Legalization of Recreational Cannabis Finds Success at the State Ballot Box in 2020; Federal Level Questions Remain – JD Supra

State Level Legalization Grows
After the dust settled from the elections on Nov. 3, four new states added their names to the growing list of states that have legalized[1] recreational cannabis. Voters in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota approved ballot measure initiatives with overwhelming support that makes the possession and use of cannabis for adults who are at least 21 years of age legal. Additionally, voters in Mississippi and South Dakota passed ballot measures legalizing medicinal cannabis for patients in their respective states.

The latest ballot measure approvals push the total national count for states that have legalized recreational cannabis to 15 states and Washington, D.C. The 15 states are Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Washington. With the addition of Mississippi and South Dakota, medicinal cannabis is now legal in 36 states.[2]

Federal Level Outlook Remains Uncertain
During his campaign, President-elect Joe Biden embraced support for decriminalizing all adult use of cannabis. President-elect Biden also campaigned on legalizing medicinal cannabis and expungements for prior low-level cannabis crimes. However, President-elect Biden has not clearly articulated support for federal level legalization of recreational cannabis use by adults. Often the terms “decriminalization” and “legalization” are used interchangeably, despite having different meanings. Decriminalization would remove criminal punishments and penalties for adult cannabis use from current federal law, but such use would remain illegal under federal law. If passed, decriminalization legislation likely would replace criminal punishments and penalties with civil fines or treatment options. Conversely, legalization would remove all prohibitions in current federal law against recreational cannabis use by adults, similar to current federal law allowing adult use of alcohol and tobacco.

It remains to be seen how the new administration will tackle the many questions surrounding federal level cannabis policy, but one

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