Several states to weigh adult-use marijuana on election day

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, Several states to weigh adult-use marijuana on election day

Maryland residents could vote to decriminalize marijuana in November.

Voters will decide whether to legalize commercial sales of adult-use marijuana in as many as five states during the November midterm elections.

State lawmakers in Maryland referred a recreational marijuana legalization referendum to voters, who will decide the issue on the Nov. 8 ballot.

Secretaries of state in Missouri and North Dakota certified that enough valid signatures had been collected to place adult-use legalization initiatives on their state ballots.

In Arkansas, the state Supreme Court 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. The matter was unresolved as this magazine went to print.

In Oklahoma, an adult-use marijuana petition calling for a commercial market secured enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, but the measure still faced procedural hurdles at press time.

Where cannabis is legal

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

In terms of medical marijuana, proponents of a referendum in Nebraska failed to collect enough valid signatures to put the issue before voters this fall. In response, Nebraska state Sen. Jen Day said she plans to introduce legislation to legalize medical marijuana in the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 4.

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.

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 (measures 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.

Hurdles remain

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.

“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.

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, that is, legislators don’t pass a legalization bill first.

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

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

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.

Forty additional store licenses would be awarded through a lottery before July 5, 2023, and 12 additional cultivation licenses would be awarded 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: The text of House Bill 1 decriminalizes marijuana for adult use.

If voters approve the measure, lawmakers will need to establish rules and regulations for a commercial cannabis market.

The law would require the General Assembly to “provide for the use, distribution, possession, regulation and taxation of cannabis within
the state.”

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 serve medical and adult-use markets.

The law would be 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%.