If 2016 signaled a high-water mark for state ballot initiatives to legalize cannabis, then this year portends a slow, but steady, flow.
On the recreational side, an adult-use cannabis measure has been certified by a state board for Michigan’s November ballot.
The four measures, if they pass, will infuse easily hundreds of millions of dollars in business opportunities into what is already a multibillion-dollar industry in the United States.
The chances of the initiatives being approved by voters look good, based on recent polling.
The election-year activity is further indication that Americans are demanding access to medical marijuana and are generally in favor of adult use as well, Marijuana Policy Project Communications Director Morgan Fox told Marijuana Business Daily.
“This is going hand-in-hand with the steadily increasing interest in state legislatures and at the federal level in passing sensible marijuana laws,” Fox wrote in an email.
In fact, legislative action is part of the complicated legalization landscape this year.
In both Oklahoma and Missouri, lawmakers proposed bills that would sidestep voters, but the Oklahoma bill died and the Missouri Legislature is wrapping up its session.
In Michigan, some Republicans recently talked about a rec MJ legislative agreement that would be paired with a general tax cut.
That wouldn’t be so bad of an outcome, according to Fox.
“If the Legislature decides to enact the initiative instead of sending it to the voters,” he wrote, “it would probably save some time on implementation and would likely lead to arrests ending sooner than if it is brought to the polls in November.”
Missouri is complicated by two potential ballot initiatives, which some worry will confuse voters.
And then there’s Utah, where an aggressive canvassing effort by the Utah Medical Association and some law-enforcement agencies aims to thwart a seemingly successful ballot initiative by the Utah Patients Coalition.
The Mormon church on Friday reiterated its opposition, though in stronger terms than it had previously.
In a statement, the church wrote that it had hired attorneys to analyze the issue and their conclusion raised “grave concerns” about the initiative and warned of “serious adverse consequences” if it became law.
Here’s where the campaigns stand:
Initiative: Question 778, Medical Marijuana Legalization, led by Oklahomans for Health.
What it would do: Legalize marijuana for medical purposes.
Key business highlights:
- Licenses, costing $2,500 each, would be required to operate dispensaries as well as cultivation and processing operations.
- Municipalities would be prohibited from enacting zoning restrictions to prevent dispensaries, but such operations would not be allowed within 1,000 feet of a school.
- Sales would be taxed at 7%, with revenue going in part to drug and alcohol rehabilitation.
Latest polling: More than six in 10 Oklahomans approved of medical marijuana, according to a January survey by SoonerPoll.com.
Initiative: Michigan Marijuana Legalization, led by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
Status: The Michigan Board of Canvassers ruled on April 26 that the initiative had enough valid signatures (277,370 – 24,847 more than required) to be placed on the November ballot. The Legislature has until June 5 to make the final determination.
What it would do: Legalize marijuana for adult use.
Key business highlights:
- In addition to existing taxes, an excise tariff of 10% would be levied on retail and microbusiness sales.
- The measure would legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution and sale of industrial hemp.
- Municipalities would be allowed to ban or limit marijuana establishments within their boundaries.
Latest polling: Support has grown to more than six in 10, according to Michigan State University’s Institute for Public Policy and Research.
Initiative: Missouri Medical Marijuana and Veteran Healthcare Services Initiative, led by New Approach Missouri.
Status: New Approach Missouri has submitted 372,483 signatures to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office, more than double the 160,000 needed to qualify for the state ballot. The Secretary of State’s office will make its final determination about the signatures’ validity by August.
A second group, Find the Cure, also submitted signatures supporting an initiative that calls for an independent institute to research and regulate marijuana, funded by a 15% tax. The validity of those signatures hasn’t been determined.
What the initiatives would do: Legalize medical marijuana.
Key business highlights of the New Approach initiative:
- Would allow for licensed cultivation facilities and dispensaries.
- Would permit state-licensed physicians to recommend medical marijuana to patients who suffer from such serious or debilitating medical conditions as cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s and spinal-cord injuries.
- A 4% sales tax would be levied, with revenue in excess of the cost to regulate the system going to a fund to help cover veterans’ health-care costs.
Latest polling: Various polls have shown support of at least 60% of Missouri residents.
Initiative: The Medical Cannabis Act, led by the Utah Patients Coalition.
Status: The coalition says enough signatures have been verified for the issue to be placed on the ballot. The state’s election site showed about 155,000 valid signatures as of May 10, 40,000 more than the 113,143 needed. But opposition is trying to persuade people to withdraw their signatures, and the state has until June 1 to certify the petitions.
What it would do: Legalize medical marijuana.
Key business highlights:
- Would provide licenses for dispensaries, cultivation, processing and independent testing.
- No more than one dispensary would be licensed for every 150,000 residents in a county.
- An MMJ business would have to be at least 600 feet from a school, public park or playground, church or library.
- Medical cannabis would be exempt from sales tax, but fees must offset the expenses of maintaining the program.
Latest polling: More than three-quarters of Utah residents support legalizing the use of medical marijuana, according to a February survey by Dan Jones & Associates.
Jeff Smith can be reached at [email protected]