- Marijuana legalization proposals are on the ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota.
- They could join 19 states, two territories and Washington, D.C., where recreational marijuana is already legal.
Voters in a handful of states — including four that traditionally favor Republicans — are set to decide Tuesday whether to legalize recreational marijuana, paving the way for its sale and cultivation in newly regulated markets across the country.
Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota could join 19 other states and the District of Columbia, which have already legalized recreational marijuana. The votes come about a month after President Joe Biden urged state and local officials to pardon those convicted on state and local charges of simple marijuana possession, following his lead in pardoning those convicted on such federal charges.
In 2016, Arkansas became the first state in the Deep South to approve medical cannabis. Now it may become the first state in the region to legalize recreational use if voters approve Issue 4, which would create a regulated, adult-use market.
The measure would allow adults to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers and implement a 10% sales tax. Those funds would go toward law enforcement, operations at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences and drug court programs authorized by the Arkansas Drug Court Act, according to the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture.
It also allows for 20 nonmedical marijuana cultivation licenses and up to 120 nonmedical dispensary licenses, but it lacks provisions to expunge criminal records for marijuana convictions and for growing plants at home.
Issue 4, sponsored by Responsible Growth Arkansas, has received pushback from opposition groups, including Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who has spoken out against Biden's federal pardons.
"We have to make sure we don't move to decriminalization of drugs that are harming Americans. The fact that a drug is unlawful discourages usage," Hutchinson said.
Sarah Huckabee Sanders, former President Donald Trump's former press secretary and frontrunner to be Arkansas' next governor, also opposes the amendment.
A poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College shows 50.5% support legalization and 43% oppose it, with the rest undecided.
If Maryland's Question 4 passes, it will join neighbors Washington, D.C., and Virginia in legalizing marijuana for recreational use.
The proposed amendment would allow adults to possess up to 1.5 ounces, or two marijuana plants, beginning July 1, 2023. It also allows for expungement of records of people arrested for marijuana possession, and for people serving time for simple possession to have their sentences reconsidered. It would also establish a cannabis business assistance fund for small businesses, as well as minority- and women-owned businesses entering the adult-use cannabis industry, among other provisions.
A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll found 73% of voters favor legalizing the use of cannabis for people 21 and older.
Maryland legalized medicinal marijuana in 2013, and a year later, decriminalized possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis.
If passed, Question 4 would go into effect on July 1, 2023.
Missouri's Amendment 3 would allow adults in the state to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana and grow up to six flowering plants at home.
A 6% sales tax on recreational marijuana would go toward facilitating automatic expungements for people with certain nonviolent marijuana offenses on their records, veterans' health care, substance misuse treatment and the state's public defender system.
Amendment 3 also adds at least 144 new small businesses to the existing businesses licensed and certified for medical marijuana in the state, according to Legal Missouri 2022, the advocacy group that sponsored the measure. New license holders will be selected by lottery.
Republican Gov. Mike Parson opposes the measure, calling it a "disaster," according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
A poll by Emerson College Polling and The Hill showed 48% support for the amendment among likely voters.
Marijuana legalization did not pass in North Dakota when it appeared on ballots in 2018, losing by a margin of 41% to 59%.
This election, New Approach North Dakota got a revised proposal back on the ballot. Measure 2 would allow for the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, grant permits to 18 retailers and seven cultivation facilities, impose a 5% cannabis excise tax, and allow individuals three cannabis plants for at-home growing.
"The 2018 initiative was not written with sufficient safeguards," said Jared Moffat, the campaign director for New Approach North Dakota and a campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy Project. He said the 2018 proposal lacked guidelines for driving under the influence and employee drug testing policies.
"We have heard from many North Dakotans who voted against the 2018 ballot measure who are supportive of Measure 2 this year," he said.
New Approach North Dakota has raised over half a million dollars, most of which went to signature drives to get the proposal on the ballot, according to Moffat. It's also been distributing yard signs, texting voters and running radio ads.
South Dakota is the only state among the five where its proposal for legal weed doesn't include creating a regulated market. Instead, voters will consider possession and home cultivation.
In 2020, voters approved a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis, but the state supreme court nullified the results on technical grounds, a move championed by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem.
The new proposal, Measure 27, would limit possession to one ounce of marijuana. Individuals would be able to own up to three plants at home, as long as they live in a jurisdiction where there is not a licensed marijuana retail store.
According to ballotpedia.com, there are some differences between 2020's version and Measure 27. In 2020, the proposal covered licensing, taxation, local government regulations of marijuana and regulations regarding hemp. Measure 27 stays clear of these areas.
Fifty-one percent of voters plan to vote no on Measure 27, while 40% plan to vote yes, according to Emerson College Polling.