History of marijuana on the ballot
|Voting on Marijuana|
|Not on ballot|
- The first time a marijuana legalization measure appeared on the ballot was in California in 1972.
- Since 1972, voters in 14 states have voted on 44 marijuana-related ballot measures. Of these 44 measures, 23 (52%) have passed and 21 (48%) have been defeated. One of the 23 measures that passed was a marijuana ban, so overall, legalized marijuana has a lifetime success rate of 50% at the ballot box.
- The 1990s was the best decade at the polls for supporters of marijuana legalization. In the 1990s, 66% of all marijuana-related measures were approved. One measure was a ban, so the approval rate for marijuana legalization measures in the 1990s was 58%, which is still higher than the 55% approval rate for marijuana measures in the 2010s.
- Of the 44 historical marijuana measures, 20 (46%) have dealt primarily with medical marijuana, 12 (27%) have extended to recreational marijuana, 10 (23%) have focused on decriminalization, one measure was a marijuana ban, and one measure dealt with marijuana taxation.
- The first state to legalize medical marijuana was California in 1996. The most recent defeat of a medical marijuana measure was in Arkansas in 2012.
- Voters in Alaska opted to criminalize marijuana via the ballot in 1990.
- South Dakota has rejected medical marijuana twice, while Arkansas has rejected it one time. Every other state that has voted against medical marijuana has eventually legalized medical cannabis with a subsequent ballot measure.
- Alaska, California, Oregon, and Nevada have each rejected legalized recreational marijuana twice.
- Of the 14 states to vote on statewide marijuana-related ballot measures, Arizona and Oregon have seen the most action, with each state voting on six separate marijuana-related ballot measures.
- 1998 was the busiest year at the ballot box for marijuana, with seven marijuana-related measures on the ballot in five states. The second busiest year was 2012, which saw voters cast ballots on six marijuana-related measures in six states.
- Eleven states have legalized medical marijuana via statewide ballot measure, while Colorado and Washington have both legalized recreational marijuana via statewide ballot measure.
- The marijuana-related ballot measure with the smallest margin of victory is Arizona's 2010 medical marijuana question, which was approved by just 4,340 votes out of 1.68 million votes cast.
- Four marijuana measures will appear on statewide ballots in November 2014. Twenty-six potential 2014 marijuana measures failed to make the ballot.
Overview of marijuana legalization
Since 1972, statewide ballots in 14 states have featured a total of 44 ballot measures related to marijuana. These ballot measures have played a major role in the increasing liberalization of statewide marijuana laws. As of September 2014, medical marijuana is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia, while the statewide recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington. Of the 23 states permitting medical marijuana, 11 states have achieved legalization via statewide ballot measure and 12 states have seen the state legislature approve medical marijuana. Both states that allow recreational marijuana achieved the law change via statewide ballot measure. In May 2014, the U.S. Congress voted to halt federal prosecutions of medical marijuana users in states that have legalized the drug’s use with a doctor’s prescription.
- Note: One approved measure in the 1990s was a marijuana ban, meaning 58% of marijuana legalization measures were approved in the 1990s.
Timeline of marijuana legalization via the ballot
The first marijuana-related ballot measure was on California's ballot in 1972. Proposition 19, which would have decriminalized the use of marijuana by adults, was handily defeated, with 66.5% of voters opposing the measure. Twenty-four years later, California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana with 1996's Proposition 215. Alaska and Oregon followed suit in 1998. The seven other states that have achieved medical marijuana legalization via statewide ballot measure are Arizona (2010), Colorado (2000), Maine (1999) Massachusetts (2012), Michigan (2008), Montana (2004), and Nevada (2000).
The most recent defeat of a statewide medical marijuana ballot measure took place in Arkansas in 2012. In that election, legal medical marijuana was defeated by 30,000 votes out of over one million votes cast. Supporters of medical marijuana in Arkansas attempted to qualify a measure for the 2014 ballot, but their campaign failed to quality for the ballot.
Just two states have used statewide ballot measures to legalize marijuana beyond medical use. Colorado and Washington both opted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012. In a subsequent Colorado measure, voters enacted a statewide marijuana taxation system. Alaska, California, Oregon, and Nevada have each rejected legalized recreational marijuana twice. South Dakota has rejected medical marijuana twice, while Arkansas has rejected it one time. Every other state that has voted against medical marijuana has eventually legalized it via a subsequent ballot measure.
Marijuana measure approval and failure rates by year
The following chart is sortable by column.
|Marijuana Ballot Measure Outcomes by Year|
|Year||Measures on Ballot||Measures Approved||Measures Defeated||Percentage Approved||Percentage Defeated|
- Note: The sole marijuana-related measure in 1990 was an Alaska measure that banned marijuana, which had previously been legal in the state.
