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Josh Altic

Josh Altic is a project director at Ballotpedia. Contact us at editor@ballotpedia.org.

New Mexico becomes the third state this year to approve recreational marijuana legalization

On April 12, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed House Bill 2 (HB 2) to legalize recreational marijuana. 

HB 2 made New Mexico the third state to approve recreational marijuana legalization in the last two weeks. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a marijuana legalization bill on March 31, and, on April 7, the Virginia General Assembly approved Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) amended legalization proposal.

HB 2 allows the possession of up to two ounces of marijuana, 16 grams of concentrated marijuana, and 800 milligrams of edible cannabis. It allows each person to grow up to six mature and six immature marijuana plants, with a limit of 12 mature plants per household. Local governments will be allowed to pass laws regulating certain commercial activity and density. 

Marijuana sales will be taxed at 12% through July 1, 2025. After 2025, the tax will increase by one percentage point annually until it reaches 18% in 2030. One-third of revenue will go to the city in which the sale occurred, one-third to the county, and the other third will be distributed by future legislation.

Provisions of HB 2 without specified timelines, such as legalization of possession and use, will go into effect 90 days after the legislative session adjourns, estimated to be around July 1. The bill also establishes the Cannabis Control Division to regulate and license commercial marijuana activity. The division must establish a date to begin legal marijuana sales starting no later than April 1, 2022.

Another bill, Senate Bill 2, provided for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions for activities made legal by HB 2.

New Mexico was the fifth state to approve legalized recreational marijuana through legislative action rather than a voter-approved ballot measure. Including New Mexico, 17 states and D.C. have enacted marijuana legalization. The first nine states to legalize recreational marijuana did so through ballot initiatives. An additional 13 states have decriminalized recreational marijuana usage.

South Dakota voters approved a recreational marijuana legalization initiative in 2020, but it was ruled unconstitutional. Proponents said they would appeal the ruling to the state supreme court.

Additional reading:



State legislators passed restrictions on the initiative process in three states and are considering ballot measure law changes in several others

At least 123 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recall were introduced in the 2021 legislative sessions of 34 states. At least eight had been approved so far.

Here are some of the most notable changes to ballot measure law passed and proposed in 2021:

  • The South Dakota Legislature referred a constitutional amendment to the 2022 ballot that would require a 60% supermajority vote for future ballot measures that increase taxes or fees or that require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.
  • The legislature referred the amendment to the June 2022 ballot, and voters must approve it before it is enacted.
  • Legislation to enact or increase supermajority requirements for ballot measures was introduced in 2021 sessions in seven states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Proposed requirements range from 60% to two-thirds (66.67%). Some proposals apply only to citizen-initiated measures but not referrals, some to constitutional amendments—both citizen-initiated and legislatively referred, and some to measures proposing tax increases or certain levels of funding allocation.
  • The Idaho Legislature passed a bill to change the state’s distribution requirement to require signatures from 6% of voters from all 35 legislative districts for ballot initiatives and veto referendums instead of the existing requirement of 6% of voters from 18 of the state’s legislative districts. 
  • In 2019, the Idaho Legislature passed but the governor vetoed a pair of bills that were designed to increase the state’s initiative signature requirement and its distribution requirement, among other changes. 
  • The 2021 law was passed by more than the two-thirds majority required to override a veto in each chamber.
  • When the Idaho Legislature approved SB 1110, Former Idaho Supreme Court Justice Jim Jones submitted a petition with about 16,000 signatures to Gov. Little asking him to veto the bill.
  • Bills to enact single-subject rules for ballot initiatives were introduced in Arizona, Mississippi, and North Dakota.
  • Bills to require certain disclosures and details regarding their single-subject rules were also introduced in 2021 in Nebraska and South Dakota.
  • Proposals to establish statewide initiative, referendum, or recall processes were introduced in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee.
  • Other topics addressed by 2021 legislation include drafting and displaying ballot language, petition language, and voter guide language; signature removal; signature verification; filing fees; ballot and voter guide argument fees and requirements; deadlines and process changes; procedures and requirements for legal challenges; and election date requirements.


New York becomes third state to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative action instead of a ballot measure

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) signed a bill on March 31 legalizing recreational marijuana and allowing resentencing for those convicted of certain marijuana-related charges.

Both chambers of the legislature passed the bill (Assembly Bill 1248/Senate Bill 854) on March 30.

