It’s election season again, which means that cannabis legalization will be on the ballot, just as it has been during every midterm and primary election for the past decade.
It was at the ballot box in 2012 when voters in Colorado and Washington made their states the first jurisdictions in the world to legalize cannabis for adult use. Since then, ten states and D.C. have followed at the ballot box, and another seven by bill.
This year, adult use cannabis legalization will be on five ballots: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota. All but one (South Dakota) aim to establish a framework for regulated sales.
Of the measures in those five states, the one with the highest chance of passage is in Maryland, where it was lawmakers who decided to put the question to voters.
And, the measures in Arkansas and Missouri have proven divisive among supporters of legalization, some of whom criticized the measures for privileging existing cannabis operators, for example, or for lacking in equity provisions.
As Cannabis Wire reported, almost all of the more than $20 million raised for cannabis legalization campaigns this year came from these two states, and most of it from existing operators that stand to benefit.
The Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign is led by Eddie Armstrong, the former minority leader of the Arkansas House of Representatives and current founding partner of the Cannabis Capital Group, a consulting and investment firm.
On the ballot will be Issue 4, which would legalize cannabis for adults age 21 and older and leave regulation to the Alcoholic Beverage Control Division of the Department of Finance and Administration. It effectively hands the new adult use industry over to existing medical cannabis operators, and places a limit on the number of new adult use licenses. Tax revenue would go toward law enforcement (15%), the University of Arkansas for Medical Science (10%), and drug courts (5%). It does not include any language related to home cultivation, expungement, or equity.
Until late September, it wasn’t clear whether legalization would appear on the ballot in Arkansas. But the state Supreme Court decided to allow it, as Cannabis Wire reported.
The Legal Missouri 2022 campaign is led by John Payne, who also led the ballot campaign to legalize cannabis for medical use in 2018, and now runs a consulting firm called Amendment 2 Consultants.
On the ballot will be Amendment 3, which would legalize cannabis for adults age 21 and older and leave regulation to the Department of Health and Senior Services. It allows for home cultivation, but requires an individual to get a registration card. It allows for automatic expungement of some cannabis offenses. It puts tax revenue toward veteran causes, drug treatment, and public defenders. On equity, it reserves microbusiness licenses for entities that are majority owned by individuals who meet certain criteria, such as being a disabled vet, having a cannabis charge, having a low income and a low net worth, and so on.
Existing medical cannabis businesses will be able to convert to adult use. In this way, the Missouri measure, like Arkansas’, favors existing operators.
Interestingly, the language of the measure anticipates federal legalization and sets ground rules for interstate commerce. It says, for example, that “any marijuana or marijuana-infused products imported into this state shall be subject to the same testing standards and seed to sale tracking system” that the amendment itself requires, and that “unless federal law, rules, or regulations explicitly require otherwise, no entity shall sell, transport, produce, distribute, delivery, or cultivate marijuana or marijuana-infused products without an applicable license or certificate as required” by the amendment.
As in Arkansas, voters are seeing legalization on the ballot because the state Supreme Court refused to take up a case challenging the initiative, as Cannabis Wire reported.
South Dakota voters will decide on legalization — again.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws and New Approach North Dakota are led by the Marijuana Policy Project, one of the oldest cannabis advocacy groups in the U.S. Initiated Measure 27 is quite straightforward: it would allow adults age 21 and older to legally possess and consume cannabis, and to grow up to three mature plants at home. There is no language regarding sales or regulations.
In 2020, voters approved legalization at the ballot, but it was later struck down by the state Supreme Court following a legal challenge spearheaded by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time.
New Approach North Dakota’s Measure 2 does, unlike South Dakota’s effort, seek to regulate sales, in addition to allowing for home cultivation. It leaves it up to the legislature to determine who will be in charge of regulations, but it establishes some of the framework. For example, the only license types it includes are for manufacturing (growing, processing) and dispensing (sales), and it sets a limit on the number of these licenses that can be awarded (seven for manufacturing alone, and eighteen for selling alone). There is no language related to things like taxes or expungements, so those details will come later.
In Maryland, it was the legislature who decided to put legalization before voters in the form of Question 4. (A similar scenario unfolded in New Jersey in 2020, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time. New Jersey voters, of course, ultimately legalized.) It asks: “Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?”
Lawmakers already passed a bill that would take effect if voters say “yes.” HB 837 includes language around expungement and personal possession, and the creation of a Community Reinvestment and Repair Fund, for example, but lawmakers would still have to craft regulations for sales. Of the five adult use efforts, it lays the groundwork for the most equity-focused approach.