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2020’s marijuana legalization ballot measures, explained



Between the presidential election, governors’ races, and down-ballot contests, this year’s election features a lot of important choices. Among those, voters in five states will have a chance to legalize marijuana for recreational or medical uses.

In Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota, voters could legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. In Mississippi and South Dakota (in a ballot initiative separate from the full legalization measure), voters could also legalize medical marijuana.

If all these measures are approved, the United States would go from having 11 states in which marijuana is legal to 15. More than a third of Americans would live in a state with legalized marijuana, up from more than a quarter today.

The ballot initiatives represent a massive shift in drug policy. A decade ago, zero states had legalized marijuana. Then, in 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize cannabis for recreational use and sales.

A map of state marijuana laws.

Despite the success of state measures, marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. But since President Barack Obama’s administration, the federal government has generally taken a hands-off approach to states’ marijuana initiatives. There are still hurdles — banking is a challenge for marijuana businesses under federal prohibition — but for the most part the federal government has not interfered in states’ laws since 2013.

That policy may reflect a change in public opinion — one that would make a federal crackdown on marijuana legalization very unpopular: As it stands, public opinion surveys show that even a majority of Republicans, who tend to take more anti-marijuana views than their Democratic and independent peers, support legalization.

In that context, legalization advocates are optimistic about their prospects this year, even in historically red states like Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota.

Marijuana legalization in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota

In November, four states will vote to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes. They will all allow sales, leading to the kind of tax-and-regulate, commercialized system that’s taken form in other legalization states.

Here are the 2020 ballot measures:

  • Arizona: Proposition 207 would legalize marijuana possession and use for adults 21 years or older, and would let individuals grow up to six cannabis plants. It would charge the Arizona Department of Health Services with licensing and regulating marijuana businesses, from retailers to growers, and impose a 16 percent tax on marijuana sales. Local governments could ban marijuana businesses within their borders. It would also let people with criminal records related to marijuana petition for expungement. It’s similar to a 2016 ballot measure that narrowly failed, but activists believe that support for legalization has grown since then.
  • Montana: A constitutional amendment, CI-118, would let the legislature or a ballot initiative set a legal age for marijuana. A statutory measure, I-190, would allow possession and use for adults 21 and older, letting them grow up to four marijuana plants and four seedlings for personal use. I-190 would task the Department of Revenue with setting up and regulating a commercial system for growing and selling cannabis, while imposing a 20 percent tax and letting local governments ban cannabis businesses within their borders. And I-190 would let people convicted for past marijuana crimes seek resentencing or expungement.
  • New Jersey: Public Question 1 would legalize the possession and use of marijuana for adults 21 and older, and task the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Commission with regulating the legal system for marijuana production and sales. The measure is open-ended on several fronts, including regulations, taxes, and home-growing, instead leaving it to the state legislature to work out the details. The legislature placed the measure on the ballot after it failed to pass its own legalization bill.
  • South Dakota: Constitutional Amendment A would legalize marijuana possession and use for adults 21 and older. It would let individuals grow up to three cannabis plants if they live in a jurisdiction with no licensed marijuana retailers. It would allow distribution and sales, with a 15 percent tax. Local governments could prohibit marijuana businesses within their borders.

All four states’ measures follow the same commercialized model for legalization, but that’s not the only model for legalization. Washington, DC, for example, allows possession, use, growing, and gifting but not sales (although the “gifting” provision has been used, in a legally dubious manner, to “gift” marijuana with purchases of overpriced juices and decals).

Some drug policy experts have pushed for a legalization model that doesn’t allow a big marijuana industry to take root, out of fears that such an industry would, similar to alcohol and tobacco companies, irresponsibly market its product and enable misuse or addiction. A 2015 RAND report listed a dozen alternatives to the standard prohibition of marijuana, from putting state agencies in charge of sales to allowing only personal possession and growing:

A chart of different options to legalize marijuana. RAND Corporation

While marijuana is much safer than alcohol, tobacco, and other illegal drugs, it’s not totally safe. Misuse and addiction are genuine problems, with millions of Americans reporting that they want to quit but can’t despite negative consequences. A review of the research by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine linked cannabis use to other potential downsides, including respiratory issues (if smoked), schizophrenia and psychosis, car crashes, lagging academic and other social achievements, and lower birth weight (if smoked during pregnancy).

It’s these risks that have driven even some supporters of legalization to call for alternatives to the commercialized model. Opponents of legalization have also jumped on the concerns about Big Marijuana potentially marketing the drug irresponsibly, causing bad public health outcomes.

