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Bipartisan support for marijuana legalization rising as conservative Montana, South Dakota vote to legalize

Posted at 11:24 AM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 13:25:34-05

Outside of the race for president, the 2020 Election was historic.

It was the first time that Republican stronghold states voted in favor of marijuana, as both South Dakota and Montana voted to legalize recreational use of the drug.

Arizona, a more moderate state, along with progressive New Jersey, also voted to legalize recreational use during the 2020 Election.

“Once people legalize it they like it. They like prohibition ending,” said Brendan Johnson, a former U.S. Attorney for the district of South Dakota.

In South Dakota, the vote to legalize marijuana on Nov. 3 passed with 54.2 percent approval, while 62 percent voted to re-elect Donald Trump as president; a once-partisan discrepancy that could also be seen in Montana, where 56.9 percent of the electorate voted for Trump and 57.8 voted for legalization.

“Part of our state’s libertarian streak, which leads people to believe that the government doesn’t have a role to play in this, and, frankly, prohibition carried the day along with economic costs of building larger and larger prisons across the state,” said Johnson.

According to Johnson, 10 percent of South Dakota’s arrests last year were for marijuana possession, oftentimes only a few grams. He says it is a number that is seen in states countrywide and one that has swayed Republicans to vote for a bill that they once may have not.

In 1992, only about 25 percent of the party supported legalization nationwide, where today, that number stands at 53 percent, according to the Justice Collaborative Institute.

“It became very hard to point towards legalization and say there was anything that was moving the topline numbers,” said Andrew Freedman, a vice president for Forbes-Tate, a bipartisan public advocacy firm.

Freedman helped implement Colorado’s marijuana laws when the state became the first to legalize recreational marijuana in 2014. He says it became a case study for others who thought the drug would lead to more arrests, youth use, and crime-- all things that never transpired, according to the Crime and Justice Research Alliance.

“There are a lot of Republicans who believe in less government and who think that the war on drugs was a failure and would themselves, be for legalization,” said Freedman. “There were a lot of unanswered questions, and now more and more questions are getting answered so there are fewer and fewer reasons to say no.”

In six years, 15 states have voted to legalize recreational pot while 35 have legalized medical use.