Why Haven't Georgia Voters Had the Chance?
The 2020 election saw voters in four more states legalize the possession of cannabis by adults. The trend has been nationwide and a decade long: when voters have the chance to (re)legalize or decriminalize cannabis, we do.
Yesterday, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota voted to allow adults to possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use, and to allow legal - though heavily regulated - retail sales. Mississippi became one of 36 states to allow medical access to cannabis.
“Given the opportunity, Americans vote to end cannabis prohibition,” said Ryan Ralston, incoming Executive Director of Peachtree NORML. “I suspect that’s why legislators won’t give Georgians that chance.”
How Did They Do It?
The mechanisms of legalizing by vote vary widely from state to state. South Dakota legalized the possession and cultivation of cannabis by amending their state constitution (53% in favor) in a campaign backed by a former federal prosecutor. Mississippi passed a citizen-initiated constitutional amendment (66.8% in favor).
In New Jersey, voters legalized cannabis via a public ballot question. After failing to pass legislative legalization in 2019, a sponsor of New Jersey’s bill persuaded lawmakers to put the matter on the public ballot, effectively leaving the question to the people to decide. Once again, given the chance, voters overwhelmingly voted to legalize cannabis (67% in favor). Responsibility now shifts back to the legislature, which will alter state laws to match the people’s will.
Why Is Georgia So Far Behind?
The Georgia Constitution does not allow citizens to add referenda to statewide ballots - even potential amendments must be approved by legislators before they are presented to the people.
Will Georgia’s legislature ever budge on cannabis? After years of activism, protest, submitting draft legislation, contacting sponsors, and courting public opinion, the question of ending cannabis prohibition has never even made it out of a legislative committee.
“Georgians continue to have their lives turned upside down by police departments enforcing a law most of us think is wrong,” said Ralston. “Arrested and jailed for something that isn’t even a crime in most of the country. We’re hungry for change. But the legislature just won’t listen,” Ralston continued. “The hypocrisy and ignorance are disgraceful.”
Roughly 10,000 Georgia patients have a medical ‘cannabis card,” but none of these patients has a legal way to get the medicine.
28,000 people are arrested annually for cannabis “crimes” in the Peach state. 80 percent are arrested for simple possession, and 64 percent are people of color. The total cost related to these arrests alone exceeds $112 million.
Ready for real reforms in Georgia? Please consider joining, volunteering, or donating with Peachtree NORML, the Georgia Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. peachtreenorml.org