What to Watch: An Election-Night Primer for Medical Cannabis Professionals

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Brace yourself: This could turn out to be one of the most exciting, memorable and important nights in the history of marijuana legislation.

Here’s what to keep an eye on as the results start rolling in:

Presidential race: No one knows exactly how Mitt Romney or Barack Obama will approach the medical marijuana industry going forward or what they’ll do if a state legalizes cannabis for recreational reasons. But the winner will dictate MMJ and marijuana policies at the federal level, and that will ultimately determine the near-term fate of cannabis businesses. With polls showing a neck-and-neck race, this one could go down to the wire and late into the night.

Massachusetts – Question 3: By the end of today, Massachusetts will most likely become the 18th state in the US with medical marijuana laws. Question 3 – an initiative to legalize MMJ – holds a solid lead in the latest polls, and local advocates are already preparing to celebrate. The East Coast is quickly becoming a stronghold for the medical marijuana industry, with Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Vermont and Washington DC all hoping to open dispensaries soon. Adding Massachusetts to the mix will strengthen the region’s position.

Arkansas – Issue 5: Arkansas has a chance to become the first southern state to adopt MMJ laws. Issue 5 would allow residents with qualifying medical conditions to use marijuana, and it would establish a regulatory infrastructure for dispensaries. It could be a long shot at this point, given recent poll numbers showing the initiative trailing. But a last-minute surge by medical cannabis supporters could make this competitive in the end.

Washington – Initiative 502: This measure represents the best chance for marijuana legalization at the state level, with polls showing consistently solid support among residents. At this point, it would be a major disappointment for marijuana backers if the initiative doesn’t pass. But anything can happen when it comes to cannabis measures, so it’s not safe to chalk this up as a win just yet.

Colorado – Amendment 64: There’s a good chance Colorado will join Washington and legalize the use of marijuana by adults 21 and over. Amendment 64 slipped a bit over the past few weeks but seems to have rallied, holding an 8-percentage-point lead in the latest poll. As with Washington, legalization advocates are cautiously optimistic heading into the election. It’s unclear what legalization would mean for existing cannabis businesses. Some professionals favor the measure and think it will lead to a windfall of new opportunities, others think it could end up destroying the MMJ industry.

Oregon – Measure 80: Oregon is the third state with a legalization measure on the ballot, and it faces the longest odds. One of the latest polls shows the measure trailing by as much as 7 percentage points. While discouraging, that’s not insurmountable, especially if supporters can convince the 9% of voters who haven’t made up their minds yet.

Montana – Initiative Referendum 124: The future of Montana’s entire medical marijuana industry rests with IR-124, which would keep in place tough new restrictions that decimated the state’s cannabis businesses. In this case, a “yes” vote would hurt the industry. If the measure fails, however, the state would revert back to looser MMJ regulations, which could help the industry rebound. The few polls that have been done show sizable support for the new restrictions. But roughly a quarter of voters remain undecided, meaning it’s still within the realm of possibility that the measure will fail and the state will go back to its older, laxer rules.

Cities/towns in MMJ states: There’s a lot happening at the local level tonight, with various communities voting on MMJ-related measures. Some cities are considering implementing or rescinding dispensary bans, others are voting on new restrictions or regulations. These results will impact hundreds of cannabis businesses across the country.