On Election Day, These States Will Vote On Medical Marijuana

Medical marijuana is already legal in 26 states. And three more could join the fold on Election Day as Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota are set to vote on medical marijuana ballot issues.

Three isn't exactly an overwhelming number, but this trio of states could push legalization forward in other states. Two are from the South and one is from the Midwest, which are are strongholds for cannabis prohibition in America.

Here's a breakdown of the states who could bump the total number of legal medical districts close to 30.

1. Florida, Amendment 2

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The biggest battleground for medical marijuana this fall is the Sunshine State. Right now, the south is one of the most inhospitable regions toward cannabis reform in America. A handful of districts in Dixie allow patients to use CBD oil - a non-psychoactive cannabis extract - to treat a few medical conditions. But only Louisiana has legalized medical marijuana.

Florida could change that by becoming the biggest southern state to launch a medical marijuana program. But United for Care - the group that created Amendment 2 - knows it will face a tough battle. The group tried to pass a similar motion in 2014. Even though 57.6 percent of voters approved it, the campaign failed because, unlike other states, ballot initiatives in the Golden State have to gain at least 60 percent support to pass.

Right now, things are looking good. According to a recent poll conducted by Florida Atlantic University, 67 percent of likely voters support Amendment 2 and only 30 percent oppose it, leaving 3 percent undecided. So winning might only be a matter of getting those supporters into voting booths on Election Day.

But a lot of influential groups want those voters to stay home on November 8th. Amendment 2 is opposed by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the Florida Medical Association and the Drug Free Florida Committee, which alone spent $6 million on the campaign to defeat the 2014 initiative. Their message this year is that legalization would turn Florida into the "California of the east."

Apparently that's a bad thing.

2. Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment, Issue 6

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State Capitol building in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Florida isn't the only southern state that could help turn the tide against prohibition in Dixieland. Voters in the Natural State will vote on the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment (Issue 6), which would allow patients with cancer, glaucoma, Alzheimer’s or other qualifications to access cannabis. 

But Issue 6 faces a lot of challenges along the way to becoming law. The first is a confusing court decision. Issue 6 originally had a rival ballot initiative called Issue 7, which offered a much broader list of qualifying conditions. It also would have let patients grow their own cannabis at home, which Issue 6 doesn't allow.

But on October 27, the Arkansas Supreme Court disqualified Issue 7 from the ballot - after over 140,000 votes had already been cast. Hopefully those voters checked off both marijuana ballot questions or else this legislative hiccup could prevent patients from legally accessing medical marijuana.

Meanwhile, since election materials were printed before the court's decision, Issue 7 will still appear on the ballot even though it is moot. So the Marijuana Policy Project is urging voters to check both Issue 6 and Issue 7 when they go to the polls.

On top of that confusion, Issue 6 faces opposition from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson, who headed the DEA during the George W. Bush Administration. Hutchinson is not only speaking out against medical marijuana. He has also donated $10,000 to the campaigns against Issues 6 and 7. "The initiatives that will be on the ballot do not lead to good medicine it is not good medical practice and it is not best for the patient," Governor Hutchison said during a press conference last month.

According to a University of Arkansas poll released earlier this week, 49 percent of likely voters supported Issue 6 while 47 percent were opposed and 4 percent were undecided. So winning over those fence-sitters will be crucial for medical marijuana to take root in Arkansas. 

3. North Dakota Medical Marijuana Legalization, Measure 5

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North Dakota is the lone midwestern state voting on medical marijuana this fall. If residents approve Measure 5, patients with conditions such as HIV, Crohn's, PTSD, cancer or other qualifying conditions would be able to legally access medical marijuana.

Unlike the other states voting on medical marijuana this year, there isn't a group running a "Vote No" campaign against Measure 5. But the path to Election Day won't be a walk in the park for activists in the Peace Garden State.

North Dakota is notoriously conservative. In fact, it's one of only a few American states where marijuana is completely prohibited. So it's not surprising that support for legalization is weak among residents. According to polling data released by the University of North Dakota in 2014, only 47 percent of voters supported medical marijuana while 41 percent were opposed and 9 percent were undecided. 

So there is no clear support for legalization. And the fact that newer data isn't available suggests that the majority of North Dakotans aren't particularly interested in discussing the issue. 

But sponsors hope to sway voters by appealing to their common sense. "Even though we are a conservative state, I think most of the voters in this state would view this as an alternative to prescription drugs that we know are harmful," Rilie Ray Morgan -- a financial advisor from Fargo - told Forum last October.

Hopefully reason will prevail, but right now it looks like North Dakota is the longshot of the three initiatives.

Banner image: Chuck Wagner / Shutterstock.com 

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