The Lead

Recreational marijuana use will be legal in 21 states after ballot measures pass

By: - November 10, 2022 2:38 pm

Maryland and Missouri will bring the list of states where recreational marijuana use is legal to 21. Pennsylvania has not passed a bill.

(*This post was updated at 3:07 p.m. on Thursday, 11/10/22 to include comment from  Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition Executive Director Meredith Buettner)

Advocates for marijuana liberalization saw mixed results as legalization ballot measures were counted Tuesday, with Maryland and Missouri voters approving recreational use for adults but Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota rejecting the proposal.

Maryland and Missouri will bring the list of states where recreational marijuana use is legal to 21. Maryland’s referendum passed easily, with nearly two-thirds of voters in favor. In more conservative Missouri, the measure received 53 percent.

But recreational use was not expanded in three other states, including in South Dakota, where a measure to create a recreational market passed in 2020 but was overturned by a state judge last year. The referendum this year would have legalized recreational use but not set up a commercial market.

South Dakota’s initiative received just 47.1 percent of the vote this year.

Arkansas’ initiative received 43.7 percent.

North Dakota’s received 45.1 percent.

Despite the losses, Paul Armentano, the deputy director of the marijuana legalization advocacy group National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said Wednesday the momentum nationally still favored legalization.

Turnout is typically lower in midterm elections than in presidential years, which could partially explain South Dakota’s result, he said.

And many Republican candidates ran on a “law-and-order” message that may have discouraged GOP voters from approving marijuana measures, he added.

“At minimum, it’s a temporary setback, it definitely doesn’t halt our momentum” he said. “We’re in a stronger position today than we were yesterday because two additional states have legalized the adult use of marijuana and we’ve gone from 19 legal states to 21 legal states.”

In 2023 and 2024, more states would likely approve legalization, Armentano said.

The organization is targeting Ohio for a 2023 ballot measure and state legislators elsewhere will attempt to change the law through the more traditional legislative process, he said.

Tuesday’s results in Minnesota, where Democrats flipped the state Senate and will control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office next year, also make that state a likely objective for legalization advocates, he said.

Still, the defeats in more conservative states in the South and Midwest may show the limits on enacting legalization through ballot measures, which are only allowed in about half of states anyway.

Since Colorado and Washington approved recreational use 10 years ago, similar measures have mostly passed, but largely in coastal blue and purple states.

A Colorado ballot measure to legalize psychedelic mushrooms also appeared on track to narrowly pass, with 51 percent of voters in support in unofficial results.

Pennsylvania, where there has been debate and hearings about legalization, is likely to end its legislative session this month without action.

*Advocates said they were encouraged by results elsewhere in the nation, and called on state lawmakers to take action.

“ … Voters came out heavily in support of pro-cannabis legislators in the Commonwealth and in neighboring Maryland, voters overwhelmingly chose to support legalizing marijuana. Nearly 40 US states have medical marijuana programs that have helped millions of people and have proven the safety and market case for fully legalizing marijuana,” Meredith Buettner, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition, said in an email.

“Twenty-one states now have adult-use recreational programs, including three states that border Pennsylvania. The historic win for cannabis voters in Maryland means that 53 percent of Pennsylvanian citizens live within 30-minutes of adult-use markets. We must work together with legislators and Governor-elect Josh Shapiro to ensure the Commonwealth continues to adopt policies that align with both public good and market realities,” Buettner said

Capital-Star Editor John L. Micek contributed to this story.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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