Voters in five states will decide on marijuana legalization on their November ballots—and voters in one state will have the chance to enact a historic reform to legalize psychedelics possession.
As Congress continues to stall on broad drug policy reform, the wave of state-level policy changes stands to grow bigger in the midterm elections.
What’s all the more notable about this year’s votes is that four out of five states deciding on cannabis legalization are traditionally conservative—a testament to the increasingly bipartisan nature of marijuana reform. And in the lead up to Election Day, polling bodes well for most of the campaigns.
Here’s a rundown of the measures that voters will decide on this November:
Arkansas—Issue 4—Marijuana Legalization
It wasn’t certain that votes for initiative would be counted even after signatures turned in by activists were certified by the state. The Board of Elections rejected the measure after determining that the ballot language was insufficient, prompting the campaign to file a lawsuit with the Arkansas Supreme Court.
After weeks of uncertainty, the court ruled in favor of the campaign in September, ensuring that votes would be counted.
According to a recent analysis, Arkansas could see nearly $1 billion in annual cannabis sales and more than $460 million in tax revenue over five years if voters approve legalization.
Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization initiative would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis from licensed retailers.
Home cultivation would not be allowed.
The measure would make a series of changes to the state’s existing medical cannabis program that was approved by voters in 2016, including a repeal of residency requirements to qualify as a patient in the state.
The state Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division of the Department of Finance and Administration would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.
Regulators would need to license existing medical cannabis dispensaries to also serve adult consumers, and also permit them to open another retail location for recreational marijuana sales only. A lottery system would award licenses for 40 additional adult-use retailers.
There are no provisions to expunge or seal past criminal records for marijuana or to provide specific social equity licensing opportunities for people from communities harmed by the war on drugs.
The state could impose up to a 10 percent supplemental tax on recreational cannabis sales, in addition to the existing state and local sales tax.
Tax revenue would be divided up between law enforcement (15 percent), the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (10 percent) and the state drug court program (five percent). The remaining revenue would go to the state general fund.
People who own less than five percent of a marijuana businesses would no longer be subject to background checks.
The legislature could not repeal or amend the state’s medical marijuana statutes without voter approval.
Local governments could hold elections to prohibit adult-use retailers in their jurisdiction if voters approve the decision.
Individuals could now own stake in more than 18 dispensaries.
There would be advertising and packaging restrictions, including a requirement that marijuana products must be sold in tamper-resistant packages.
Dispensaries would be able to cultivate and store up to 100 seedings, instead of 50 as prescribed under the current medical cannabis law.
A poll in September found that 59 percent of likely voters in Arkansas are in favor of the ballot measure, Issue 4, with just 29 percent opposed and 13 percent undecided.
Responsible Growth Arkansas is just one of several campaigns that pursued cannabis reform through the ballot this year, though backers of competing initiatives have since acknowledged they wouldn’t be able to collect enough signatures to qualify this year.
Maryland—Question 4—Marijuana Legalization
Through an act of the legislature, Maryland voters will decide on a marijuana legalization referendum at the ballot this year.
And if voters approve the measure, that will trigger the implementation of a separate bill to set up initial regulations for the program.
Maryland elections officials recently finalized the language of the basic cannabis referendum and issued a formal summary. Here’s the text of the measure, designated as Question 4, that will go before voters:
“Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?”
Here are the details of the complementary marijuana implementation bill that would take effect if the referendum passes:
The purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis would be legal for adults.
The legislation also would remove criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces.
Adults 21 and older would be allowed to grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration.
Past convictions for conduct made legal under the proposed law would be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offenses would be eligible for resentencing.
The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute could petition the courts for expungement three years after serving out their time.
Lawmakers are expected to tackle issues related to regulated and taxed production and sales of cannabis through subsequent legislation next session if the ballot measure passes.
A majority of Maryland voters say they will support the referendum, according to a pair of recent polls. There’s also widespread support for expunging prior cannabis convictions if the reform is enacted.
Missouri—Amendment 3—Marijuana Legalization
Marijuana legalization is on the ballot in Missouri, and the reform campaign has already overcome a key legal challenge that threatened to kick it off.
