Voters approved recreational marijuana in Maryland and Missouri but rejected it in three other states, indicating that support for legalization is gradually increasing even in conservative parts of the country.
The results mean 21 states have now approved the recreational use of marijuana. Voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected legalization proposals in Tuesday’s election.
Proponents said the results send a message to lawmakers in Washington about nationwide support for legalization.
“A growing number of voters recognize that cannabis policy reform is in the best interests of public health and safety, criminal justice reform, social justice and personal freedom,” said The Bharat Express News Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. . “State-level victories are needed to move the needle forward at the federal level.”
The state vote follows steps by President Joe Biden to decriminalize marijuana. Biden announced last month that he was pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law.
Proponents of the marijuana initiatives have said Biden’s announcement could boost their efforts.
The Missouri measure will legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and clear records of previous arrests and convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, except for sale to minors or drink driving.
“It just goes to show that this isn’t a partisan issue,” said John Payne, who led the Missouri campaign to legalize marijuana use. “This is something that transcends partisan division.”
Payne said he expected recreational sales to begin in Missouri early next year.
Opponents said they would work to limit the implementation of Missouri legalization, such as working with cities and towns to opt out of allowing pharmacies.
“The devil is in the details, and we will continue to be actively involved in Missouri’s implementation because we don’t need a new Big Tobacco industry harming children in Missouri,” said Kevin Sabet, president of SAM Action, an anti-trust agency. legalization group.
Maryland will also make changes to its criminal law and create automatic removals of previous marijuana possession convictions.
Heading into the election, recreational marijuana was legal in 19 states, and polls have shown resistance to softening the legalization. All states with recreational marijuana on the ballot, except Maryland, voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
About 6 in 10 voters support legalizing recreational marijuana use nationwide, according to VoteCast, a comprehensive survey of more than 90,000 voters nationwide conducted for The The Bharat Express News by NORC at the University of Chicago.
“Support for ending marijuana prohibition in the states is spreading just as it did with the end of alcohol prohibition,” said Mason Tvert, a partner at VS Strategies, a cannabis policy and public affairs firm.
The five states that voted Tuesday have legal medical marijuana programs. So is Arkansas, which in 2016 became the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuana. The state’s pharmacies opened in 2019 and more than 91,000 patients have cards to legally purchase marijuana for medical conditions.
The legalization campaigns raised about $23 million in the five states, with the vast majority in Arkansas and Missouri. According to an The Bharat Express News analysis of the most recent campaign finance reports, more than 85% of contributions in those two states came from donors associated with companies with medical marijuana licenses.
In Arkansas, supporters ran upbeat ads touting the thousands of jobs they believe would be created by the measure. Opponents walked in more foreboding spots, warning voters to “protect Arkansas from major marijuana.”
“The marijuana industry has spent millions of dollars writing itself into the Arkansas Constitution,” said Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, one of the groups that opposed the measure. “Now they know Arkansans don’t support that kind of favoritism.”
The initiative has been criticized by opponents of traditional legalization and by some proponents of medical marijuana, who said the Arkansas proposal imposed too many restrictions and would benefit only a handful of pharmacies. Republican government Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, also opposed the measure.
Supporters indicated they intended to try again in Arkansas.
“Tonight we made history by listing adult cannabis for the first time. While we came up short, we look forward to continuing this effort to build momentum through 2024,” said Robert McLarty, campaign director for Responsible Growth Arkansas. .
David Owen, who led the legalization efforts in North Dakota, said he wasn’t sure if another attempt would be made after the proposal was rejected.
“Tonight was not what we wanted, but people have spoken and we need to prepare for the next steps,” Owen said.
North Dakota’s proposal would have allowed people 21 and older to legally use marijuana at home and to possess and grow limited amounts of cannabis. It would also have established policies to regulate retail stores, growers and other types of marijuana businesses.
“It’s pretty clear that families in North Dakota don’t want marijuana statewide,” said Luke Niforatos, executive vice president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Virginia-based political organization against the legalization of marijuana that helped fight of the measure in North Dakota.
South Dakotans, including a significant number of Republicans, voted to legalize marijuana possession by 2020, but that law was partially repealed by the state Supreme Court because the proposal involved medical marijuana and hemp. This year the recreational pot stood on its own as it went for voters.
Proponents of the legalization of marijuana in South Dakota promised to try again in two years’ time because their measure failed. Matt Schweich, who led legalization campaigns in the state in 2020 and this year, pointed out that the electorate was less receptive in the medium term and argued that legalization of weed would eventually happen.
But opponents hoped the proposal’s defeat sent a message.
“I like to think that this country is going to turn around and lead South Dakota by example,” said Rhonda Milstead, a Republican lawmaker who helped organize the opposition campaign.
In Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for nearly a decade, voters passed a proposal Tuesday that would allow the use of certain psychedelic substances. If approved, it would make Colorado the second state to take such a step. The vote was too early to vote early on Wednesday.
Melody Finley, a Republican in Little Rock, Arkansas, said she voted for the state’s legalization measure because she believes it might help some people under certain conditions.
“If you can buy alcohol, you can buy that,” said Finley, 47, a dance instructor.
But Rick Huffman, a voter in Sioux Falls, South Dakota, voted against that state’s legalization proposal two years after backing recreational marijuana in the 2020 South Dakota vote.
“I have a child who is now a teenager,” he said. “So I think it will eventually happen, but maybe I’ll wait for my kids to grow up.”
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