Legalization advocates, however, generally argue that marijuana’s potential downsides are so mild that the benefits of legalization greatly outweigh the problems with prohibition, including the hundreds of thousands of arrests around the US, the racial disparities behind those arrests, and the billions of dollars that flow from the black market for illicit marijuana to drug cartels that then use the money for violent operations around the world.

Supporters are winning the argument in more and more states, and typically doing so in a way that establishes a commercialized, tax-and-regulate system — setting up the US for a big marijuana industry in the coming years.

Medical marijuana in Mississippi and South Dakota

In two states, voters will have a chance to legalize medical marijuana, joining the 33 states that have already done so. The two states’ measures generally follow the same track as the other states’ laws, letting patients with certain conditions get a doctor’s recommendation for marijuana and obtain it at dispensaries.

Here are the 2020 ballot measures:

  • Mississippi: Ballot Measure 1 is actually broken into two alternative ballot initiatives. Initiative 65 details specifics for qualifying conditions (22, including cancer and PTSD), possession limits (up to 2.5 ounces), a sales tax (7 percent), the cost of a medical marijuana card (up to $50), and who would set up regulations for distribution (the Mississippi Department of Health). Initiative 65A offers no specifics on all these fronts; Mississippi’s legislature put it on the ballot as an alternative to Initiative 65 and will fill in the blanks later if voters approve the legislature’s initiative over the citizen initiative.
  • South Dakota: Initiated Measure 26 would set up a medical marijuana system for people with debilitating medical conditions. Patients would be able to possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow three plants or more, depending on what a physician recommends. The Department of Health would set up rules and regulations for distribution.

A review of the evidence from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine found little evidence for pot’s ability to treat health conditions outside chronic pain, chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms. But most states, relying largely on anecdotal evidence, have allowed medical marijuana for many other conditions.

Supporters argue there’s no time to get approval for and run scientific studies, which can take years, to prove the benefits of a drug that isn’t very harmful anyway. And they point out that the federal government has stifled marijuana research for years, making it impossible to get good evidence. So they’d rather states let sick patients get access to marijuana now instead of wait for broader federal reform and research.

Opponents, however, point to the lack of rigorous evidence. They argue that it should be up to public health agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, to approve the use of medical marijuana, as is true for other medicines. They’ve been particularly critical of more lax approaches to medical marijuana — with states, like California, enacting laws that in the past amounted to total legalization in practice.

Marijuana legalization is very popular in the US

There’s very good reason to believe an increasing number of states will legalize marijuana in the coming years: Legalization is very popular, and support for it has been growing for decades.

According to surveys from Gallup, support for legalization rose from 12 percent in 1969 to 31 percent in 2000 to 66 percent in 2019. Surveys from Civic Science, the General Social Survey, and the Pew Research Center have found similar levels of support.

A chart showing support for marijuana legalization. Gallup

Support for legalization is even bipartisan. Both Gallup and Pew have found that a slim majority of Republicans, with much bigger majorities of Democrats and independents, support legalization.

A table breaking down support for marijuana legalization by party. Gallup

Medical marijuana is even more popular, with support in polls typically hitting 80 percent, 90 percent, or more.

The positions of US political leaders, however, don’t align with public opinion. President Donald Trump opposes marijuana legalization at the federal level, previously suggesting the issue should be left up to the states. Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee for president, has called for the decriminalization of cannabis — repealing criminal penalties, particularly prison, for possession but for not allowing sales — but has opposed legalization at the federal level.

Meanwhile, only Illinois and Vermont have legalized marijuana for recreational use through their legislatures. The other nine states that have legalized did so through ballot measures.

As lawmakers lag behind, voters will find another way to legalize marijuana for recreational or medical purposes — as five more states might demonstrate this year.

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Millions turn to Vox each month to understand what’s happening in the news, from the coronavirus crisis to a racial reckoning to what is, quite possibly, the most consequential presidential election of our lifetimes. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone make sense of an increasingly chaotic world: Contribute today from as little as $3.


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Trump’s misleading tweet about changing your vote, briefly explained



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Searches for changing one’s vote did not trend following the recent presidential debate, and just a few states appear to have processes for changing an early vote. But that didn’t stop President Trump from wrongly saying otherwise on Tuesday.

In early morning posts, the president falsely claimed on Twitter and Facebook that many people had Googled “Can I change my vote?” after the second presidential debate and said those searching wanted to change their vote over to him. Trump also wrongly claimed that most states have a mechanism for changing one’s vote. Actually, just a few states appear to have the ability, and it’s rarely used.