There’s been mixed polling on the Legal Missouri 2022 measure since the state certified it for the ballot, and the latest survey found that a plurality of very likely Missouri voters will support it.
The survey from Emerson College Polling and The Hill found that just under half (48 percent) of voters back Amendment 3, while 35 percent are opposed and 17 percent are unsure.
Here’s what Amendment 3 would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis.
They could also grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, six immature plants and six clones if they obtain a registration card.
The initiative would impose a six percent tax on recreational cannabis sales and use revenue to facilitate automatic expungements for people with certain non-violent marijuana offenses on their records.
Remaining revenue would go toward veterans’ healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.
The Department of Health and Senior Services would be responsible for regulating the program and issuing licenses for cannabis businesses.
Regulators would be required to issue at least 144 microbusiness licenses through a lottery system, with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.
Existing medical marijuana dispensaries would also be first in line to start serving adult consumers with dual licenses.
Regulators could create rules around advertising, but they could not be any more stringent than existing restrictions on alcohol marketing.
Public consumption, driving under the influence of cannabis and underage marijuana use would be explicitly prohibited.
A seed-to-sale tracking system would be established for the marijuana market.
Local jurisdictions would be able to opt out of permitting cannabis microbusinesses or retailers from operating in their area if voters approve the ban at the ballot.
The measure would further codify employment protections for medical cannabis patients.
Medical marijuana cards would be valid for three years at a time, instead of one. And caregivers would be able to serve double the number of patients.
The latest poll was conducted about a week after a separate firm released a survey that found 62 percent of Missouri likely voters are “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3.
That included majorities across all political affiliations: Democrats (77 percent), independents (57 percent) and Republicans (54 percent).
Still, the Emerson/Hill poll is more encouraging for the campaign than one from Remington Research Group and Missouri Scout that found just 43 percent of likely voters favor the initiative. However, as Legal Missouri 2022 was quick to point out, the same firm behind that survey previously missed the mark when it found just slim support for a 2018 medical cannabis ballot measure that ultimately passed overwhelmingly.
Meanwhile, a group of activists recently formed a campaign—comprised of lawmakers, a former Missouri lieutenant governor, legalization supporters and the director of the state chapter of Americans for Prosperity—to convince voters to oppose the initiative and compel the governor to add cannabis reform to the legislative agenda of a special session.
To that end, Rep. Ron Hicks (R) introduced a revised marijuana legalization bill in September, with the hopes that the filing will spur the governor to expand the special session to allow consideration of the emergency reform legislation as an alternative to a cannabis ballot measure.
North Dakota—Measure 2—Marijuana Legalization
New Approach ND turned in signatures for a marijuana legalization measure in July, and Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) officially certified the initiative the following month.
Here’s a breakdown of the key provisions of Measure 2:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, four grams of marijuana concentrate and flower produced from up to three plants grown for personal use, as long as that cannabis is stored in the same location that the plant was cultivated.
The Department of Health and Human Services, or a different agency designated by the legislature, would be responsible for creating rules for the program and overseeing licensing for marijuana businesses.
Regulators would have until October 1, 2023 to develop rules related to security, advertising, labeling, packaging and testing standards.
The department could only license a maximum of seven cultivation facilities and 18 retailers. In an effort to mitigate the risk of having the market monopolized by large companies, the initiative stipulates that no individual or entity would be permitted to own more than one cultivation facility or four retail locations.
There would be specific child custody protections for parents who use cannabis in compliance with state law.
Employers could continue to enforce existing drug policy prohibiting marijuana use.
With respect to past criminal records, the initiative would not provide a pathway for expungements, though activists say they intend to work with the legislature on enacting separate legislation addressing that issue in 2023.
Local jurisdictions would be able to prohibit marijuana businesses from operating in their area, and cannabis companies would also be required to adhere to local zoning rules.
The state’s five percent sales tax would apply to cannabis products, but no additional tax would be imposed specifically for marijuana.
Manufacturers would need to pay a biennial $110,000 registration fee and retailers would need to pay $90,000. Those funds would support the department’s implementation and administration of the adult-use program.
The initiative does not lay out any specific use of funds collected from these fees beyond administration.