New York became the 15th state to legalize recreational marijuana. In addition, South Dakota voters approved a marijuana legalization initiative in November 2020, but it was overturned by a circuit court ruling, which was appealed to the South Dakota Supreme Court. Fifteen additional states have decriminalized recreational marijuana.

New York was the third state, after Vermont and Illinois, to legalize recreational marijuana through legislative action instead of a voter-approved ballot measure. The first nine states to legalize recreational marijuana did so through citizen-initiated ballot initiatives. 

Responding to legalization in New York, Steve Hawkins, executive director at the Marijuana Policy Project, said, “We expect 2021 to be a record-breaking year for legislatures legalizing cannabis.” 

Marijuana laws in the United States

Details of New York’s bill:

The bill allows the possession of up to three ounces of marijuana and allows each person to grow up to three mature marijuana plants with a cap of six mature plants per household. The legalization of possession and home-grow goes into effect immediately.

The bill establishes the Office of Cannabis Management to license and regulate recreational marijuana retail and distribution. The new office will also take over the regulation of medical marijuana sales. The office will be run by a board consisting of three members appointed by the governor, one member appointed by the Assembly, and one appointed by the Senate. The bill does not establish a specific date by which legal recreational marijuana sales would begin, but state officials estimated it would be between 18 months and two years. The bill also establishes an advisory board for the office.

The bill will create expungement and resentencing processes for anyone convicted on a charge that is no longer a crime under the new law. It would also allow for the expungement of certain convictions that occurred prior to the state’s 2019 decriminalization law but for which sentences were reduced or removed by decriminalization.

The bill provides for a 13% excise tax on retail marijuana sales. It also enacts a tax ranging from $0.03 to $0.08 per milligram of THC for wholesale to dispensaries. Gov. Cuomo’s office estimated revenue of $350 million annually. Revenue above what is required for administration and enforcement would be allocated to the Community Grants Reinvestment Fund, general education through the State Lottery Fund, the Drug Treatment and Public Education Fund, and local municipal and county governments.

The bill allows for cities, towns, and villages to pass local laws prohibiting certain retail establishments and regulating certain aspects of the operation of retail establishments. The bill also contains a process for local voters to overturn local legislation banning recreational marijuana retail.

Comparing New York’s bill with legalization measures in other states

Among the 13 marijuana legalization ballot measures that have passed in other states, all but one explicitly allowed a certain amount of local government control over marijuana regulation. Excise taxes on marijuana sales ranged from an initial rate of 3.75% (subject to increase) in Massachusetts to 25% in Washington. The average tax rate was about 13%. The New Jersey ballot measure applied the state’s sales tax to marijuana but prohibited an additional excise tax.

Seventeen states and D.C. have enacted laws expunging past marijuana convictions, sealing marijuana crime records, or establishing set-aside policies that apply to marijuana-related convictions.

For a comparison of details on possession limits, tax rates, home grow regulations, local control, and revenue allocation among all recreational marijuana ballot measures approved so far, click here.

As of March 2021, 15 states and Washington, D.C., had legalized marijuana for recreational purposes. Eleven states and D.C. did so through citizen initiatives, one through a legislatively referred constitutional amendment, and three, including New York, through bills approved by state legislatures and signed by governors. An additional 15 states had decriminalized recreational marijuana usage. Based on 2019 population estimates, roughly 40% percent of Americans lived in a jurisdiction with legalized recreational marijuana as of March 2021.

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana when voters approved legalization initiatives.

In January 2018, Vermont was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana without voters approving a citizen initiative. Illinois was the second state to legalize recreational marijuana without a voter-approved citizen initiative.

In 2020, New Jersey was the first state to legalize recreational marijuana through voter approval of a legislatively referred measure, rather than a citizen-initiated one.



Rhode Island voters approve $400 million in bonds in special election

Voters in Rhode Island approved all seven bond measures—totaling $400 million—in a special election on March 2. The Rhode Island Legislature referred the questions to the ballot.

Here are the details for all seven approved measures:

  • Question 1: Authorized $107.3 million in bonds for the University of Rhode Island Fine Arts Center, the Rhode Island College Clarke Science Building, and the Community College of Rhode Island
  • Question 2: Authorized $74 million in bonds for state beaches, parks, recreational facilities, and water projects
  • Question 3: Authorized $65 million in bonds for building and renovating housing projects
  • Question 4: Authorized $71.7 million in bonds for transportation infrastructure
  • Question 5: Authorized $15 million in bonds for the Early Childhood Care and Education Capital Fund
  • Question 6: Authorized $7 million in bonds for the Cultural Arts and the Economy Grant Program and the State Preservation Grants Program
  • Question 7: Authorized $60 million in bonds to fund improvements to industrial facilities infrastructure

In Rhode Island, the legislature must ask voters to issue general obligation bonds over $50,000, except in the case of war, insurrection, or invasion. To put a legislatively referred bond question before voters, a simple majority vote is required in both chambers.

