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What you need to know about marijuana in the midterms

Curious about the future of recreational marijuana during this week’s midterm elections?

According to The Washington Post:

Recreational marijuana will appear on the midterm ballot this year in five states, four of which are traditionally conservative — highlighting the increasingly bipartisan support of legalization.

Voters will decide whether recreational marijuana can be used legally by adults in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. And while success across the board is uncertain, cannabis advocates who are accustomed to victory at the polls hope efforts in these states will bolster the case for legalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Here’s what you need to know about the ballot initiatives before voters hit the polls next month:

What exactly is on the ballot?
Will the measures pass?
Where is recreational marijuana legal?
Where have legalization efforts failed?
What are the arguments for and against?

What exactly is on the ballot?
Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota all will ask voters about legalizing adult-use recreational marijuana. The proposals would legalize possession of small amounts of cannabis for adults ages 21 and older. Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota would allow up to one ounce. Maryland would allow up to 1.5 ounces and Missouri would allow up to three ounces.

Maryland lawmakers passed legislation this year to place the question on the ballot. Residents in the other four states collected signatures and petitioned to put the question before voters.

Some of the initiatives on the ballot this year include specific guidelines and framework for a retail market to open in 2023. The Maryland ballot initiative only legalizes possession with some provisions, then tasks state lawmakers with setting a framework for legal sales. Each legalized state has taken a different approach to the new recreational market. In some states, lawmakers passed legalization before establishing a framework for commerce giving way for a “gray market” to emerge where it’s legal to possess but not legal to buy or sell, like in Virginia and New York.

Oklahoma voters will decide whether to legalize recreational use of marijuana in March. Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) scheduled an election after the question faced legal challenges and was not approved in time to be printed on the November ballot.

Will the measures pass?
National polling suggests that most Americans think marijuana should be legal in some form, but statewide surveys ahead of the election show mixed support.

In Maryland, 73 percent of registered voters favor recreational legalization, a Washington Post-University of Maryland poll conducted last month found. Meanwhile, only 43.8 percent of respondents supported legalization in a poll of South Dakota voters commissioned by South Dakota News Watch and the Chiesman Center for Democracy at the University of South Dakota.

There is no significant polling on the issue in Arkansas, Missouri or North Dakota.

North Dakota’s ballot initiative language closely follows a proposal that passed the conservative state House of Representatives in 2021 but fell short in the state Senate. Jared Moffat, state campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, who’s helping lead the Measure 2 campaign in North Dakota said he hopes the initial stamp of approval by the Republican House chamber will help drive support.

“I think that lawmakers and the general public have sort of realized like, ‘Hey, this is coming, and we might as well get ahead of it and write this legislation in a way that works for North Dakota,’ that we do it in a way that is appropriate for our state,” Moffat said.

Where is recreational marijuana legal?
Marijuana legalization has gained significant traction in recent years. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states, two territories and D.C. have legalized recreational adult use. Another 18 states and one territory only have medical marijuana programs.

Since the start of 2021, lawmakers in five states — Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, Rhode Island and Virginia — legalized recreational use.

“If all five of these ballot initiatives are successful, we’ll be at 24 states and then Oklahoma is around the corner in March and so that could be 25, half the states would have adult-use legalization policies,” Moffat said.

Where have legalization efforts failed?
A decade ago, recreational marijuana was still illegal nationwide. Voters rejected ballot measures to legalize adult use of marijuana as recently as North Dakota in 2018 and Arizona in 2016 (which then voted in favor of the initiative in 2020).

During the 2020 election, South Dakota voters approved both medical and recreational legalization, passing it by 54 percent. But the recreational referendum was nullified by the state Supreme Court, which found that the amendment violated the state constitution’s single subject rule.

Other states like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Mississippi faced legal challenges in getting the question on the ballot or implementing the policies after voters approved. Cannabis advocates said opponents have increasingly taken to legal and technical challenges to stymie legalization efforts.

“The overwhelming majority of voters favor legalization … This is why prohibitionists and other political opponents have largely abandoned efforts to try and influence public opinion,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). “In some cases, they are even willing to overturn the will of the electorate to get their way.”

Marijuana also remains federally illegal, classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, a category that includes drugs such as heroin and ecstasy. This month, Biden directed the Department of Health and Human Services and the attorney general to expedite a review into the scheduling. He also pardoned all federal simple possession convictions, which White House officials have called the fulfillment of a campaign promise.

What are the arguments for and against?
Motivation for legalization vary, but proponents position the move as an opportunity to regulate the substance, create new jobs and usher in criminal justice reform.

Groups against legalization cite concerns around regulation, environmental impacts, potency and increased use among young people. A report funded by the National Institutes of Health found that young people used marijuana and some hallucinogens at record levels last year.

“What legalization does is it will make it commercialized and will make it into a big industry with powerful political influence,” said Christine Miller, a retired neuroscientist who’s led small rallies in opposition to legalization in Maryland. “It would be really bad for our state.”

In Missouri, pro-legalization voters want personal freedom, said John Payne, the campaign director for Legal Missouri 2022, the organization leading the initiative.

“For this issue, it’s something that has taken a while to evolve to this point,” Payne said. “But for a lot of people, I think it’s just a basic freedom issue, that if it’s not hurting you, then why is it any of your business if somebody wants to consume marijuana.”

In Maryland, lawmakers and campaign organizers describe an opportunity to repair the disproportionate impact of the war on drugs on communities of color.

“This is so important that we do the right thing, that we correct the wrongs. We allow people who actually created the industry that comes along with this to participate, that we create new jobs and all the things that happen when we legalize cannabis,” Eugene Monroe, former Baltimore Ravens player and chair of Maryland’s Yes on 4 campaign, said in a news conference Thursday.

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