By Madeline Grant, NCIA’s Government Relations Manager
The midterm elections are quickly approaching with less than three weeks away. Not only will the elections determine the balance of power in Congress, but local elections and ballot measures are set to make a big impact across the country. As the midterm elections approach, another 20 million Americans could soon be living in a state where anyone at least 21 years old can legally possess marijuana. There are six states with recreational cannabis legalization initiatives or referendums on the ballot this November: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Let’s take a closer look at each state:
Although the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners rejected the ballot question in August, the state Supreme Court cleared the way for the question to make it to the poll. The Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign submitted about 193,000 signatures- more than double what’s required to qualify the constitutional amendment- in July. If the initiative, Issue 4/ the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, is approved by voters, it would allow adults 21 years and older to legally possess up to an ounce of cannabis. It would implement a 10 percent tax on sales and require the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Division to develop rules for businesses, according to Ballotpedia. The initiative does not allow for home cultivation, and it has no provisions to expunge cannabis-related criminal records. For more specifics on what the initiative would accomplish read HERE.
When Marylanders head to the polls in November, they will be asked to approve or reject legislation that allows adults 21 and over to possess, use, or grow small amounts of cannabis. If passed, the referendum would open the door to creating a taxed and regulated recreational cannabis industry in the State. State lawmakers have been paving the way for future cannabis legalization when they passed two separate bills in April of this year. House bill 837, which is set to go into effect in July 2023, would allow anyone over the age of 21 to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, with anything between 1.5 and 2.5 ounces subject to a civil fine of $250 and anything above 2.5 ounces subject to a charge of possession and intent to distribute. The second bill, House Bill 1, established that the question of legalization would be put to voters via a referendum on the November ballot. It’s important to note that this bill does not establish the regulatory framework for the recreational market, and state lawmakers will need to return next session to build out a framework for the cannabis industry if the referendum passes in November. A recent Goucher poll found that 62 percent of residents- including about half of Republicans- support legalizing recreational cannabis, with just 34 percent opposed.
After a long battle between the Legal Missouri 2022 and prohibitionists, an initiative to legalize cannabis in Missouri officially cleared for ballot placement this September. Joy Sweeny, who is affiliated with the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America (CADCA), filed a lawsuit, alleging that the legalization initiative violated the single-subject rule for ballot measures under the state Constitution and that the signatures were improperly certified, according to Marijuana Moment. Two lower courts dismissed the challenge, so Sweeney sought to bring it directly to Missouri’s Supreme Court, where they would not take the case. Missouri Amendment 3, Marijuana Legalization Initiative (2022) would legalize the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacturing, personal use for adults over the age of 21; allow individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration and/or expungement; and exact a 6 percent tax on the sale of cannabis.
The campaign New Approach ND delivered 25,762 signatures to the secretary of state’s office in July 2022. A month later, Secretary of State Al Jaegar’s (R) office approved the measure, certifying that the campaign had submitted enough valid petitions to put the measure before voters, according to Marijuana Moment. The initiative would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis and grow up to three plants for personal use. The legalization proposal will now be designated as “Measure 1” on the ballot this November.
Republican Governor Kevin Stitt issued an executive order on October 18 setting a special election to determine if legal sales of cannabis should be extended to anyone at least 21 years old or older. Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana collected far more than 95,000 signatures required to make the November ballot. However, because the contractor hired by the Oklahoma Secretary of State’s office took 48 days to certify the signatures, there wasn’t time for the initiative to be placed on the November ballot. The group unsuccessfully sued the state in hopes of forcing the question. The court said, despite sufficient signatures to qualify for the ballot, the measure was held up by bureaucratic requirements, protest deadlines and a new signature-counting software. Nevertheless, Governor Stitt issued the executive order and Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws will have less than five months to make their case to voters for why legalization should be extended to anyone at least 21 years old. It’s important to note that when Oklahoma voters legalized medical cannabis in 2018 there was evident opposition from practically every elected official, health care group, law enforcement official, and business organization in the state.
Similar to North Dakota, in May 2022 the secretary of state’s office confirmed that South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) turned in a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a cannabis legalization measure for the November ballot. In the 2020 election SDBML’s success at the ballot was overruled by the state Supreme Court as a result of a legal challenge funded by Governor Kristi Noem’s (R) administration. The court ruled that the measure violated a single-subject rule for ballot initiatives. Ironically, Governor Noem made comments pledging to implement cannabis legalization if voters approve the ballot initiative at an event this past August. Some advocates believe she has no choice but to pivot her support now that she is up for reelection. With SDBML’s success this year, South Dakotans will vote on the ballot measure in November.
There is no denying that 2022 is a big year for cannabis policy reform. Although state campaigns have met challenges through the courts, state officials, governors, prohibitionists, law enforcement, and more; it is evident that there is no stopping the voice of the people. As the country gears up for the midterm elections, all of these states will continue to educate and campaign for the recreational passage of cannabis. The 2022 midterm elections come on the heels of President Biden’s announcement to pardon thousands of people convicted of marijuana possession under federal law and review whether marijuana should be in the same legal category as drugs like heroin and LSD. The timing of President Biden’s announcement illustrates an important fundamental change in America’s response to cannabis and the National Cannabis Industry Association is hard at work on Capitol Hill to continue educating Congress.
Make sure to stay informed as we head towards the lame duck session via our newsletter and social media platforms and don’t forget to register for NCIA’s upcoming 11th Annual Cannabis Industry Lobby Days in May 2023! If you’re interested in learning more about our policy work please reach out to firstname.lastname@example.org.