The Movement To Legalize Marijuana Is Poised To Make Significant Gains

“Support for legalization is growing rapidly around the country, and it is translating into victories at the polls and in state legislatures," a policy reform advocate said.

Four states are considering ballot proposals to legalize marijuana for medical or recreational use in this year’s midterm elections.

It has already been a big year for legal weed. In January, California, the largest legal marijuana market in the U.S., opened its first recreational marijuana shops. That same month, Vermont became the ninth state in the nation ― and the first to do so through the state legislature rather than referendum ― to legalize recreational marijuana (sales remain banned, unlike the other legal recreational states). Oklahoma became the 30th state to legalize marijuana for medical use in June.

And while New Jersey lawmakers missed a deadline to legalize recreational marijuana earlier last month, they have vowed to vote on the legislation before the end of the year. Also last month, Canada opened its first recreational marijuana dispensaries, becoming the largest marijuana marketplace in the world.

Marijuana is the most commonly used illicit substance in the United States. And the trend of states bucking prohibition in favor of legal regulation of the plant reflects a broad cultural shift toward greater acceptance of legal marijuana that has continued to grow in recent years. Now, two in three Americans support legalization. More than half of the states in the nation have legalized marijuana in some form. And states like Colorado, the first to establish a regulated adult-use marijuana marketplace, have seen successes that have debunked some lawmakers’ and law enforcers’ predictions that such policies would result in disaster.

Yet, despite states’ efforts to roll back prohibition, marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, though President Donald Trump has signaled support for possibly softening the federal ban of the plant.

“Support for legalization is growing rapidly around the country, and it is translating into victories at the polls and in state legislatures,” said Mason Tvert, director of media relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, a drug policy reform group. “It’s quite likely that we will see at least another two to four states adopt significant marijuana policy reforms between now and this time next year.”

Here’s a look at the ballot measures voters in four states will be considering on Nov. 6.

In the midterm elections, four states are considering ballot proposals to legalize marijuana in various ways.
In the midterm elections, four states are considering ballot proposals to legalize marijuana in various ways.


If approved, Michigan’s Proposal 1 would allow adults 21 and over to buy, grow, use and possess marijuana for recreational purposes. Under the measure, adults can be in possession of 2.5 ounces of marijuana, a provision similar to the state’s medical marijuana law that was approved in 2008. Adults can also grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their homes for personal use. Additionally, the initiative legalizes the cultivation of industrial hemp, which can be used to make textiles, biofuels and foods.

Marijuana sales would be accompanied by a 10 percent excise tax, revenue that will be used to fund research, education and the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges. A recent study projected that marijuana legalization in Michigan would eventually lead to $130 million in new tax revenue for the state with an industry that could grow to a value of $800 million by 2024.

Recent polling suggests strong majorities of voters in the state are in favor of passing the proposal.

North Dakota

Measure 3 on North Dakota’s ballot would legalize the use, purchase and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes. But unlike traditional legalization measures, specific parameters of the program are not defined in the text of the initiative, so additional regulatory and tax framework would have to later be established.

However, the measure does have some progressive contours that aim to repair the damage done by the failed war on drugs. If passed, there would be an automatic process created for North Dakotans to have their marijuana-related convictions expunged from their records. It also would make the state liable for any damages that are the result of expungement lawsuits.

It’s unclear whether the measure has enough support to pass. In the months leading up to the election, polls have shown a slim majority in favor, a plurality supporting legalization and a strong majority opposed. North Dakota legalized medical marijuana in 2016.


Utah voters will consider Proposition 2, which would allow patients to legally use, possess and purchase marijuana for medical purposes for conditions such as HIV, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, autism, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and others. During any 14-day period, a state-licensed cardholder could purchase as much as 2 ounces by weight of marijuana. The measure would ban the smoking of marijuana but does allow vaping, marijuana-infused edibles and other means of consumption.

Patients who qualify would apply for a medical marijuana card from their doctor. Doctors would be restricted from recommending a card to more than 20 percent of their patients. Beginning in 2021, cardholders who live more than 100 miles from a state-licensed dispensary would be allowed to grow as many as six marijuana plants for personal medicinal use. It would limit the number of dispensaries to no more than one per county, except in larger counties where the state could issue more licenses depending on the size of the population.

Support for the bill has shifted over time in numerous polls. Earlier in the year, support for the measure was very strong among Utahns, with some polls showing as many as three-quarters of the state’s voters supporting the initiative. In recent months, polls have shown a decreased, but still strong, majority in support shrinking to just a slim majority in support.

Interestingly, Utahns may get access to medical marijuana regardless of the passage of Proposition 2. In October, Utah medical marijuana advocates and state lawmakers agreed to a compromise bill that would legalize medical marijuana in the state but with some differences from the ballot initiative. The bill would require a full vote in the state legislature and a signature from the governor to become law.

The most significant changes in the compromise bill include: some qualifying conditions would be removed while others would be added, local jurisdictions would have more power to ban dispensaries in their regions, dispensaries would be forced to have a licensed pharmacist on staff and the shops would be renamed to pharmacies, edibles would be banned along with smoking but other ways to consume cannabis would still be allowed.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) has called for a special session of the Utah Legislature after November’s election, regardless of whether the ballot measure passes, in an effort to pass the compromise bill. The bill appears to have support from a number of key stakeholders in the state including advocates, policymakers and the Mormon church.


Voters in Missouri will consider three separate proposals to legalize medical marijuana on their ballot: two constitutional amendments ― Amendment 2 and Amendment 3 ― and an initiative that would change state law, Proposition C.

All three proposals would legalize the use, purchase and possession of marijuana for medical purposes and would allow the state to set up a regulatory framework for licensed dispensaries to operate in the state. They each differ considerably in their approach to taxes, home growing and qualifying conditions, among other differences.

So what happens if all three pass? According to state law, if “conflicting” amendments or statutes pass, the proposal that receives “the largest affirmative vote shall prevail, even if that (proposal) did not receive the greatest majority of affirmative votes.” However conflicts between an amendment and a statutory initiative, if both pass, may need to be decided in court, as the state attorney general’s office indicated would likely occur for a similar potential conflict in 2016 over dueling Missouri tobacco tax proposals on the ballot that year.

There hasn’t been as much polling in Missouri as in the other states with marijuana measures on the ballot, but in August, a poll found a majority of Missourians in favor of legalizing medical marijuana.

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