By:      Judith Cassel
Melissa Chapaska

Voters in Florida, North Dakota, and Arkansas voted to legalize medical marijuana while voters in California, Massachusetts, and Nevada voted to expand their existing marijuana policies to permit recreational marijuana. Montana voted to expand its medical marijuana program. Arizona voters refused to legalize recreational marijuana.  The result of Maine’s measure to legalize recreational marijuana, at the time of writing, is still too close to call. Continue reading to learn more about each state’s specific initiatives:

Medical Marijuana


Florida will become the first southern state to enact a complete medical marijuana program. Florida’s medical marijuana program is also set to become one of the farthest reaching programs in the nation with a broad provision that allows doctors to recommend medical marijuana for “debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class comparable to those enumerated, and for which a physician believes that the medical use of marijuana would likely outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.”  This is similar to Pennsylvania where medical marijuana can be used to treat “severe chronic or intractable pain in which conventional therapeutic intervention and opiate therapy is contraindicated or ineffective.” Florida’s executive director of the drug reform group Drug Policy Alliance, Ethan Nadelmann, notes the importance of this victory in Florida, by observing that “[m]ost states outside the South already have legal medical marijuana, but the overwhelming victory today in Florida is likely to accelerate the momentum for reform throughout the region.”

North Dakota

Passage of North Dakota’s medical marijuana measure permits doctors to recommend medical marijuana for the treatment of 13 debilitating medical conditions, including a “catch all” category for patients suffering from wasting syndrome, severe debilitating pain not responsive to medication or surgery, intractable nausea, seizures, or severe or persistent muscle spasms. North Dakota’s proposed program would also permit patients to grow marijuana if they are located more than 40 miles away from the nearest registered medical marijuana facility. This provision is key in North Dakota where the population is spread out and sparse.


Voters in Arkansas approved the state’s medical marijuana initiative, Issue 6 (Medical Marijuana Amendment), becoming the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuana. While a more expansive initiative, Issue 7 (Medical Marijuana Act), appeared on ballots in Arkansas, votes for this provision were not counted as a result of the Arkansas Supreme Court’s October 27, 2016 decision to strike the initiative based on invalid signatures. While Issue 6 permits medical marijuana recommendations for 18 enumerated conditions, Issue 7 would have expanded the list to include 56 conditions.


Montana voters approved a ballot initiative to expand Montana’s medical marijuana program by removing a restriction that limited the number of medical marijuana patients a provider may serve. As a result of the passage of this initiative in Montana, providers will be able to serve an unlimited number of medical marijuana patients instead of the three-patient limit currently in place. The initiative also adds PTSD to the list of medical marijuana eligible conditions, provides for lab testing of medical marijuana, and orders annual inspections of providers by the state health department.

Recreational Marijuana


Following the failure of a similar measure in 2010, Californian voted “yes” to legalizing recreational marijuana this time around. Research suggests that California’s legalization of recreational marijuana may result in $1.6 billion in sales in the first year, jump starting recreational marijuana to be a $6 billion dollar industry in California by 2020.  The initiative includes a 15% sales tax, part of which will be dedicated to marijuana research. The projected state revenue equates to 240 million the first year and 900 million annually by 2020.


Not a new player in the marijuana industry, Massachusetts decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2008 and legalized medical marijuana in 2012. Building on this progress, voters in this election approved a measure to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Retail sales of recreational marijuana are unlikely to occur before 2018; however, residents will be permitted to cultivate marijuana in their homes as of December 15th of this year.


At the time of writing, the results of Maine’s recreational marijuana ballot initiative are too close to call. Maine’s recreational marijuana initiative, if passed, would allow people 21 years of age or older to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to six pot plants in their homes for use in nonpublic spaces or private residences.  Maine’s proposal also calls for a flat 10% sales tax on retail marijuana.


Nevada voters legalized recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older. In addition to permitting retail marijuana dispensaries, Nevada’s new law will allow residents to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use provided cultivation takes place in an enclosed, locked area, not within public view. Nevada’s new law calls for a 15% excise tax on recreational marijuana, which will be used to fund education and marijuana regulation.