Several state marijuana legalization initiatives could make fall ballot

A map showing where voters in several states could decide whether to legalize marijuana.

Voters will decide whether to legalize commercial sales of adult-use marijuana in as many as five states during the November midterm elections, while medical cannabis could get on the ballot in Nebraska.

A recreational marijuana legalization referendum will be on the ballot in Maryland after state lawmakers voted in April to put the question before voters this fall.

On Monday, North Dakota’s secretary of state, Al Jaeger, certified that enough valid signatures had been collected to place an adult-use legalization initiative on the November ballot.

Similarly, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft announced last week that legalization advocates had collected enough signatures to place a recreational initiative before voters.

In Arkansas, the state Supreme Court last week gave conditional approval for residents to vote on a constitutional amendment this fall that would allow adult-use sales.

But it’s possible the votes won’t be counted, depending on the outcome of a pending legal challenge involving the ballot title.

In Oklahoma, an adult-use marijuana petition calling for a commercial market has been submitted for approval; state election officials are reviewing the signatures.

In terms of medical marijuana, proponents of a referendum in Nebraska submitted more than 90,000 signatures, a few thousand above the roughly 87,000 required.

State election officials are determining whether there are enough valid signatures within the required geographic distribution for the measure to be placed on the ballot

Focus on adult use

Ballot referendum efforts this year have focused on recreational marijuana given that most states already have legalized medical cannabis.

Across the country, recreational marijuana has been legalized in 19 states and Washington DC, while medical cannabis is legal in 39 states and the district.

Where cannabis is legal in the U.S.

Based on increasing public support for legalization, the referendums that do qualify for the fall ballot have a strong chance of passing.

“At this point, I do expect all (that qualify for a ballot) to prevail but some of them will be competitive,” said Matt Schweich, deputy director of the Washington, DC-based Marijuana Policy Project.

“None of these campaigns should ever take anything for granted, but I believe public opinion is on the side of all of these cannabis reform measures.”

More than two in three Americans support legalizing marijuana, according to a November 2021 Gallup poll.

But potential roadblocks could trip up voter-approved legalization efforts.

In the past couple of years, state supreme courts in Mississippi and South Dakota voided or rejected legalization referendums after voters approved them.

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“We’ve been through these painful situations before, but we’ve also learned from them,” Schweich said.

For example, he noted, an adult-use marijuana measure headed for the fall ballot in South Dakota is intentionally narrow in scope.

It would legalize personal possession and home cultivation, but it wouldn’t create a regulated commercial market.

“You’re seeing cannabis reform campaigns adjust,” Schweich said.

But at the same time, he said, the territory is treacherous because of the trend for public officials to oppose marijuana legalization after voters have had their say and for courts to overturn the will of the voters.

“This is bigger than cannabis,” Schweich noted. “It’s about a sustained effort to undermine the ballot process across the country.”

In a couple of key states, marijuana legalization initiatives are being teed up for future elections.

In Ohio, backers of a recreational marijuana measure struck a deal with Republican lawmakers that paves the way for the issue to be on the 2023 ballot - if legislators don’t pass a legalization bill next year.

In Florida, adult-use legalization advocates now are eyeing 2024 after the state Supreme Court shot down proposed ballot language.

Here’s a look at this fall’s likely marijuana legalization ballot measures:

Recreational marijuana

Arkansas

Proponent: Responsible Growth Arkansas.
Initiative: Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022.
Type of initiative: Constitutional amendment.
Expected sales start: March 8, 2023.

Key business details:

  • The market would launch with existing medical marijuana providers. Each could open an additional adult-use-only store.
  • 40 additional store licenses would be awarded through a lottery by July 5, 2023, and 12 additional cultivation licenses by Nov. 8, 2023.
  • The measure calls for a 10% retail tax on recreational marijuana products, in addition to local and state sales taxes.

Maryland

Proponent: Placed on ballot by state Legislature.
Initiative: House Bill 1.
Type of initiative: Constitutional amendment.
Expected sales start: To be determined by Legislature. The referendum itself would take effect July 1, 2023.

Key business details:

  • If voters approve the measure, lawmakers would need to enact additional legislation to establish rules and regulations for a regulated cannabis market.

Missouri 

Proponent: Legal Missouri 2022.
Initiative: Missouri Marijuana Legalization Initiative 2022.
Type of initiative: Constitutional amendment.
Expected sales start: To be determined.

Key business details:

  • Medical marijuana operators would be able to convert their licenses to medical and adult use.
  • The law is effective 30 days after the election. Within 300 days of the effective date, regulators would use a lottery system to issue 16 microbusiness dispensary and 32 microbusiness wholesale licenses across the state to low-income residents, people living in high-poverty communities, disabled war veterans and those convicted of nonviolent marijuana offenses.
  • An additional 96 microbusiness licenses meeting the same criteria would be phased in over the next 18 months.
  • A 6% retail sales tax would be imposed, plus an optional 3% local tax.

North Dakota

Proponent: New Approach North Dakota.
Initiative: Legalization of Cannabis.
Type of initiative: Statute.
Expected sales start: To be determined. Regulators would be required to implement the program no later than Oct. 1, 2023.

Key business details:

  • Licensing would be done through a competitive process based on specific criteria.
  • Up to seven manufacturing (cultivation and processing) licenses would be awarded.
  • Up to 18 retail licenses would be issued.
  • An individual or organization may not hold an ownership position in more than one manufacturing operation or four stores, or more than one store within 20 miles of another.

Oklahoma

Proponent: Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws backed by Washington DC-based New Approach PAC.
Initiative: State Question 820.
Type of initiative: Statute
Expected sales start: To be determined.

Key business details:

  • The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would license and regulate the recreational marijuana industry.
  • Five types of licenses would be issued: grower, processor, dispensary, transporter and marijuana testing facility.
  • Local governments could regulate the businesses but could not limit or prohibit them.
  • Marijuana sales would be taxed at 15%.

Medical marijuana

Nebraska

Proponent: Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana.
Initiative: Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Act.
Type of initiative: Statute.
Expected sales start: To be determined.

Key business details:

  • A Nebraska Medical Cannabis Commission with a maximum of five commissioners would establish licensing criteria and other rules and regulations by July 1, 2023.
  • The commission would begin granting licenses by Oct. 1, 2023.