Weed on the Ballot: Voters Could Approve Legal Marijuana in 5 More States

Midterm voters in five states, including two neighboring Iowa, will determine whether to join the growing list of places where recreational marijuana use is allowed, even though all use of the drug is still illegal under federal law.

Referendums to legalize recreational marijuana use are taking place Nov. 8 in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, South Dakota and North Dakota. If approved, those states would join 19 other states and the District of Columbia in allowing use. The current jurisdictions represent approximately 44% of the population of the United States.

Although some Republican-leaning states such as Montana and Alaska have lifted bans in recent years, most of those that have legalized recreational use still tend to lean towards the Democrats in state and state elections.

That could change this year, as four of the five states with legalization on the ballot — Arkansas, Missouri and the Dakotas — have Republicans in charge of both legislative houses and the governor’s office.

“We’ve seen an increasing number of states in the middle of the country re-examine their marijuana laws,” said Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the Denver-based cannabis law and policy firm Vicente Sederberg. “This is really just the next step in changing public attitudes toward marijuana politics.

“Generally what we find is that the more people hear about marijuana and learn more about it, the more likely they are to support its legalization and regulation.”

Adding more states that allow recreational use provides the opportunity for members of Congress in those states to support a fledgling industry and push for federal changes, Tvert said.

Critique of ballot measures

The initiatives are not without detractors, even within the political left. St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones, a Democrat, said this week she opposed Missouri’s ballot measure because it would exclude black business owners from the industry, the Missouri Independent reported.

Legalization advocates in Arkansas have also criticized that state’s ballot initiative to be too strict and not include expungement of previous offenses, the Arkansas attorney reported.

But the trend since Colorado and Washington first allowed recreational use 10 years ago has been toward further legalization.

As the industry has flourished where it is legal, it has developed an interest in expanding elsewhere.

“For-profit companies have an interest in entering these other markets,” said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Center for Drug Policy Research at the nonprofit think tank RAND Corp.

As more states embrace legalization, the pattern could change, Kilmer added. Colorado and Washington are “definitely setting a precedent” for a for-profit model, but other approaches are possible, he said.

Locations in Canada, for example, only allow sales at state-owned stores, allowing the government to set prices and strictly control the products and potencies available.

“It will be interesting to see, especially as more conservative states start to have more serious conversations about this, whether or not we see an in-between option – the state store approach, for example,” said Kilmer said.

Legislation in certain states?

As cultural acceptance of marijuana use has grown, more states may choose to approach legalization through the “traditional legislative process” rather than ballot initiatives, Kilmer said.

This could leave room for other approaches beyond the for-profit model.

Each state that passes legalization has taken different regulatory approaches, Tvert said. But the model popularized by Colorado and Washington is generally considered successful.

Former U.S. spokesman Senator John Hickenlooper, a Democrat who was governor of Colorado when the election measure was passed, said this month that his concerns never materialized.

“I’m pretty sure now that it’s such a better societal decision, in terms of almost every metric, than the one I grew up in, and it’s going to have huge impacts,” Hickenlooper said during an interview. an event commemorating the 10th anniversary of the legalization of the state.

“That model is something that opened the door to all of these other states. And I’ve personally gone to talk to the general assembly or the governors of half a dozen states, and…literally, there’s no attack, no anxiety that we don’t have a pretty good answer.

Social justice concerns

Last month, President Joe Biden pardoned thousands of people convicted of federal offenses and instructed his administration to consider removing the drug’s Schedule I classification which places it in the most serious class of drugs of abuse.

Congressional efforts to legalize marijuana under federal law have stalled in the US Senate, despite wide popularity.

This has left nearly half the country living with a major difference between federal and state marijuana laws.

As more states allow it, the issues of fairness for those convicted of prior offenses have multiplied.

In his statement, Biden called on governors to follow his lead and pardon low-level marijuana offenders, a call that went largely unanswered.

In Missouri, Jones’ opposition stems from a provision in the measure that would allow state regulators to limit the number of licenses for the manufacture and sale of recreational marijuana and give licensed parties first choice. to supply medical marijuana – almost all of which is white.

Legalization pushes to continue

When put on the ballot, marijuana legalization measures generally pass, although often by relatively slim margins.

Tvert said there was a “good chance” each of the five states would pass their ballot measures on Nov. 8.

Regardless of the results, the momentum toward more legalization is likely to continue, Kilmer said.

“Regardless of what happens on November 8,” Kilmer said. “You’re still going to see a push for this in other states over time.”

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