Voters in five states will decide seven marijuana-related ballot measures this year. Initiatives or propositions in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota would legalize marijuana for recreational use. Measures in Mississippi and South Dakota would legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Proponents of those measures say new legal sales — and the excise taxes that come with them — would fill revenue gaps at a time when state government budgets have been decimated by the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s time to legalize adult use marijuana and generate millions for Arizona,” an advertisement supporting Proposition 207 here says. “$300 million in new revenue for public safety, for our community colleges, for mental health services and for roads in our rural communities.”
The new pitch to voters is a marked evolution from earlier years, when legalization proponents focused on the harm wrought on minority communities by the decades-long war on drugs.
In the past, the pro-legalization message “was a lot about how an arrest can ruin a life, and you can’t get credit, and you can’t get an apartment, and a young person can make a mistake and be messed up for life,” said Martin Hamburger, a Democratic strategist working on legalization campaigns this year in Montana, South Dakota and Mississippi.
“The messages that we’re using [now] in a lot of these places are about how people can access marijuana for health purposes and the revenue that’s available,” he said.
To some supporters, an end to the harshest consequences of the war on drugs remains a powerful argument in favor of legalization.