Between 2008 and 2020, voters in Rhode Island had decided 22 bond measures, totaling $1.3 billion in principal value. Voters approved 100 percent of the bond measures, with support ranging from 55.23% (Question 2 of 2010) to 83.89% (Question 3 of 2016). The last odd-year bond election in Rhode Island was in 1985 where voters approved nine bond measures.



Burlington, Vermont, voters approve a measure March 2 to use ranked-choice voting for city council elections

Voters in Burlington, Vermont, approved Question 4 on March 2, 64% to 36%. Question 4 will implement ranked-choice voting (RCV) for city council elections beginning in March 2022. As a charter amendment, the measure must now be approved by the Vermont General Assembly and signed by the governor to be enacted.

The vote was the first time the city voters considered RCV after repealing it in 2010. In 2005, Burlington voters amended the city’s charter to implement RCV—referred to as instant runoff voting—for mayoral elections. The 2005 measure was approved, 64% to 36%. Ranked-choice voting was used in the 2006 and 2009 mayoral elections.

On March 2, 2010, voters repealed ranked-choice voting by a vote of 52% to 48%. The measure to repeal ranked-choice voting was placed on the ballot through a ballot initiative petition drive after the city’s 2009 mayoral election.

The Burlington City Council attempted to place a ranked-choice voting measure on the November 2020 ballot, but it was vetoed by Mayor Miro Weinberger (D) after it passed the city council, 6 to 5. It would have implemented RCV for city council, mayoral, and school commissioner elections. The council amended the measure to only include city council elections and reconsidered it for the March 2021 ballot. The city council approved it on September 22, 2020. Mayor Weinberger signed the measure on October 3, 2020. 

The Yes on 4: Better Ballot Burlington campaign was co-chaired by former Governor Howard Dean (D) and City Councilmember Zoraya Hightower (Vermont Progressive Party). Hightower said, “I believe [RCV] helps elect leaders that are more representative of our city and cities across the country.”

Mayor Weinberger opposed the amended measure, saying, “[Prior use of ranked-choice voting] led to campaigns being very hesitant to define differences and distinctions between themselves on substance because of concerns of alienating second and third votes from other candidates. I was a campaign chair of a mayoral election during that period. I just don’t think it worked well.”

A ranked-choice voting system (RCV) is an electoral system in which voters rank candidates by preference on their ballots. If a candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, he or she is declared the winner. If no candidate wins a majority of first-preference votes, the candidate with the fewest first-preference votes is eliminated. First-preference votes cast for the failed candidate are eliminated, lifting the second-preference choices indicated on those ballots. A new tally is conducted to determine whether any candidate has won a majority of the adjusted votes. The process is repeated until a candidate wins an outright majority.

As of 2021, one state (Maine) had implemented RCV at the state level, one state (Alaska) had adopted but not implemented RCV, eight states contained jurisdictions that had implemented RCV at some level, and another five states contained jurisdictions—including New York City—that had adopted but not yet implemented RCV in local elections.



Here’s a look at this year’s proposed changes to laws governing ballot measures

As of February 10, 2021, Ballotpedia had tracked 122 legislative proposals concerning ballot initiatives, veto referendums, referrals, local ballot measures, and recalls in 34 states in 2021 legislative sessions.

• Legislation to enact or increase existing supermajority requirements for certain ballot measures was introduced in 2021 sessions in six states: Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. Proposed requirements range from 60% to two-thirds (66.67%). Some proposals apply only to citizen-initiated measures, some to constitutional amendments—both citizen-initiated and legislatively referred, and some to measures proposing tax increases or certain levels of funding allocation.

• Bills to increase initiative and referendum signature requirements or signature distribution requirements were introduced in Idaho and Missouri.

• Bills to enact single-subject rules for ballot initiatives were introduced in Arizona, Mississippi, and North Dakota.

• Bills to require certain disclosures and details regarding their single-subject rules were also introduced in 2021 in Nebraska and South Dakota.

