Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota on Tuesday, a reflection of the growing momentum nationwide to lift penalties once associated with the drug.
If approved, the states would join the 19 (along with Washington, DC) where recreational use is currently legal. Thirty-seven states, three territories and the District of Columbia allow the medical use of marijuana products, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Medical marijuana is currently legal in each of the five states that are voting on recreational use in this midterm election.
A constitutional amendment known as Issue 4 would allow cannabis possession and consumption by adults as well as the sale by licensed facilities. It would allow cannabis possession of up to an ounce and some tax revenue would contribute to funding law enforcement.
Melissa Fults, a board member of the Arkansas chapter for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, known as NORML, has expressed dismay about the proposed amendment because she says it would create a “huge monopoly” for Arkansas’ cultivators and retailers. The initiative would create 12 additional cultivation facility licenses and a lottery for 40 additional adult-use dispensary licenses to join the 80 that will be given to existing medical dispensaries.
She also criticized the lack of an avenue for people who have been convicted of marijuana offenses to expunge their criminal record.
“It was written by the cultivators, paid for by the cultivators and only benefits the cultivators. It will hurt patients, consumers and Arkansans,” Fults told CNN. “If passed, it will be the WORST and most expensive marijuana program in the nation.”
The Family Council Action Committee, which is typically on the opposite side of NORML when it comes to relaxing marijuana laws, also voiced concerns over proposed regulation.
“If Issue 4 passes, Arkansas will have one of the least regulated cannabis industries in America,” Jerry Cox, the executive director of The Family Council Action Committee, told CNN. “State and local officials will be powerless to restrict marijuana or raise taxes on it. A handful of businesses and bureaucrats will control marijuana in Arkansas. That is a recipe for disaster.”
If passed, the legalization would go into effect on March 8, 2023.
A proposed constitutional amendment in Maryland, Question 4, will give voters the chance to legalize recreational marijuana for people age 21 and up. If passed, it would go into effect on July 1, 2023, and allow possession of 1.5 ounces or two plants.
It would also allow those previously convicted of cannabis possession and intent to distribute to apply for record expungement.
“For decades, overly restrictive cannabis laws have been a pipeline to prison that have disproportionately impacted people of color. Legalizing recreational cannabis in Maryland puts us on a path to reform our outdated drug laws and create more equity in our justice system,” Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones, a Democrat, told CNN. “Our views and research on cannabis have changed; federal laws have changed. It’s time for our policies to do the same.”
Possession of small amounts of marijuana is already decriminalized in Maryland.
A proposed constitutional amendment in Missouri will give voters the option to end prohibitions on marijuana in the state and allow personal use for those over the age of 21.
It would allow for personal possession up to three ounces.
The amendment would also allow individuals with marijuana-related non-violent offenses to petition for release from prison or parole and probation and have their records expunged. The amendment prohibits marijuana facilities from selling cannabis-infused products shaped or packaged as candy that may be attractive to children.
Amendment 3 would also impose a 6% tax on the retail price of recreational marijuana. The amendment language says it will not permit marijuana use while operating a motor vehicle or “undertake any task under the influence of marijuana when doing so would constitute negligence or professional malpractice.”
If passed, it would be enacted 30 days after the election.
A citizen-initiated ballot measure in North Dakota would allow the use of marijuana in “various forms” for those who are at least 21 years old if passed.
The petition also states that all cannabis will be tested in a facility “for the potency of products and the presence of pesticides” and that cannabis businesses will be subject to random inspection.
It would allow cannabis possession of up to one ounce.
North Dakota voters previously rejected a ballot measure in 2018 that aimed to fully legalize marijuana.
If passed, it would become law 30 days after the election.
Marijuana legalization is back on ballots in South Dakota after state courts nullified the results of the 2020 legalization ballot measure.
Measure 27 would legalize marijuana possession, use and distribution, according to the ballot measure. If passed, marijuana possession of up to an ounce would be legal. It also would legalize possession of marijuana paraphernalia.
South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican whose office championed the nullification process previously on the basis of constitutionality, has indicated to CNN that if Measure 27 is passed again she would implement it.
If passed, it would be enacted on July 1, 2023.
A federal push for decriminalization
Marijuana is illegal under federal law, even as individual states have moved toward legal use for recreational and medical purposes.
But in October, the Biden administration announced that President Joe Biden pardoned all people convicted of federal marijuana possession through executive action.
“No one should be in jail just for using or possessing marijuana,” Biden said at the time while encouraging governors to take similar steps to pardon state simple marijuana possession charges.
Biden also tasked the Department of Health and Human Services and Attorney General Merrick Garland to “expeditiously” review how marijuana is scheduled under federal law, the first step toward potentially easing its federal classification.
Under the 1970 Controlled Substances Act, marijuana is listed on Schedule 1, with drugs like heroin and LSD, meaning it has “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.” But in recent years, its medicinal benefits have become more acknowledged.