American voters widely backed loosening marijuana laws across the country on Tuesday, permitting recreational use on both coasts, and dramatically expanding the number of people who can use pot as medicine or just for fun.
"This is the most important moment in the history of the marijuana legalization movement," said Tom Angell, a spokesman for the pro-legalization Marijuana Majority.
California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada voters approved recreational legalization. Arizona voters appeared to have rejected recreational legalization.
On the medical side, Florida, Arkansas, and North Dakota all voted in favor of medical cannabis, and Montana appeared likely to also approve it.
If those results hold, 29 states will now permit cannabis use for certain medical conditions, including cancer and HIV, and eight will permit recreational use, as does the District of Columbia.
“Most voters do not think otherwise law-abiding citizens should be criminalized for using a product that is much safer than alcohol," said Rob Kampia, the executive director of the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project. "There is a general consensus that law enforcement should be fighting serious crimes rather than enforcing failed and deeply unpopular policies.”
Legalization skeptics said they were "disappointed" in the results and planned to keep pushing for restrictions aimed at keeping pot out of the hands of kids.
The strong wins across the country on Tuesday will increase pressure on Congress to reconsider how the federal government treats this Schedule 1 illegal drug, including access to banking, legal pot advocates say.
In a statement, the co-founder of the country’s largest medical marijuana dispensary, Harborside, called the California vote a much-needed reset of laws that have disproportionally hurt minorities. The California law gives people convicted of marijuana crimes a chance to get their sentences reduced, and potentially remove such convictions from their records.
“For all Californians, it’s progress toward a more tolerant, inclusive and equitable way of life; and for prisoners of cannabis in other states and all around the globe, it’s a promise that change is coming,” Harborside’s Steve DeAngelo said. “I started working for legalization in 1974. It feels like I ran a 42-year marathon and won the race.”
Legalization advocates credit Colorado and Washington, the first two states to permit recreational marijuana sales, with helping lay the groundwork for what they expected to be a series of victories across the country. Nevada and California expect to use their positions as tourism destinations to direct a flow of marijuana taxes into state coffers. California alone is expected to have a marijuana marketplace worth $7.6 billion by 2020, according to prediction by industry analysists New Frontier Data and ArcView Market Research.
PHOTOS: Election Day in America 2016