Marijuana bans going up in smoke
As tallies trickled in from battleground states, one outcome was clear after election night: America is going to pot.
Voters in New Jersey, Arizona and Montana approved ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana for adult use. Mississippi residents gave medical cannabis the thumbs-up, and in South Dakota, propositions for both medicinal and recreational marijuana use received voters' approval.
Once the new laws take effect, a third of Americans will have access to legal cannabis. Pot by prescription will be available in 36 states.
Election results were "an unequivocal rebuke to the longstanding policy of federal marijuana prohibition," Paul Armentano and Justin Strekal of NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, told Business Insider.
Voters chose cannabis access in states as geographically, demographically and politically diverse as New Jersey, where unofficial results showed a 60-40 split for Joe Biden, and Montana, where unofficial results showed Donald Trump with a 57% majority.
The results "once again affirm that marijuana legalization is a uniquely popular issue with voters of all political persuasions," Armentano and Strekal conclude.
A full two-thirds of Americans believe marijuana should be legal, according to a 2019 Pew Research Center survey. That margin includes 55% of Republicans and conservative-leaning independents. A decade ago, national polls showed just 32% support for cannabis across the board.
Supporting drug-policy reform is no longer a political risk. Rep. G.K. Butterfield cruised to a ninth term in North Carolina's 1st Congressional District after publicly calling for an end to pot prohibition for the first time in response to a constituent's question during a virtual town-hall meeting. His Republican opponent, businesswoman Sandy Smith, didn't deem that worthy of a swipe amid a last-minute blitz of campaign advertising.
A former trial judge and state Supreme Court justice, Butterfield said he's "evolved over the years on this" and sees possession prosecutions as a waste of the criminal justice system's time.
"I cannot tell you the number of cases I presided over that dealt with one-tenth of one gram of marijuana," he said during the town hall. "I had to sentence people for having drug paraphernalia. For those of you who don't know, that is rolling paper that you get in the 7-Eleven."