Marijuana Ballot Initiatives Big Winner on Election Night

Author: David B. Weisenfeld, XpertHR Legal Editor

November 10, 2016

While much attention focused on the presidential election, at least three states voted to legalize recreational marijuana on election night with a fourth likely to join them. Voters in California, Massachusetts and Nevada voted to legalize recreational marijuana state-wide. Meanwhile, those voting "yes" for a similar measure in Maine have a slight lead, though the race is still listed as "too close to call."


California voters approved a legalization measure with 56% voting yes, six years after voters in the Golden State had rejected a similar measure. Proposition 64 will allow California residents 21 and older to possess, transport, buy and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes. The measure also allows for retail sales by state licensed businesses, and gives the state until January 1, 2018, to begin issuing sales licenses to retailers.

Recreational marijuana laws have now been passed in all three Pacific Coast states as California joins Oregon and Washington. None of the laws prevent employers from maintaining a drug-free workplace.


Massachusetts voters legalized recreational marijuana by a 53%-47% margin despite the opposition of physician and healthcare groups, as well as the business sector. The state had previously decriminalized marijuana and legalized medical marijuana use.

Marijuana shops can open in Massachusetts in 2018. However, consumption in public places remains prohibited and smoking the drug will still be banned anywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. The law also will regulate marijuana in ways similar to alcoholic beverages.


Nevada's new recreational marijuana measure legalizes the use of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 and over. Individuals living outside a 25-mile radius of the closest Nevada marijuana dispensary will be permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants at home for personal use, as long as the plants are away from public view.

But while recreational usage is now legal as a result of the ballot initiative's passage, the plant may not be available for sale in the state until January 1, 2018, as state legislators try to work out the framework for issuing licenses to dispensaries. The Nevada law does not explicitly address the use of marijuana in the workplace.


A legalization ballot initiative in Maine remains undecided today with the "yes" category leading by less than 1%. While supporters are claiming victory, opponents of the measure have yet to concede defeat.

If the measure is approved, adults 21 and over would be able to possess up to 2.5 ounces, grow their own plants and buy marijuana from licensed stores. In addition, the measure would allow for marijuana social clubs and place a 10% sales tax on marijuana. Public drug usage would remain prohibited, with violations punishable by fines.


Arizona is the lone state of the five with recreational measures on the ballot where voters opted not to legalize. The Arizona law would have mirrored Colorado's landmark 2012 recreational marijuana law, but it was defeated by a 52%-48% margin. Medical marijuana remains legal in the Grand Canyon State.

Medical Marijuana

In addition to the recreational marijuana ballot initiatives, three states voted to legalize medical marijuana including:

  • Florida;
  • Arkansas; and
  • North Dakota.

Similar measures in those states had previously been defeated. Meanwhile, Montana voters opted to expand the state's already existing medical marijuana law.

The Florida law is the broadest because in addition to covering diseases such as HIV, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder, it also permits doctors to recommend marijuana use for other medical conditions where they believe the medical use of the drug would outweigh the potential health risks for a patient.

In all, 28 states plus the District of Columbia have now legalized medical marijuana to varying degrees. Meanwhile, recreational marijuana will be legal in eight states in addition to the District of Columbia provided that the result of the Maine legalization ballot initiative stands.