November 5, 2020

The number of adults in US states with legal adult-use cannabis just jumped by 20%

3min read

Major wins for progressive drug policy have been achieved in this round of US elections. Six ballots have been approved by voters which open up access to legal cannabis. Oregon has legalised psilocybin and decriminalised the possession of hard drugs.

November 5th, 2020

Conor O’Brien


Politics catching up with Public Opinion

For more than seven years, the majority of Americans have been in favour of full legalisation of cannabis, as assessed by the polling group Pew Research. The trend is consistent across party lines, genders, education levels and major race groups in America. The single demographic who are not majority in favour of legalisation of adult-use cannabis is the 65+ group, and even then 89% are in favour of medical legalisation and 48% support full legalisation. Overall, 67% of Americans feel adult-use and medical cannabis should be legally accessible.

Despite this wide majority in favour of legalisation, there has remained federal prohibition on cannabis under the Controlled Substances Act of 1970 which lists cannabis as a schedule I substance. The classification of schedule means that the US recognises a high potential for abuse, and no proven medical use of cannabis. Eleven states have gone against the Federal ruling on cannabis by legalising adult use of cannabis within their borders and thirty-five states have set up some form of medical cannabis access.

Individual States Taking the Initiative

A further four states are now joining the existing eleven in legalising adult-use cannabis, alongside Mississippi which has legalised the use of medical cannabis.


State Ballot Issue Result Adults above 21 (millions)
New Jersey Adult-use Passed 6.6
Arizona Adult-use Passed 5.3
Mississippi Medicinal Passed 2.1
Montana Adult-use Passed 0.8
South Dakota Medicinal + Adult use Passed 0.6


South Dakota is notable as being the only state in US history to leapfrog from having no legalised cannabis to having both medical and adult-use legalised at the same time. Arizona passed their adult-use ballot after previously rejecting a similar ballot in 2016. Mississippi passed the more progressive of the two medical cannabis ballots which were on offer. The ballot which passed is citizen-drafted as opposed to the more restrictive measures proposed by lawmakers, and allows all physicians to prescribe the use of medical cannabis.

Another major win for progressive drug policy are the results in Oregon. Oregon has now become the first state to decriminalise the possession of small amounts of hard drugs such as cocaine and heroin. This event is widely celebrated by those in support of treating drug abuse as a health issue; rather than a criminal one. On top of this, the state has voted in favour of the legalisation of psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) for therapeutic purposes. Psilocybin is showing promising results in the treatment of a range of conditions including mood disorders and addictions.

Of the states legalising adult use of cannabis, New Jersey is the real gold mine for cannabis business. A 2019 senate sanctioned report on the legalisation bill in New Jersey estimates potential annual sales of US$1.9 billion in the state, which would bring in over a quarter billion dollars in tax. All in all, the total addressable market for recreational cannabis in the US has just grown by 20%

Source:Prohibition Partners/

What lies ahead?

The US public must now wait for the final count to be made, including the unprecedented number of mail-in ballots. If Joe Biden were to win, the stage would be set for meaningful cannabis policy reform to take place. However, it is worth remembering that Barack Obama projected progressive policies on cannabis control but failed to deliver meaningful change during his tenure.

This should serve as a reminder that continued pressure from advocacy groups may well be necessary for the delivery of cannabis reform as promised by the Biden campaign. If and when the US ends its prohibition on cannabis, the effects will be felt around the globe.

In the short term, a pro-decriminalisation US president should positively affect the way cannabis is thought of around the world, not least by investors. In the long term, if the US ends the war on cannabis which they largely spurred under Nixon in the 1970s; it is likely that the rest of the globe would soon follow suit.

Prohibition Partners will be providing further updates on the election results as they become clear.

For more in-depth information, market data and strategic support, contact the Prohibition Partners consultancy team at or download one of our industry-leading reports.

The number of adults in US states with legal adult-use cannabis just jumped by 20%

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