On an election night that was dominated by the dramatic finale of the presidential race, voters in California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada approved recreational marijuana, with only Arizona voting no to legalizing cannabis. And 4 states—Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota—expanded access to medical marijuana, bringing the nationwide total for legal medicinal cannabis to 24 states.
The biggest accomplishment for proponents of cannabis legislation reform was in California. Long seen as a predictor of national politics, California’s adoption of legal marijuana could cause federal authorities to reconsider their decades-long prohibition on the use of cannabis. Even President Obama, in an interview with Bill Maher, acknowledged that Tuesday’s vote could make the federal government’s current policies on cannabis “untenable.”
The legalization of cannabis in Massachusetts and and Maine also shows how the movement, which was traditionally most successful in the West and Northeast, has made significant progress in the Northeast. Those states will now enter an industry that is becoming big business. According to a recent report from the ArcView Market Research and New Frontier, pot sales in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Washington, D.C.—the five places where recreational marijuana is currently legal—grew to $5.7 billion last year, up from $4.6 billion in 2014. That same report predicts that legal marijuana sales in the U.S. are expected to exceed $22 billion by 2020, with California leading the nation.
But beyond the cannabis legislation reforms that were on the state ballots, one Colorado measure has been largely overlooked and has the potential to seriously impact cities around the country. Initiated Ordinance 300, formerly known as the Neighborhood Supported Cannabis Consumption Pilot Program, aims to make it easier to use marijuana safely. Even though Colorado legalized recreational marijuana in 2012, it’s still illegal to use cannabis in public places. This has created what Joel Milton, CEO of Baker—an app that makes selling and buying marijuana easier—calls a catch-22. Says Denver-based Baker, “It’s ironic that we say ‘here’s cannabis, anyone can purchase it, but there’s really nowhere to use it. It’s a catch 22 especially if you look at tourists who come and they can’t smoke in their hotel rooms. That’s not what you want to happen, that doesn’t provide a good experience, not just for the tourists but also for the city. Because now people are going to consume this product that they may be unfamiliar with in public locations where they are not as comfortable and they can’t ask people for advice.”
Initiative 300 would create a program—in Denver only—that would allow bars, cafes, and even yoga studios to seek permits for bring-your-own marijuana, over-21 consumption areas. In essence, it would provide a space for people to partake in cannabis outside of private homes. Certain regulations would have to be followed in order to obtain a permit, like guidelines about proximity to schools and the approval of at least one registered neighborhood organization.
As of mid-Wednesday, November 9, the votes on Ordinance 300 were still too close to call, with 100,284 people in favor of the measure and 96,893 votes against. It’s expected that the margins will hold, and we’ll update this story as necessary.
For Americans, the expansion of either medicinal or recreational access to marijuana will change cities in very real ways. Denver will also potentially serve a pilot program for the first American city where you can legally consume cannabis in select public places. Other cities like Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere will likely follow suit depending on how well the program works.
How the presidential election will influence federal policies on marijuana remains to be seen. While the Republican party has a history of supporting individual states rights, Donald Trump has made contradictory statements on marijuana and drug use. In the past, Trump reiterated the right of states to determine legislation when he told the Washington Post, “In terms of marijuana and legalization, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state...Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states." But Trump has also called Colorado’s legal marijuana industry a “real problem,” and running mate Mike Pence has expressed his opposition to marijuana legalization. Cannabis, like many of the country’s most pressing issues, will be an issue the president-elect has to deal with when he takes office on January 20.