Twitter did not attach a label to Trump’s recent tweet.

Trump’s claim about what was trending on Google after the debate doesn’t hold up. Searches for changing one’s vote were not among Google’s top trending searches for the day of the debate (October 22) or the day after. Searches for “Can I change my vote?” did increase slightly around the time of the debate, but there is no way to know whether the bump was related to the debate or whether the people searching were doing so in support of Trump.

It was only after Trump’s posts that searches about changing your vote spiked significantly. It’s worth noting that people were also searching for “Can I change my vote?” during a similar period before the 2016 presidential election.

Google declined to comment on the accuracy of Trump’s post.

Trump also claimed that these results indicate that most of the people who were searching for how to change their vote support him. But the Google Trends tool for the searches he mentioned does not provide that specific information.

Perhaps the most egregiously false claim in Trump’s recent posts is about “most states” having processes for changing your early vote. In fact, only a few states have such processes, and they can come with certain conditions. For instance, in Michigan, voters who vote absentee can ask for a new ballot by mail or in person until the day before the election.

The Center for Election Innovation’s David Becker told the Associated Press that changing one’s vote is “extremely rare.” Becker explained, “It’s hard enough to get people to vote once — it’s highly unlikely anybody will go through this process twice.”

Trump’s post on Facebook was accompanied by a link to Facebook’s Voting Information Center.

At the time of publication, Trump’s false claims had drawn about 84,000 and 187,000 “Likes” on Twitter and Facebook, respectively. Trump’s posts accelerated searches about changing your vote in places like the swing state of Florida, where changing one’s vote after casting it is not possible. Those numbers are a reminder of the president’s capacity to spread misinformation quickly.

On Facebook, the president’s post came with a label directing people to Facebook’s Voting Information Center, but no fact-checking label. Twitter had no annotation on the president’s post. Neither company responded to a request for comment.

That Trump is willing to spread misinformation to benefit himself and his campaign isn’t a surprise. He does that a lot. Still, just days before a presidential election in which millions have already voted, this latest episode demonstrates that the president has no qualms about using false claims about voting to cause confusion and sow doubt in the electoral process.

Open Sourced is made possible by Omidyar Network. All Open Sourced content is editorially independent and produced by our journalists.

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The United States is in the middle of one of the most consequential presidential elections of our lifetimes. It’s essential that all Americans are able to access clear, concise information on what the outcome of the election could mean for their lives, and the lives of their families and communities. That is our mission at Vox. But our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources. Even when the economy and the news advertising market recovers, your support will be a critical part of sustaining our resource-intensive work. If you have already contributed, thank you. If you haven’t, please consider helping everyone understand this presidential election: Contribute today from as little as $3.


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Nearly 6,000 civilian casualties in Afghanistan so far this year



From January to September, 5,939 civilians – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded – were casualties of the fighting, the UN says.

Nearly 6,000 Afghan civilians were killed or wounded in the first nine months of the year as heavy fighting between government forces and Taliban fighters rages on despite efforts to find peace, the United Nations has said.

From January to September, there were 5,939 civilian casualties in the fighting – 2,117 people killed and 3,822 wounded, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said in a quarterly report on Tuesday.

“High levels of violence continue with a devastating impact on civilians, with Afghanistan remaining among the deadliest places in the world to be a civilian,” the report said.

Civilian casualties were 30 percent lower than in the same period last year but UNAMA said violence has failed to slow since the beginning of talks between government negotiators and the Taliban that began in Qatar’s capital, Doha, last month.

An injured girl receives treatment at a hospital after an attack in Khost province [Anwarullah/Reuters]

The Taliban was responsible for 45 percent of civilian casualties while government troops caused 23 percent, it said. United States-led international forces were responsible for two percent.

Most of the remainder occurred in crossfire, or were caused by ISIL (ISIS) or “undetermined” anti-government or pro-government elements, according to the report.

Ground fighting caused the most casualties followed by suicide and roadside bomb attacks, targeted killings by the Taliban and air raids by Afghan troops, the UN mission said.

Fighting has sharply increased in several parts of the country in recent weeks as government negotiators and the Taliban have failed to make progress in the peace talks.

At least 24 people , mostly teens, were killed in a suicide bomb attack at an education centre in Kabul [Mohammad Ismail/Reuters]

The Taliban has been fighting the Afghan government since it was toppled from power in a US-led invasion in 2001.