• Proposals to establish statewide initiative, referendum, or recall processes were introduced in Connecticut, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, New Jersey, New York, South Carolina, and Tennessee, which are currently among the 24 states without the power of citizen-initiated statewide ballot measures.

• A proposal was also introduced in Illinois to remove the state’s very specific subject restriction on ballot initiatives and to establish a process for veto referendums. In Florida, a proposal was introduced to enact a process for initiated state statutes.

• Legislation to change rules for drafting and displaying ballot language, petition language, or voter guide language was introduced in California, Idaho, Missouri, New York, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Washington.

• Other topics include signature removal, signature verification, filing fees, ballot and voter guide argument fees and requirements, deadlines and process changes, procedures and requirements for legal challenges, and election date requirements.

Many changes—including most proposals to change signature requirements, add or change supermajority requirements, or establish a statewide process for initiative or referendum—are constitutional amendments, which means after legislative approval they would require voter approval to be enacted.

Additional reading:



Federal judge blocks Maine’s ban on out-of-state initiative petition circulators 

On Feb. 16, U.S. District Court Judge John Woodcock blocked Maine from enforcing provisions of its state constitution and a 2015 law requiring petition circulators to be registered voters, and, therefore, state residents. Woodcock ruled that “the First Amendment’s free speech protections trump the state’s regulatory authority.” Secretary of State Shenna Bellows could appeal the ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The ruling also said, “The Court framed its opinion as a prelude to a challenge to the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit for a more authoritative ruling.”

The ruling makes it possible for proponents of a 2022 ballot initiative that would amend the state’s voter qualification statute to say that a person must be a citizen to vote to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Rep. William Faulkingham (R-136) initially filed the ballot initiative in 2019 and, after suspending the campaign due to a lack of funds that year, relaunched it targeting the 2022 ballot.

Rep. Faulkingham, his political action committee We the People PAC, the Liberty Initiative Fund—which is providing funding for signature gathering—and Nicholas Kowalski—a petition circulator from Michigan—were plaintiffs in the lawsuit. They argued that the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “ballot access rules which reduce the pool of available circulators of initiative petitions is a severe impairment” and that residency requirements significantly impede their ability to qualify their measure for the ballot. Plaintiffs also argued that the circulator restrictions prevent them from associating with a large portion of the available professional petition circulators and that requiring out-of-state circulators to register with the state is sufficient to safeguard the integrity of the initiative process.

Secretary of State Shenna Bellows and Deputy Secretary of State Julie Flynn were named as defendants. They argued that many other initiatives and veto referendums have successfully qualified for the ballot while adhering to the state’s circulator requirements, proving the requirements are not a severe burden on free speech. The defendants also said that the state’s circulator requirements have been upheld by state courts and that the circulator requirements are necessary for the state’s interests in protecting the integrity of the initiative process and “protecting the initiative’s grassroots nature.”

Proponents used professional out-of-state petition circulators along with volunteers and paid in-state petition circulators starting on Nov. 3 to collect signatures. The plaintiffs also filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction against Maine’s residency requirement on Dec. 30, 2020.

The plaintiffs said they competed with No CMP Corridor, the campaign behind an initiative concerning approval of certain electric transmission lines, for in-state professional circulators. Plaintiffs said they were able to find no more than six available professional circulators that were Maine residents. The campaign reported gathering 38,000 signatures by Jan. 25, 2021, and said that 90% of the signatures were collected by the 49 out-of-state professional circulators. The remaining 10% were gathered by six in-state professional petition circulators, 24 volunteer circulators, and 42 paid in-state circulators.

As of Feb. 17, Faulkingham said the campaign had gathered 88,000 signatures. A total of 63,067 valid signatures are required by Feb. 26, 2021, to qualify the measure for the 2022 ballot. Woodcock’s ruling, provided it is not appealed or is upheld upon appeal, allows the initiative campaign to use the signatures collected by out-of-state circulators.

Similar measures explicitly requiring citizenship to vote were approved by voters in Alabama, Colorado, and Florida in 2020 and in North Dakota in 2018.

As of February 2021, seven states—out of the 26 with a statewide initiative or veto referendum process—had residency requirements for ballot initiative petition circulators. An additional three states—Colorado, Maine, and Mississippi—had requirements in their laws, but federal courts had invalidated or blocked the enforcement of the laws.

Additional Reading:



Year-end analysis of local ballot measures in the top 100 largest cities in the U.S.

