Pot Legalization: ‘All We Can Do is Wait’

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Photo by Chris Yarzab via Flickr

Social distancing has put ballot drives on pause and state lawmakers are overwhelmed with the coronavirus crisis. Still, votes should occur in New Jersey, Mississippi and possibly Arizona.

What was supposed to be a banner year for legalizing marijuana is becoming a bust, Politico reports.

Advocates are pushing ballot propositions in nearly a dozen states, from Idaho to New Jersey. Governors and state lawmakers who failed to pass legalization last year, notably in New York, vowed that 2020 would be different. Social distancing has put ballot drives on pause and state lawmakers are overwhelmed with the coronavirus crisis.

“People are scared. They don’t want to touch a pen or paper,” said Melissa Fults of Arkansans for Cannabis Reform. “All we can do is sit and wait.”

Even with marijuana sales spiking, the pandemic is crippling legalization efforts. “The coronavirus has impacted every signature drive,” said Matthew Schweich of the legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who declared that legalization would be a “top priority” this year, abandoned it when his state emerged as the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak. Ironically, marijuana sales  are experiencing a boom in states where it’s legal, following designation of retail outlets as ‘essential’ businesses, particularly for medical marijuana.

A few states are poised to vote on marijuana: New Jersey voters will decide whether to allow recreational marijuana sales in November, and Mississippians are expected to face two competing medical marijuana referendums. Some ballot campaigns have abandoned this year’s plans and are eyeing 2022.

Anti-legalization advocates are not cheering.

“Obviously this isn’t the reason we would want legalization measures to be set back,” said Kevin Sabet of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Lives are on the line.”

Nearly a dozen legalization campaigns were angling for a spot on the 2020 ballot until coronavirus orders made it nearly impossible for canvassers to collect signatures. Of the campaigns still active, Smart and Safe Arizona may be the best positioned to succeed. It has collected more than 300,000 signatures, well beyond the 238,000 it needs by July 2.

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