Marijuana measures by topic
Criminalization of marijuana via the ballot
There has been one statewide instance of voters choosing to criminalize marijuana via ballot measure. In 1990, voters in Alaska decided to make all marijuana possession illegal. Prior to the passage of the Alaska Marijuana Criminalization Initiative, adults over 18 were legally allowed to possess up to four ounces of marijuana in their homes and up to one ounce of marijuana in public. Eight years later, Alaskans ultimately opted to decriminalize medical marijuana.
Public opinion regarding marijuana
2013 was the first year in which a majority of Americans reported favoring legalized marijuana. As of 2014, 73% of Americans report being in favor of medical marijuana, while 53% support decriminalizing marijuana possession. In a 2014 survey of likely voters, 40% of respondents said they would be "much more likely" to vote if marijuana legalization issues were on the ballot. An additional 30% said marijuana ballot initiatives would make them "somewhat" more likely to vote.
Marijuana on the ballot in 2014
Alaska's measure seeks to allow people age 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and up to six plants. It would also make the manufacture, sale, and possession of marijuana paraphernalia legal. Florida's measure would legalize the cultivation, purchase, possession, and use of marijuana to treat medical conditions when recommended by a licensed physician. The measure would also order the Florida Department of Health to register and regulate producers and distributors of medical marijuana and to issue identification cards to patients and caregivers utilizing marijuana.
Oregon's measure would legalize recreational marijuana for people ages 21 and older and allow adults to possess up to eight ounces of "dried" marijuana and up to four plants. Washington's measure is an advisory question that will ask voters whether the Washington State Legislature should repeal or maintain the elimination of agricultural tax preferences for various aspects of the marijuana industry.
In 2014, a total of 26 marijuana-related measures failed to qualify for 2014 statewide ballots.
Trends and statistics
Since 1972, voters in 14 states have had the chance to vote on 44 marijuana-related statewide ballot measures. Of these 44 measures, 23 (52%) have passed and 21 (48%) have been defeated. Twenty-two of the approved measures have liberalized marijuana laws, while one of the approved measures banned all marijuana use. This means that overall, legalized marijuana has a lifetime success rate of 50% at the ballot box. Arkansas, South Dakota, and Ohio have never approved a marijuana-related measure, while Maine, Montana, Massachusetts, and Michigan have never defeated a marijuana-related measure. Of the 44 historical measures, 20 (46%) have dealt primarily with medical marijuana, 12 (27%) have extended to recreational marijuana, 10 (23%) have focused on decriminalization, one measure was a marijuana ban, and one measure confronted the issue of marijuana taxation.
Of the 14 states to vote on statewide marijuana-related ballot measures, Arizona and Oregon have seen the most action, with each state voting on six separate marijuana-related ballot measures. 1998 was the busiest year at the ballot box for marijuana, with seven marijuana-related measures on the ballot in five states. The second busiest year was 2012, which saw voters cast ballots on six marijuana-related measures in six states.
Marijuana measures by year
Click a year below to see all marijuana-related ballot measures that appeared on the ballot in a given year.
- Alaska Medical Marijuana Act, Measure 8 (1998)
- Arizona Medical Use of Schedule 1 Drugs, Proposition 300 (1998)
- Arizona Probation Eligibility for Drug Offenses, Proposition 301 (1998)
- Nevada Medical Marijuana Act, Question 9 (1998)
- Oregon Marijuana Possession as a Class C Misdemeanor, Measure 57 (1998)
- Oregon Medical Marijuana, Measure 67 (1998)
- Washington Medical Marijuana, Initiative 692 (1998)
- Arizona Marijuana Legalization, Proposition 203 (2002)
- Arizona Rules Governing Probation for Drug-Related Crimes, Proposition 302 (2002)
- Nevada Decriminalization of Marijuana Amendment, Question 9 (2002)
- Ohio Issue 1, Marijuana Treatment in Lieu of Incarceration (2002)
- South Dakota Industrial Hemp, Initiative 1 (2002)
- Arkansas Medical Marijuana Question, Issue 5 (2012)
- Colorado Marijuana Legalization Initiative, Amendment 64 (2012)
- Massachusetts Medical Marijuana Initiative, Question 3 (2012)
- Montana Medical Marijuana Veto Referendum, IR-124 (2012)
- Oregon Cannabis Tax Act Initiative, Measure 80 (2012)
- Washington Marijuana Legalization and Regulation, Initiative 502 (2012)
List of outcomes with vote totals
The following chart is sortable by column.
- Marijuana on the ballot
- Local marijuana on the ballot
- Marijuana Policy Project
- National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws
- ProCon.org, "21 Legal Medical Marijuana States and DC," accessed May 6, 2014
- Washington Times, "House votes to halt federal meddling in medical marijuana," May 30, 2014
- Gallup Politics, "For First Time, Americans Favor Legalizing Marijuana," October 22, 2013
- USA Today, "Marijuana ballot initiatives may motivate voters," March 26, 2014