Washington blamed the then-Taliban rulers for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders, including Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks.

Calls for urgent reduction of violence

Meanwhile, the US envoy for Afghanistan, Zalmay Khalilzad, said on Tuesday that the level of violence in the country was still too high and the Kabul government and Taliban fighters must work harder towards forging a ceasefire at the Doha talks.

Khalilzad made the comments before heading to the Qatari capital to hold meetings with the two sides.

“I return to the region disappointed that despite commitments to lower violence, it has not happened. The window to achieve a political settlement will not stay open forever,” he said in a tweet.

There needs to be “an agreement on a reduction of violence leading to a permanent and comprehensive ceasefire”, added Khalilzad.

A deal in February between the US and the Taliban paved the way for foreign forces to leave Afghanistan by May 2021 in exchange for counterterrorism guarantees from the Taliban, which agreed to sit with the Afghan government to negotiate a permanent ceasefire and a power-sharing formula.

But progress at the intra-Afghan talks has been slow since their start in mid-September and diplomats and officials have warned that rising violence back home is sapping trust.


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Classic toy tie-up: Etch A Sketch maker to acquire Rubik’s Cube



Spin Master Corp., the company behind the Etch A Sketch and Paw Patrol brands, has agreed to acquire Rubik’s Brand Ltd. for about $50 million, tying together two of the world’s most iconic toy brands.

The merger comes at a boom time for classic toymakers, as parents turn to familiar products to entertain kids stuck in lockdown. Like sales of Uno, Monopoly and Barbie dolls, Rubik’s Cube purchases have spiked during the pandemic, according to the puzzle maker’s chief executive officer, Christoph Bettin. He expects sales to jump 15% to 20% in 2020, compared with a normal year, when people purchase between 5 million and 10 million cubes.

By acquiring Rubik’s, Toronto-based Spin Master can better compete with its larger rivals, Hasbro Inc. and Mattel Inc. All three companies have pivoted to become less reliant on actual product sales, diversifying into television shows, films and broader entertainment properties based on their toys. Spin Master CEO Anton Rabie said he wouldn’t rule out films or TV shows based on Rubik’s Cubes, but he was focused for now on creating more cube-solving competitions and crossmarketing it with the company’s other products, like the Perplexus.

“Whoever you are, it really has a broad appeal from a consumer standpoint,” Rabie said in an interview. “It’s actually going to become the crown jewel; it will be the most important part of our portfolio worldwide.”

Hungarian inventor Erno Rubik created the Rubik’s Cube in 1974, a solid block featuring squares with colored stickers that users could twist and turn without it falling apart. It gained popularity in the 1980s and has remained one of the best-selling toys of all time, spawning spinoff versions, international competitions of puzzle solvers, books and documentaries.

The toy has been particularly well-suited to pandemic conditions. During lockdowns, parents have sought to give kids puzzles that boost problem-solving skills useful in math and science careers. Normally, toys tied to major film franchises are among the most popular products headed into the holidays, but studios have delayed the release of major new movies because of coronavirus. So classic products are experiencing a mini-renaissance.

“The whole pandemic has really increased games and puzzles,” Rabie said. “But whether the pandemic existed or didn’t exist, we’d still buy Rubik’s. It’s had such steady sales for decades.”

Rubik’s CEO Bettin said it was the right time to sell the company, with the founding families behind it ready to move on. London-based Rubik’s Brand was formed out of a partnership between Erno Rubik and the late entrepreneur Tom Kremer, while private equity firm Bancroft Investment holds a minority stake in the company.

Early on, Bettin felt Spin Master was the right home for the puzzle toy, he said. Spin Master, which was started by a group of three friends in 1994, has expanded through the purchase of well-known brands, including Erector sets and Etch A Sketch. Rabie says he works to honor the “legacy” of those products, which Bettin cited as a key reason to sell the brand to Spin Master over larger companies that were interested.

“It was important for us to not be lost in the crowd, and to be sufficiently important and cared for,” Bettin said. “And there’s a balance between being with someone large enough to invest, and agile enough to ensure you are key part of their plans.”

Spin Master won’t own Rubik’s Cubes in time for the holiday season – the transaction is expected to close on Jan. 4. At that time, the company will move Rubik’s operations from a small office in London’s Notting Hill neighborhood to Spin Master’s new games operations center in Long Island.

Some of Rubik’s Brand’s 10 employees will be part of the transition, but they won’t stay permanently, Bettin said.


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