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Five states have marijuana-related ballot initiatives primed for the general election on Nov. 6.
Voters in five states will consider marijuana initiatives this fall, but only two of them—Michigan and North Dakota—will tackle legalizing recreational use of the drug.
It's the latest push for legalization of a drug that's become increasingly mainstream since former President Bill Clinton famously declared he'd tried pot but didn't inhale it. If voters in Michigan and North Dakota approve the proposed initiatives on Nov. 6, the states will become the tenth and eleventh to legalize recreational marijuana, a trend that began in 2012 with Colorado and Oregon. (Commercial markets in those states have since fared differently—in Colorado, the legal pot market is overtaking black-market sales, but one recent assessment found that legal pot in Oregon is doing little to curb illegal trafficking.)
Two other states—Utah and Missouri—will consider legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, while the final initiative, in Colorado, deals with the definition of “industrial hemp” in the state constitution. (An additional measure to allow medicinal marijuana in Oklahoma—State Question 788—passed in June with nearly 57 percent of the vote.)
It’s a busy slate of proposals, though not as crowded as in 2016, when nine states considered—and eight passed—initiatives related to marijuana legalization. But the ongoing legislative push is indicative of persistent support for legalization, currently hovering near 60 percent nationwide.
“That’s really increased over time. In the mid-90s, support for legalizing cannabis use was about 25 percent,” said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the Drug Policy Research Center at the RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan think tank based in Santa Monica, California. “The approval rating back then was pretty similar to what we saw in terms of support for same-sex marriage. Over time, they have kind of increased in lockstep.”
Nationwide, nine states and the District of Columbia have legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana (although in some jurisdictions, like Washington, D.C., legalization doesn't allow the drug to be sold commercially). By contrast, 31 states have legalized medicinal usage, with varying degrees of regulation.
Here’s a look at the ballot measures on tap in November.
Proposal 1 would legalize marijuana for recreational use for residents 21 and older. It would also allow users to grow up to 12 plants in their homes, but would impose a 10-ounce limit for marijuana kept at residences and would require that amounts larger than 2.5 ounces be “secured in locked containers.”
The proposal would permit retail sales of marijuana and edibles and create a state licensing system for distribution businesses. (Municipalities would have the option to ban or restrict those businesses.) Retail sales would be subject to a 10 percent tax that “would be allocated to local governments, K-12 education, and road and bridge maintenance.”
The proposal would also downgrade marijuana-related violations to “civil infractions.”
Fifty-five percent of Michigan voters currently favor legalization, according to a recent Detroit Free Press poll.
Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement Initiative, would legalize marijuana for recreational usage for residents 21 and older and “create an automatic expungement process for individuals with convictions for a controlled substance that has been legalized.”
That means anyone in North Dakota who’s been convicted of crimes related to the now-legal drug would have their records automatically expunged and sealed.
Some states, including California, have passed expungement measures in conjunction with legalization efforts, but automatic expungement is far less common, Kilmer said.
“Automatic expungement is rare,” he said. “In most places it puts the onus on the individual to go through that process. Having the onus on the government is somewhat unheard of.”
Missourians will vote on three separate marijuana-related items in November—two amendments to the state constitution and one statutory initiative, all pertaining to the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes only.
Amendment 2, known as the Medical Marijuana and Veteran Healthcare Services Initiative, would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients with qualifying medical conditions, including cancer, epilepsy and glaucoma. Patients would also be permitted to grow up to “six flowering plants” at home. Sales would be taxed at 4 percent, with revenue going toward health-care benefits for veterans.
Amendment 3, the Medical Marijuana and Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute Initiative, would also legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes, but sales would be taxed at 15 percent. Revenue from those taxes would go toward creating and funding a Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute, which would “be tasked with researching cures for cancer and other diseases and overseeing the state's medical marijuana program.” Any resulting cures would be available to residents for free.
That amendment is backed by a political action committee called Find The Cures, which received virtually all of its funding from Brad Bradshaw, a Springfield, Missouri-based physician, surgeon and lawyer. Bradshaw filed a lawsuit in August attempting to discredit the competing Amendment 2, but the case was dismissed.
Proposition C, the Medical Marijuana and Veterans Healthcare Services, Education, Drug Treatment, and Public Safety Initiative, is a state statute that would legalize the medicinal use of marijuana with a tax rate of 2 percent. Revenue would be funneled to “veterans’ services, drug treatment, education and law enforcement.”
If both constitutional amendments pass, the one with the most votes will prevail, according to the Missouri Revised Statutes. If one or both amendments pass along with the state statute, the courts will decide which one goes into effect.
Proposition 2, the Medical Marijuana Initiative, would legalize medical marijuana for residents with qualifying conditions, including HIV, Alzheimer’s and Crohn’s disease. Patients would receive medical marijuana cards from their physicians but would not be permitted to smoke marijuana, and their purchases would be limited by both frequency and size. After Jan. 1, 2021, patients possessing medical cards would be permitted to grow six marijuana plants in their homes, but only if there are no dispensaries within 100 miles.
The initiative has faced opposition in Utah, most notably from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
All five states will vote on the proposals on Nov. 6, but it’s unclear when implementation would begin should they pass. California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts all passed legalization initiatives in 2016, but retail stores aren’t operational yet in all of those states.
“You’ve got stores in California, you’ve got stores in Nevada. It won’t be long before stores open up in Massachusetts,” Kilmer said. “It takes a while after these things pass before stores open up.”
Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.