Public consumption would be prohibited.
Polling data on marijuana reform is scarce in North Dakota, but one survey from 2018 found that just over half of residents in the state (51 percent) back legalization.
Activists in the state have recently stepped up their push to convince the electorate to support the initiative, releasing two radio ads featuring supporters and announcing grassroots “get out the vote” plans.
South Dakota—Measure 27—Marijuana Legalization
South Dakota voters approved marijuana legalization at the ballot in 2020—and they’ll have another chance to do so this November after that earlier initiative was invalidated in court.
However, a recent poll signals that public opinion has potentially shifted on the issue, with a majority of respondents opposed to the reform—though activists have questions the survey’s findings.
South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) cleared one major hurdle by submitting enough valid signatures to qualify the marijuana measure for the November ballot. They turned in nearly 20,000, and the secretary of state’s office confirmed in May that they met the required 16,961 signatures for ballot placement.
When legalization was on the 2020 ballot, it passed handily with 54 of the vote. But following a legal challenge led by Gov. Kristi Noem (R), the state Supreme Court ultimately invalidated the vote on procedural grounds, finding that the measure violated the state Constitution’s single subject rule.
To avoid that problem this round, the 2022 initiative omits the previous version’s provisions that dealt with taxes and regulations, leaving those decisions up to the legislature.
While activists would have preferred lawmakers to enact the policy change, that did not materialize this session. The House rejected a Senate-passed legalization bill in March, effectively leaving it up to activists to get on the ballot again.
SDBML has said that it intends to work with lawmakers on that measure while continuing to push for Measure 27.
Here’s what the campaign’s marijuana legalization ballot initiative would accomplish if approved by voters:
The measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of cannabis. They could also grow up to three plants for personal use.
It also lays out civil penalties for violating provisions related to issues such as public consumption or growing more plants than permitted.
Employers would specifically be allowed to continue enforcing workplace drug policy prohibiting cannabis use by workers.
State and local governments could continue to ban marijuana activities made legal under the initiative in buildings “owned, leased, or occupied” by a governmental body.
The measure does not touch on regulatory policies concerning taxing cannabis sales, licensing or equity.
A Marijuana Interim Study Committee, headed by legislative leaders, was established last year to explore cannabis policy reform, and the panel ultimately recommended that the legislature take up legalization this session. The House-defeated legislation was one of the direct products of that recommendation.
Meanwhile, one state is set to vote on a first-of-its-kind initiative to legalize possession of various psychedelics and create regulated psilocybin therapy centers for adults.
Colorado—Proposition 122—Psychedelics Legalization
The historic measure seeks to legalize possession of psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine for adults 21 and older and also allow “healing centers” where psilocybin can be administered for therapeutic purposes.
Two recent polls paint conflicting pictures about how voters will come down on the historic initiative.
One survey commissioned by the Yes On 122 campaign found strong support for the measure (70 percent) and another showing a plurality of voters (41 percent) opposed to the reform.
Here’s what the Natural Medicine Health Act initiative would accomplish if approved by voters:
Possession, use, cultivation and sharing of psilocybin, ibogaine, mescaline (not derived from peyote), DMT and psilocyn would be legalized for adults 21 and older, without an explicit possession limit. There would be no recreational sales component.
Under the proposal, the Department of Regulatory Agencies would be responsible for developing rules for a therapeutic psychedelics program where adults 21 and older could visit a licensed healing center to receive treatment under the guidance of a trained facilitator.
There would be a two-tiered regulatory model, where only psilocybin and psilocyn would be permitted for therapeutic use at licensed healing centers until June 2026. After that point, regulators could decide whether to also permit regulated therapeutic use of DMT, ibogaine and mescaline.
A new 15-member Natural Medicine Advisory Board would be responsible for making recommendations on adding substances to the program, and the Department of Regulatory Agencies could then authorize those recommended additions.
The advisory board’s membership would specifically include people who have experience with psychedelic medicine in a scientific and religious context.
People who have completed their sentence for a conviction related to an offense made legal under the act would be able to petition the courts for record sealing. If there’s no objection from the district attorney, the court would need to automatically clear that record.
Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) was recently asked about the prospects of enacting psychedelics reform in the state, and he acknowledged that advocates are working to accomplish that policy change at the ballot and also said he supports the idea of decriminalizing the substances.
In June, Polis signed a bill to align state statute to legalize MDMA prescriptions if and when the federal government ultimately permits such use.
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At the local level, drug policy reform will be decided on by voters in Ohio, Texas and Wisconsin next month.
Here’s an overview of those proposals:
A campaign to put legalization on the statewide ballot in Ohio this year might have fallen short, but activists have successfully put decriminalization before voters in about a half dozen cities across the state.
This year, voters will decide on decriminalization in Corning, Helena, Hemlock, Kent, Laurelville, Rushville and Shawnee. Local officials certified petitions for some of those jurisdictions before summer, with others being finalized more recently.
Voters in seven other cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election, building on a slew of previous local reforms in the state.
Prior to that election, more than 20 jurisdictions across the state had already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing possession—some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils in major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Meanwhile, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted signatures to put legalization on this November’s ballot, but a court ruled in May that they would not qualify because of timing problems. However, as part of a legal settlement, the court did clear activists to take the reform back up in 2023 without having to collect signatures to prompt a legislative review again.
A pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers separately filed a bill to legalize marijuana in April that directly mirrors the proposed initiative that activists are pursuing, but it is not expected to advance in the legislature.
At the local level, marijuana reform has moved rapidly as Texas activists have worked to enact reform in jurisdictions across the state. In May, for example, Austin voters approved marijuana decriminalization overwhelmingly.
Voters in five more Texas cities—Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos—will see cannabis decriminalization measures on their November ballots.
Texas has seen more modest cannabis reforms enacted statewide in recent years, including the expansion of the state’s medical marijuana program, but the conservative legislature has yet to meaningfully advance broad reform.
Advocates also remain disappointed that lawmakers have so far been unable to pass other incremental cannabis bills—such as a decriminalization proposal that has advanced in one chamber of the legislature only to stall in the other.
According to a poll released last month, a majority of Texas voters support legalizing marijuana for medical and recreational use.
Texas Republicans might be on the fence on legalization overall, but the state’s GOP party formalized its opposition to ending prohibition again with the adoption of a policy plank as part of its 2022 platform.
Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R) said last month that he will work to enact criminal justice reform in the 2023 session, and he again expressed support for lowering penalties for marijuana possession.
There’s currently no statewide citizen initiative process for ballot in Wisconsin, but activists have successfully put non-binding legalization advisory questions before voters. And more than half dozen other cities and counties will weigh in on the issue this year.
Voters in the counties of Dane, Eau Claire and Milwaukee will see cannabis questions on their ballot, as will those in the municipalities of Appleton, Kenosha, Racine Stevens Point and Superior.
Some state lawmakers have filed bills to legalize cannabis for adult use—and Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R) has said legalization is “likely” to happen at some point—but the legislature has so far failed to pass even more modest proposals like decriminalization or the legalization of medical cannabis.
Gov. Tony Evers (D), for his part, is asking lawmakers to give the people the right to put binding statewide citizen initiatives on the ballot—and advocates are hopeful that the move could open the door to finally letting voters decide on marijuana legalization.
While activists in several other states worked to put legalization on the ballot this year, not all proved successful.
That being said, several campaigns have taken the setbacks in stride and are aiming to put reform before voters in upcoming elections.
Next month’s election could continue the state-level legalization movement, but it should also be noted that 2022 has already marked a year where cannabis policy changes were enacted in states are ideologically distinct as Mississippi and Rhode Island.
Still, there are a handful of states that came close to ending prohibition for either recreational or medical use, only to fall short before the end of the year’s legislative session. Not every activist-led campaign ended up qualifying for the ballot by established deadlines, either, and still others faced court challenges.
There were setbacks in states like Delaware, Kansas, Kentucky, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Carolina and Oklahoma this year. In some of those places, reform legislation passed through one or both chambers of the legislature only to fall short ahead of the finish line. In others, activists turned in signatures for ballot initiatives, but faced significant obstacles that prevented qualification.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.