With more than 60 percent of Americans in support of marijuana legalization, reform advocates in Missouri, Michigan, North Dakota, and Utah may have high hopes as they head to the polls next week to vote on a handful of statewide adult use and medical marijuana initiatives. What's more, this election marks recreational marijuana's first major push into the midwest, and not to mention growing support for medical cannabis, as voters in Ohio and Wisconsin consider local cannabis initiatives.
“The more people learn about marijuana, the more support we see for ending its prohibition. Once people learn marijuana has significant medical benefits and that it is actually less harmful than alcohol, they tend to agree it should be treated that way,” says Mason Tvert, spokesperson for the nonprofit Marijuana Policy Project.
Regardless of whether one's state has a cannabis initiative on the ballot or not, Tvert says, voters who back marijuana law reform should nonetheless educate themselves about their candidates' views on cannabis overall. “In addition to the marijuana-related initiatives on several state ballots this year, there will be some major candidate elections that could have a significant impact on the trajectory of reform efforts in Congress and state legislatures over the next few years.”
In states like Michigan, Missouri, North Dakota, and Utah, however, a confluence of competing bills, religious politics, and conservative constituencies leave much in the air a to whether cannabis law reform will successfully sweep the midwest.
Proposition 1, backed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, would allow adults age 21 and over to “possess, use, transport or process” up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The proposal, which also addresses industrial hemp, would levy a 10 percent excise tax on all marijuana sales, with revenue going toward implementation of the act and $20 million in annual funding for approved clinical trials to research the efficacy of medical marijuana for treating veterans.
According to a recent report from the Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency, cannabis legalization would generate more than $287 million in annual sales and excise taxes by 2023. And any extra tax money beyond the $20 million put aside for the veterans’ research fund would go toward the state’s school aid and transportation fund, as well as to municipalities and counties where marijuana businesses operate.
The state’s Department of Licensing and Regulatory Affairs would regulate adult use marijuana businesses. (Under Michigan’s current medical marijuana law, a five-member board appointed by the governor and state legislative leaders awards licenses to medical marijuana businesses.)
The measure would also allow individuals to grow up to a dozen marijuana plants and store up to 10 ounces from those plants in locked containers in their residence.
A poll conducted in late October for The Detroit News and WDIV indicates that a majority of Michigan voters back Proposition 1, with 57 percent of respondents in support and 40 percent opposed.
The support for marijuana law reform in Michigan reflects a national trend, whereby two thirds of Americans support legalization, and could hence bode well in the future for neighboring states. "Reform efforts have been moving forward across the Midwest for the past several years, and they are picking up steam,” Tvert says. “In addition to states like Michigan passing legalization measures at the ballot box, we could very well see others, like Illinois, moving forward through the legislature next year.”
Constitutional Amendment 2, spearheaded by New Approach Missouri, would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients diagnosed with one or more of 10 conditions, including cancer, glaucoma and PTSD. Patients would pay a four percent sales tax on products, with revenue going toward veterans’ programs. Missouri’s Department of Health and Human Services would oversee sales, licensing and cultivation, with the program costing the state an estimated $7 million in annual operating costs. The initiative would generate $18 million in tax revenue for the state and $6 million for local governments, according to figures from the Secretary of State’s office.
The New Approach initiative is the only measure on Missouri’s ballot that would allow cultivation for personal use, whereby qualifying patients would pay a $100 annual fee in order to grow up to six flowering plants in a state-registered facility. Qualifying patients who prefer to purchase products would pay $25 annually for an identification card and could buy up to four ounces of marijuana in a 30-day period, unless two independent doctors certify that they need more.
Constitutional Amendment 3 is backed by Brad Bradshaw, a Springfield-based attorney and physician who largely self-funded the initiative. If passed, the new law would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to qualifying patients who suffer from one or more of the law's 10 pre-approved conditions, such as cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Medical marijuana products would be subject to a 15 percent sales tax. Revenues would go toward the Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute in order to fund “medical research for cancer and other incurable diseases." The Institute's Research Board would oversee administration of the measure. The Secretary of State's Office estimates the measure would cost $500,000 annually to implement, while generating $66 million annually in revenue from taxes and fees.
Proposition C, also known as The Missourians for Patient Care Act (MPCA), would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana for one or more of nine specified conditions and would impose a two percent sales tax on products. Revenue would fund veterans’ services, drug treatment programs, early childhood education efforts, and public safety services in cities with medical marijuana facilities.
