Election 2022: Two states approve and two states reject recreational marijuana
Voters have approved recreational marijuana in Maryland and Missouri and rejected it in Arkansas and North Dakota. The measure also was on the ballot in South Dakota.
Voters approved recreational marijuana in Maryland and Missouri but rejected it in two other states, signaling support gradually growing for legalization even in conservative parts of the country.
The results mean that 21 states have now approved marijuana’s recreational use. Arkansas and North Dakota voters rejected legalization proposals in Tuesday's elections. A similar initiative went before voters in South Dakota, but early Wednesday it was too early to call.
Advocates said the results send a message to lawmakers in Washington about support around the country for legalization.
“A growing number of voters recognize that cannabis policy reform is in the best interest of public health and safety, criminal justice reform, social equity, and personal freedom,” Toi Hutchinson, president and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project, said in a statement. “State-level legalization victories are what’s necessary to move the needle forward at the federal level."
The state voting follows moves by President Joe Biden toward decriminalizing marijuana. Biden last month announced he was pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law.
Advocates of the marijuana initiatives have said Biden's announcement could give a boost to their efforts.
Missouri’s measure will legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and expunge records of past arrests and convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, except for selling to minors or driving under the influence.
“It just shows that this is not a partisan issue,” said John Payne, who led the Missouri campaign to legalize marijuana use. “This is something that transcends partisan divides.”
Payne said he expected recreational sales to start in Missouri early next year.
Opponents said they would be working to limit the implementation of Missouri's legalization, such as working with cities and towns to opt out of allowing dispensaries.
“The devil is in the details, and we will remain actively involved in Missouri implementation because we don’t need another Big Tobacco industry harming kids in Missouri," said Kevin Sabet, president of SAM Action, an anti-legalization group.
Maryland will also make changes in criminal law and create automatic expungements of past marijuana possession convictions.
Heading into the election, recreational marijuana was legal in 19 states, and polls have shown opposition to legalization softening. All of the states with recreational marijuana on the ballot, except for Maryland, voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
About 6 in 10 voters support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana nationwide, according to VoteCast, an extensive survey of more than 90,000 voters nationwide conducted for The Associated Press by NORC at the University of Chicago.
“Support for ending marijuana prohibition in the states is spreading much like it did at the end of alcohol prohibition," said Mason Tvert, a partner at VS Strategies, a cannabis policy and public affairs firm. “
The five states that held votes on Tuesday have legal medical marijuana programs. That includes Arkansas, which in 2016 became the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuana. The state's dispensaries opened in 2019, and more than 91,000 patients have cards to legally buy marijuana for medical conditions.
The legalization campaigns raised about $23 million in the five states, with the vast majority in Arkansas and Missouri. More than 85% of contributions in those two states came from donors associated with companies holding medical marijuana licenses, according to an Associated Press analysis of the most recent campaign finance reports.
In Arkansas, supporters ran upbeat ads touting the thousands of jobs they said would be created by the measure. Opponents ran more ominous spots, warning voters to “protect Arkansas from big marijuana.”
“The marijuana industry spent millions of dollars trying to write itself into the Arkansas Constitution," said Jerry Cox, executive director of the Family Council Action Committee, one of the groups opposing the measure. “Now they know that Arkansans do not support that kind of crony politics."
The initiative drew the criticism of traditional legalization opponents as well as some medical marijuana advocates, who said the Arkansas proposal placed too many limits and would only benefit a handful of dispensaries. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, also opposed the measure.