There were 314 local measures on the ballot for voters in the nation’s 100 largest cities in 2020. These spanned 26 different states and Washington, D.C. Ballotpedia’s year-end analysis dives into approval rates, notable topics and measures, bond and tax measures, and the types of measures.

Here are some highlights:

  1. 252 measures (80.3%) were approved, and 62 (19.7%) were defeated. There were 109 (34.7%) in California.
  2. 174 measures (55.4%) proposed bond issues or taxes. Of those, 126 were approved, and 48 were defeated.
  3. There were 92 local bond measures. The measures proposed a total of $32.16 billion in bond money. Voters approved 67 measures amounting to $25.567 billion. Voters rejected 25 measures amounting to $6.593 billion.
  4. Twenty-two measures (7.0%) concerned elections, campaigns, voting, and term limits.
  5. Twenty measures (6.4%) concerned law enforcement or police policies.
  6. Washington, D.C., became the fifth city to decriminalize psilocybin and the first city to decriminalize all entheogenic plants and fungi.
  7. Fourteen measures were put on the ballot by initiative signature petitions, and 300 were referred to the ballot by city councils, county boards, school boards, special district boards, or, in two cases, state legislatures.



Ballotpedia’s analysis of California’s 2020 local ballot measures

California voters decided 719 local ballot measures across seven different election dates in 2020. 

Here are some highlights from Ballotpedia’s annual report on local ballot measures in California:

• Voters approved 62.4% percent of California’s local measures in 2020, which was 14 and 15 percentage points lower than their approval rates in 2016 and 2018, respectively.

• Bond and tax measures made up 70% of the local measures on the ballot in California.

• There were local ballot measures in every California county in 2020 but one. Los Angeles County had the most measures at 109. The median number of measures per county was nine.

• There were 191 local bond issues on ballots across California in 2020. Of that total, 182 (95.8%) were school bond issues.

• The approval rate for school bond measures in 2020 of 50.5% was the lowest in any even-numbered year since at least 2008. The average approval rate for school bond measures in even-numbered years from 2008 through 2018 was 83%.

• Local school bond measures proposed $30.7 billion in new debt. Voters approved $18.7 billion and rejected $12.0 billion.

• Voters in two cities in California approved measures to enact ranked-choice voting for city elections.

• There were eight local measures concerning law enforcement policies, police oversight, police practices, or law enforcement budgeting, not including tax measures designed to provide funding for law enforcement services. All eight measures were approved.

• Voters approved 46 (44.66%) and rejected 57 (55.34%) of the 103 parcel tax measures on the ballot. In 2018, voters approved 65% of parcel tax measures. In 2016, voters approved 64% of parcel tax measures.

• Voters approved 93 sales tax measures (71.5%) in 2020 and rejected 37 (28.5%). In 2018, voters approved 84% of sales tax measures. In 2016, voters approved 69% of sales tax measures.

California voters also decided 13 statewide ballot measures. Click here to read more about the 2020 statewide measures.

Ballotpedia covers all statewide ballot measures, all local ballot measures in the 100 largest cities in the U.S., all local ballot measures in California, and a selection of other notable measures. In 2021, Ballotpedia will also cover all state capitals outside of the nation’s 100 largest cities.

Additional links:



Ballot measure records and firsts in 2020

2020 was a unique year for statewide ballot measures. Here are 12 ballot measure-related stories from 2020 that either never happened before or hadn’t happened in a very long time.

  1. Ballot measure campaign finance records were set nationally and in four states: California, Illinois, Massachusetts, and Alaska.
  2. Gig economy policies appeared on a statewide ballot for the first time.
  3. Voters passed measures to enact a legal psilocybin mushroom program and drug decriminalization for all drugs for the first time.
  4. Legislators (rather than an initiative signature petition) put a marijuana legalization measure on the ballot for the first time.
  5. Voters decided the first-ever ballot measure on a state-run paid sick and parental leave program.
  6. A state adopted top-four primaries for the first time.
  7. Voters decided a statewide measure proposing a $15 per hour minimum wage for the first time.
  8. Voters, rather than legislators, decided to add their state to the National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.
  9. Statewide initiatives qualified for the ballot through electronic signature petition drives for the first time.
  10. The first measure was referred to the ballot for Louisiana’s December election since at least 1974.
  11. The first constitutional amendments of local applicability were put on the statewide Alabama ballot according to a 2016 process change.
  12. Voters approved the first ballot initiative to reintroduce wolves.