The Secretary of State's office estimates the annual implementation cost for the statute to be around $10 million and for annual revenue from sales tax to garner at least $10 million. Local governments are expected to receive at least $152,000 in annual revenues.
Unlike the other measures, MPCA is a statutory ballot initiative that, if passed, would change state law to legalize medical marijuana. The law, however, would also be subject to change by lawmakers at a later date. (By comparison, constitutional amendments would require another statewide vote to modify.)
Supporters of Proposition C say a statute provides more-flexible framework could help get medical marijuana to patients faster than constitutional amendments that often face bulky bureaucratic oversight. If it passes, the Missouri Department of Health and Human Services and the state division of alcohol and tobacco within the Department of Public Safety would oversee implementation.
Proposition C would only go into effect if both constitutional amendments fail. If both amendments pass, then whichever earned more votes will become part of the state constitution.
Medical marijuana supporters are optimistic about their chances next week since they'll have three pro-cannabis options on the ballot — unlike in 2016, when New Approach Missouri narrowly missed the mark for garnering enough certified signatures. Among this year's three options, Amendment 2 has the most widespread backing among legalization advocates, including support from Marijuana Policy Project and the recently launched Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association.
Measure 3, backed by Legalize ND, would allow adults over 21 to possess, use, grow, buy, and sell marijuana, and would create a specific subset of non-felony penalties related to possession and distribution to or by individuals under 21. The statute would also expunge marijuana-related records for those whose crimes would be considered null under the new law.
Supporters say the initiative is purposely open ended to allow the state legislature to decide details on how adult use marijuana might be regulated or taxed. According to the latest poll from Legalize ND, 51 percent of respondents support adult use legalization, while 36 percent are opposed.
Meanwhile, it seems both sides are working all the way up to Election Day to woo voters. Opponents of the measure recently put up a fresh round of billboards, such as to convince voters to reject the measure on grounds that the cannabis industry markets marijuana to kids through “colorful candies." Meanwhile supporters launched a new radio ad starring musician David Crosby that emphasizes the benefits of marijuana law reform.
Proposition 2, spearheaded by the Utah Patients Coalition, would allow patients with one or more of 11 qualifying conditions to get a medical marijuana card after obtaining a doctor’s recommendation. The measure would allow cardholders to purchase up to two ounces of cannabis flower or processed products with no more than 10 grams of THC or CBD during any 14-day period.
The initiative would exempt medical marijuana from local and state sales taxes and would require the Utah legislature to use marijuana business licensing fees to cover the cost of administration.
After January 1, 2021, medical marijuana patients who live further than 100 miles from a dispensary would be allowed to grow six cannabis plants for personal use in their homes. The homegrow option, however, is subject to removal from the law following negotiations among the law's supporters, opponents, and the Utah legislature. Meanwhile, Republican Governor Gary Herbert has called for a special legislative session to create a medical marijuana policy for the state regardless of the election’s outcome.
Recent polling has shown a decline in support for the measure, while some voters may even be content to let legislators take the lead on legalizing medical marijuana, themselves. A survey by The Salt Lake Tribune-Hinckley Institute of Politics found 51 percent of respondents showed some level of support for Proposition 1 while 46 percent opposed it. Those numbers represent a decline of around 15 percent among supporters since June.
On the local level, nearly half of Wisconsin’s voters will have the opportunity to weigh in on non-binding advisory questions related to marijuana legalization that serve as indicators of public opinion. Two cities and 16 counties approved advisory questions for their ballots, which will reach nearly three million voters, although the advisory questions vary across the state. For instance, voters in Eau Claire County can support keeping laws as they are, enacting laws for medicinal marijuana, or enacting laws that make marijuana legal for adult use via tax-and-regulate policies similar to alcohol. And in Milwaukee County, voters will simply choose whether or not they support legalizing adult use.
Recent surveys, however, suggest statewide support for legalization. According to a poll from August, 61 percent of respondents think marijuana should be fully legal and regulated like alcohol, while 36 percent opposed legalization.
While advisory questions may seem insignificant, strong support in favor of legalization helped lead to legislative reforms in states like Machachutes, where adult recreational sales are slated to start this year after voters approved a legalization measure in 2016.
Voters in a handful of Ohio cities, including Dayton and Norwood, will vote on measures decriminalizing misdemeanor marijuana and hashish offenses which would prompt city leaders to reduce some penalties and fines for marijuana-related offenses. Across the U.S., 22 states, the District of Columbia and a number of cities have made moves to decriminalize marijuana.