At The Ballot Box: These Four States Could Legalize Some Form Of Marijuana In November
Election Day is less than three months away, and voters in four states will have the opportunity to weigh in on marijuana policy.
Those ballot initiatives, combined with the Vermont Legislature’s passage of a non-commercial legalization bill in January, Oklahoma’s passage of a medical marijuana ballot initiative in June, and the potential for New Jersey to become the first state to legalize adult-use sales and production through a state legislature, could make 2018 one of the biggest years for cannabis reform yet. With many contested House and Senate races across the country, cannabis is also shaping up to be a major campaign issue.
Here’s a look at the ballot initiatives in those four states: North Dakota, Michigan, Utah, and Missouri.
North Dakota — Adult Use
If the initiative drafted by Legalize ND passes, North Dakota would set the record for the shortest wait between legalizing medical marijuana and allowing adults over 21 to possess and consume the plant. This is because North Dakotans only approved medical marijuana in 2016, passing that ballot initiative with a whopping 64% in support. While two cultivators and eight dispensaries will eventually be allowed to open, the state is still implementing the law and patients don’t currently have any legal access points.
This makes the campaign somewhat reminiscent of Massachusetts, which passed medical marijuana in 2012 and then legalized adult use in 2016. While some observers thought this was too short of a wait, I and the other members of the committee that drafted the adult-use initiative pushed forward, and Question 4 passed with 54% support.
Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much polling on the issue in North Dakota, but a survey conducted in June found a plurality of voters in support, with 46% in favor of legalization, 39% against, and 15% still undecided. Nationally, support for legalization has reached 64%, so this initiative passing is certainly within the realm of possibility. Should it come to fruition, North Dakota would be the most conservative state in the country to adopt full legalization, potentially paving the way for future red-state legalization and providing Republican politicians political cover to come out in favor of reform.
Michigan — Adult Use
Michigan ballots will also have a question on marijuana legalization, thanks to the great work of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Unlike North Dakota, Michigan has a robust medical marijuana industry that’s been operating since voters approved an initiative in 2008. Because the original law did not provide for state licensing of marijuana businesses, the industry began as a “gray market” with hundreds of businesses in varying degrees of compliance with the law. But lawmakers fixed that in 2016, passing a bill that regulated the market and added protections for patients and the public.
With such a long history of operating medical marijuana businesses, Michigan voters are likely comfortable with regulating marijuana in their communities. If the North Dakota campaign is similar to Massachusetts, Michigan’s closest analogue would be California, another state with a long history of quasi-regulated medical marijuana sales. And residents of the Great Lakes State seem to be just as supportive of legalization as their West Coast counterparts, with polls showing 61% support for the initiative.
Utah — Medical
While 30 states now have workable medical marijuana programs, activists in the remaining 20 states are still pushing for reform. This includes the Utah Patients Coalition, which has succeeded in qualifying an initiative that, if passed, would allow patients with certain conditions to access cannabis. Fitting with Utah’s conservative politics, the initiative is not as broad as those in many other states—for example, patients would only be allowed to grow their own cannabis if they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary. Smoking marijuana would still be banned, meaning patients would need to rely on edibles, tinctures, vaporizers, or other means of administration.
Polling shows the initiative with a healthy lead, with one finding 77% support and another measuring support at 72%. Clearly worried by these strong numbers, opponents of the initiative seem to have given up on persuading voters and are focusing their efforts on preventing the vote altogether. One recently-filed lawsuit claims that allowing medical marijuana would violate Mormons’ religious beliefs, with prohibitionists asking the court to remove the question from the ballot. This is widely seen as a “Hail Mary” with no real chance of success, so it seems very likely that Utahns will get to pass this initiative in November.
Missouri — Medical
Voters in the Show-Me State will also get to weigh in on medical marijuana this fall, but it’s certainly the most complicated campaign of the four states. That’s because three competing initiatives all qualified for the ballot, and voters will get to vote yes or no on each one. This opens the door to some potential complications. If medical marijuana supporters only vote for their preferred initiative, and against the other two, that could split the vote and lead to none of them passing. However, if supporters vote for all three, then multiple initiatives could pass and the courts will need to sort out what actually becomes law. Technically, the initiative that passes with the most votes would become law, but this second scenario becomes more complicated because two of the measures are drafted as constitutional amendments while the third would be a change to statutory law. Should this play out, implementation may unfortunately be mired in court battles for the foreseeable future.
New Approach Missouri’s initiative is the most comprehensive of the three, giving doctors the authority to decide what patients qualify for medical marijuana. It sets a reasonable tax rate of 4%, and is a constitutional amendment. The question drafted by Find the Cureswould also be a constitutional amendment, but is much more restrictive, as it specifies a list of qualifying conditions and includes a 15% tax.
The third question, promoted by Missourians for Patient Care, would simply be a change in statute rather than the state constitution. While it has the lowest tax rate at only 2%, it also specifies a list of qualifying conditions rather than leaving that decision to healthcare providers.
While those four states are the only confirmed marijuana policy questions for November’s ballot, activists in other states are still working to qualify. Organizers in Oklahoma have been gathering signatures for an adult-use initiative, but appear to have collected fewer than necessary to make it onto the ballot. A group in Ohio, who had been aiming for a 2018 vote on adult-use legalization, is now planning for their vote to occur in November 2019.
If voters in all four states approve their questions, 2018 will end with 32 medical marijuana states and 11 that allow cannabis for adults. This would add even more momentum to the movement for national reforms, and could be among the final straws that break the back of federal prohibition.