Approximately 155 million Americans live in states where cannabis is legal. There are now 21 states allowing the legal possession of marijuana for anyone 21 and older after recently passed laws in Maryland and Missouri. However, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas voters rejected legalizing cannabis in those states. It’s the first time more than one state voted against marijuana referendums on Election Day.
Support for Recreational Cannabis Use in Maryland and Missouri
Voters approved the legalization of recreational marijuana in Maryland. Over 65% chose yes on Question 4. Starting July 1, 2023, anyone at least 21 years old can smoke cannabis, possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana, and grow up to two plants in a private residence away from public view.
The new law will automatically expunge previous convictions for cannabis-related offenses by July 1, 2024. Anyone serving time for a crime involving marijuana will also be eligible for resentencing. Individuals convicted of possession with intent to distribute can petition for expungement of their criminal record three years after serving their sentence.
In Missouri, residents voted yes on Amendment 3, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for anyone 21 years of age and older. Under the new law, eligible adults can have up to six clones, flowering plants, and seedlings and possess up to three ounces of marijuana. Residents with a valid medical marijuana card can possess up to six ounces.
The amendment also allows the courts to review and expunge criminal records for past nonviolent marijuana offenses by June 8, 2023. The courts will start reviewing cannabis-related crimes in order of severity, expunging less severe cases first.
Other States Voted No to Legal Marijuana
Maryland and Missouri are the only states out of five to vote yes to legalizing cannabis during the recent midterm elections. The states that rejected recreational use are:
- Arkansas – Voters rejected Issue 4 on the ballot in Arkansas. The legislation would have allowed adults 21 and older to possess and use up to one ounce of marijuana from licensed retailers. It also would have implemented a 10% sales tax, sending funds to drug court programs authorized by the Arkansas Drug Court Act, operations at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and law enforcement.
- North Dakota – Voters rejected Measure 2 in North Dakota. The measure would have allowed up to one ounce of marijuana possession for adults at least 21 years old. It would have also allowed the cultivation of up to three plants in residents’ homes.
- South Dakota – In South Dakota, voters rejected ballot Measure 27, which would have allowed residents to legally possess, use, and distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. They also would have legally been allowed to grow up to three plants for personal use.
Division Between Federal and State Laws
The results of the recent election created even more of a divide between federal and state cannabis laws. Although residents in 21 states can legally buy and consume marijuana, the Drug Enforcement Administration still considers it a Schedule I controlled substance. Cannabis belongs to the same classification as drugs, such as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD.
Congress hasn’t passed legislation to reduce federal restrictions on cannabis. Businesses continue to struggle to operate in states that legalized marijuana for recreational use. Some can’t get approved for small business loans or open business bank accounts.
Last month, President Joe Biden granted pardons to anyone convicted of simple marijuana possession under federal law. This decision is the most extensive action on U.S. drug policy taken by the White House to date. The pardons don’t involve those convicted of selling or distributing marijuana.
President Biden urged state governors to pardon people convicted of civil possession at the state level. He also called on the Attorney General and the Secretary of Health and Human Services to review the federal classification of cannabis.
He believes imprisoning people for marijuana possession leads to unnecessary consequences. Having a criminal record creates challenges in seeking housing, employment, and educational opportunities.
Donations for Cannabis Legalization Campaigns
Medical marijuana businesses made significant donations to legalization campaigns in Missouri and Arkansas. These efforts shifted the sources of funding for cannabis campaigns. Advocates struggled to raise money from people and organizations in the industry in the past.
In Missouri, legalization campaigns raised $7 million. Campaigns in Arkansas raised $13 million. Most donations in these two states came from medical marijuana businesses.
Pro-marijuana advocates criticized industry involvement in drafting and running the initiatives. They argued how referendums in each state were written so the recreational market would benefit existing medical marijuana companies donating to the campaigns. The argument persuaded Arkansas voters to reject legalization, but it didn’t prevent voters from passing the law in Missouri.
Shifts in the Dynamics on Capitol Hill
Many of the largest states had already legalized recreational marijuana before the recent midterm elections. The movement has helped make significant progress in sparsely populated regions and conservative areas of the country, potentially shifting the dynamics on Capitol Hill.
Cannabis legislation in additional states might increase support for bills such as the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act (SAFE) Banking Act. This act aims to protect banks and their insurers, offering financial services to businesses in the cannabis industry. Initially, Montana Republican Senator Steve Daines opposed the bill before marijuana became legal in the state in 2020. Now he is a lead sponsor.
Although many states have legalized marijuana, some lawmakers don’t support federal decriminalization. However, advocates on both sides of the debate believe the most recent outcome of marijuana legalization isn’t likely to affect lawmakers’ decisions on future legislation.
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