Here’s what happened (and what didn’t) during the midterms when it came to legalized recreational weed
On November 8th, five U.S. states had the opportunity to vote for recreational marijuana in the midterm elections. Arkansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Maryland, and Missouri let the people have their voices heard following President Biden’s recent announcement that he was pardoning all simple federal possession cases.
But while five states had the opportunity to allow for the creation or recreational markets during the midterms, voters in only two states chose to pass the measures. Both Maryland and Missouri voted for the legalization of recreational marijuana, while the measure did not pass in Arkansas or either of the Dakotas.
There are currently nineteen states and the District of Columbia allow the recreational use of marijuana while thirteen other states have a total ban, including medical marijuana. One big reason we have seen a shift in the legalization of recreational marijuana over the last handful of years is that the collective views toward marijuana have been changing. It isn’t viewed in the same light that it was fifty years ago by most of the country. More than two-thirds of the country now support the legalization of marijuana, which is significantly higher than 10 years ago when less than half of the country was supportive of it.
Maryland voters show widespread support
And, the voters in Maryland exemplified that shifting mindset. In Maryland, voters showed overwhelming support for legalization, which was hardly surprising, given that statewide polling had shown that the majority of Marylanders were in support of legalization prior to the election.
The passage of this bill makes the purchase and possession of 1.5 ounces of marijuana for adults over 21 legal, and the law also allows adults to grow up to two plants for personal use.
It also triggered another bill that will expunge convictions for conduct that became legal under the new law. In addition, the new law provides grants to support minority and women-owned businesses in the cannabis industry, and removes criminal penalties for possession of 2.5 ounces or less of marijuana.
Missouri goes legal statewide
Medical cannabis has been legal in Maryland since 2018, and Amendment 3 passed during the midterms with 53.1% in favor of recreational legalization for adults over 21. The Amendment will also allow for the expungment of most records of past cannabis arrests and convictions.
While some of the details of the measure remain unclear, Amendment 3 allows people with marijuana-related non-violent offenses to petition for release from incarceration or parole and probation and have their records expunged.
But while weed has now been legalized in the state of Missouri, Amendment 3 still allows municipalities to bar recreational marijuana through a public vote. It also makes smoking in public a fineable offense.
Like most other states where recreational marijuana is legal, the state will impose a 6% tax on cannabis related products to fund certain programs. There will be a lottery system for licenses and certificates.
Arkansas rejects legal cannabis
In Arkansas, more than 56% of midterm voters rejected Issue 4, which would have legalized cannabis state-wide. Medical marijuana was legalized in Arkansas in 2016, so it is interesting that the measure did not pass, considering that most states will progress toward recreational legalization shortly after medical is passed.
However, the newest legalization measure faced tons of opposition state-wide, with the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee pushing the “Protect Arkansas from big marijuana” angle, and it worked. The opponents claimed that recreational legalization would increase crime and substance abuse within its borders, and even had former Vice President Mike Pence show support for voting against the measure.
The measure also faced opposition from some medical cannabis advocates, who said the Arkansas proposal places too many limits on the legalization of cannabis and noted that it would only benefit a handful of dispensaries.
North Dakota vote fails again
About 55% of midterm voters in North Dakota voted against recreational legalization for the second time in four years.
North Dakota’s measure would have allowed people 21 and older to legally use cannabis at home and possess or grow up to three plants. It also would have also established policies to regulate retail stores, cultivators, and other types of marijuana businesses.
One downside to this measure passing would have been the ability of employers to enforce existing policies that ban marijuana use. Hopefully in 2024 this will hit the ballot again and residents of North Dakota will lean more in favor of legalization.
South Dakota says no for the second time in four years
South Dakota’s Measure 27, which would have legalized recreational use for adults 21 and over, was rejected by 53% of its voters on election day. What’s interesting about that measure failing is that South Dakota voted to pass a legal recreational amendment in 2020, with 54% of the voters in support of it, but the measure was later overturned as part of a legal challenge by South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem. This stopped the reform from moving forward.
Noem did say that if Measure 27 was passed during the midterms that she would not be involved in any legal challenges, but conveniently, it did not pass.
At least some of the midterm opposition can be attributed to a group called Protecting South Dakota Kids. Throughout the election process, the group incorrectly argued that other states that have legalized marijuana have seen an increase in opioid fatalities due to legal cannabis.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws were behind the bill and wanted to “restore the will of the people,” referring to the 2020 election. Unfortunately, the group is going to have to wait until 2024 to have another shot at it.
Here’s to more legal states in the nation
While three states voted against legal cannabis, it was great to see two states act progressively and vote for recreational legalization during the midterms. With any hope, more states in 2024 will legalize what more than two-thirds of the country wants: recreational marijuana.
By the way, it’s worth pointing out that misinformation was a big player in the failed legalization measures, with opponents pulling out bogus stats to prove how “dangerous” cannabis is. That’s problematic, and if you have a crazy relative who won’t take the time to look at real legalization data from trusted sources, make sure to send them some accurate information, not only to inform them, but to prove to them the dangers of this type of propaganda.