. A survey from Critical Insights showed that roughly 65 percent of local voters in the area support recreational cannabis, while around 58 percent of respondents on a national level are in favor of lax marijuana laws, according to a Gallup October 2015 poll. Maine’s proposed recreational guidelines are more appealing, compared to other states attempting full legalization. A state tax of 10 percent on cannabis retail products and a 5.5 percent sales tax would be applicable in the area, limited to consumers 21 and up. Adults can purchase up to 2.5 ounces, and hold up to six flowering plants in their respective homes.

Overseeing industry regulations and practices is Maine’s Department of Administrative and Financial Services’ Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations. The state plans to set a cap on the number of operating cannabis stores and growers until 2019 and 2022. The road to full legalization was supposed to be transparent for Maine, due to its robust medical marijuana program. However, controversy plagued the gathering of signatures for the measure when the Secretary of State decided to accept 51,543 of the 99,299 submitted pledges, due to issues with a notary’s signature. The group challenged the decision legally, and the Secretary of State eventually accepted 11,305 of the 21,197 rejected signatures.

Nevada

With a recreational cannabis measure already confirmed for the November ballot, Nevada is on a smooth path to full legalization. It was the first campaign to complete the number of signatures required to qualify for the fall ballot. Last year, the state announced that it gathered 170,000 signatures to make it official, which was way over the required threshold. If passed, Question 2, Nevada’s legalization initiative, would allow adults over the age of 21 to legally buy up to one ounce of marijuana from a registered dispensary. Weed-related businesses (retailers, suppliers, testing facilities, and distributors) would be required to acquire a recreational marijuana license for operation. The number of licenses that will be released by the state has not yet been determined, though it may initially be limited in order to ensure compliance.

A hefty excise tax of 15 percent at a wholesale level would come with the laws (sales tax still applies to marijuana products sold on retail). The state also laid out plans for the use of tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales. Officials will be pushing funds to the K-12 education budget, and other local learning institution programs. “If we do this right, this will be a major boom to tourism, which is our economy,” said Senator Tick Segerblom.

MassRoots will continue to cover the ballot initiatives’ progress across the country as they unfold, so stay tuned for further details!

Michael Cheng

Michael is a legal editor with publications for Blackberry, Lifehack.org and R Magazine. He specializes in tech startups, cannabis gadgets and fitness wearables. He enjoys spending time outdoors, being a productive father and partaking in a nightly toke after the end of a long day.

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