In November 2016, nine statewide marijuana ballot initiatives went before voters, and eight were approved.
In 2018, voters in a number of additional states are likely to see cannabis questions when they go to their polling places.
Here’s an in-depth look at those states that have the best chance of qualifying marijuana initiatives, followed by some brief info on a few that seem like longer shots…
(Note: Additional states that don’t allow voter initiatives or referenda could see legalization or medical cannabis measures approved by legislatures. A future post will examine those opportunities.)
The Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act would allow adults over 21 to possess, grow and use small amounts of marijuana legally.
Specifically, they could grow up to 12 total marijuana plants in a single residence, possess 2.5 ounces outside their homes and store 10 ounces at home (in addition to what they grow legally).
State regulators would grant business licenses for cultivators, processors, testing facilities, secure transporters, retail stores and microbusinesses (i.e. small businesses cultivating a low number of plants from which they would sell product directly to consumers).
Municipalities would be empowered to regulate or ban cannabis businesses.
Retail sales would be subject to a 10 percent excise tax in addition to the state’s regular six percent sales tax. Revenues would cover the cost of regulation and additionally fund schools, roads, local governments and FDA-approved research on medical marijuana’s role in helping military veterans struggling with PTSD and other conditions.
Path to ballot: Organizers need to collect 252,523 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure but, because voters sometimes sign petitions incorrectly and signatures are disqualified, organizers turned in more than 360,000 in late November. State officials will now verify that a sufficient number are valid.
Who is behind the campaign: The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is organized by Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which has spearheaded many previously successful cannabis initiatives. MPP worked to garner buy-in for the effort from grassroots activists with MI Legalize who narrowly failed to qualify a legalization measure for the state’s 2016 ballot.
Polling: Several surveys have shown majority support for legalization, including one this May that found likely voters back ending prohibition by a margin of 58 percent to 36 percent.
Another Michigan measure: A second legalization campaign is also collecting signatures but the team behind it doesn’t appear to have the funding it will likely take to qualify their measure for the ballot.
A proposed constitutional amendment would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition.
Qualified patients, after getting physician approval, would receive identification cards from the state that last for one year, subject to renewal. Patients and their primary caregivers would be allowed to cultivate up to six marijuana plants and purchase at least four ounces of cannabis from dispensaries on a monthly basis.
The state would issue licenses for medical cannabis cultivation, testing, infused products manufacturing and dispensing businesses.
The measure sets up a four percent retail tax on medical cannabis sales, with all revenue going toward services for military veterans after implementation and regulations costs are covered.
Path to ballot: Organizers need to collect 160,199 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure. As of late September, the campaign had collected nearly 75,000 raw signatures.
Who is behind the campaign: New Approach Missouri is working to put the measure before voters. The organization narrowly failed to qualify a similar measure for 2016’s ballot.
Polling: A number of polls have found majority support for medical cannabis, including a July 2016 survey showing voters favored an earlier proposed ballot measure by a margin of 62 percent to 27 percent.
Other Missouri Measures: A second medical cannabis constitutional initiative being organized by physician, lawyer and former lieutenant governor candidate Brad Bradshaw appears that it may qualify as well. His campaign says that it has already collected nearly 150,000 signatures. A third measure, a statutory one involving former House Speaker Steve Tilley, is also in play. And there are also a number of other competing marijuana initiatives seeking ballot access, including several that would legalize recreational marijuana in addition to medical cannabis, but there is no indication that these measures have enough funding to qualify.
A proposed statutory initiative would allow would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition.
Qualified patients, after getting physician approval, would receive identification cards from the state, and would be allowed to possess three ounces of marijuana on their person and eight ounces at home. They could also cultivate six mature plants and six seedlings. And they would be allowed to possess one ounce of cannabis concentrates and 72 ounces of marijuana edibles.
Homebound patients could designate a caregiver who could purchase, grow or possess marijuana for them.
People who are caught with 1.5 ounces or less of cannabis and who don’t have medical marijuana cards but can state a medical condition would be met with misdemeanor offenses punishable by no more than a $400 fine.
The state would issue licenses for medical cannabis cultivation, processing, transportation and dispensing businesses.
A seven percent retail tax on medical cannabis sales would be levied. After covering implementation and regulation costs, additional revenue would fund education and drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs.
Path to ballot: The measure has already qualified. There was a chance it could have appeared before voters in 2016 but, because a dispute over the measure’s official ballot title with then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt (now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator) was not resolved by the state Supreme Court in time, its consideration was delayed until the next election. Gov. Mary Fallin (R) placed the measure on the June 26 primary ballot.
Who is behind the campaign: Oklahomans for Health qualified the measure and is running the campaign to pass it.
Polling: A Sooner Poll found that 62 percent of Oklahomans support the ballot initiative.
The Utah Medical Cannabis Act would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, chronic pain and other specifically enumerated conditions.
Qualified patients, after getting physician approval, would be issued state identification cards and be allowed to purchase two ounces of cannabis or products containing 10 grams of cannabidiol or tetrahydrocannabinol from a dispensary during any 14-day period. Patients who do not live within 100 miles of a dispensary would be allowed to grow six plants. The measure would create an affirmative defense that could be used by patients before identification cards become available.
Smoking medical cannabis would not be allowed. Patients could designate caregivers who would help grow, obtain and administer cannabis.
The state would issue licenses for medical cannabis cultivation, processing, testing and dispensing businesses.
Municipalities would be allowed to regulate, but not ban, marijuana businesses.
Medical cannabis would be exempt from sales taxes. Revenues generated by licensing fees are expected to offset implementation and regulation costs.
Path to ballot: Organizers need to collect 113,143 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the measure. As of October, they had turned in roughly 20,000 signatures.
Who is behind the campaign: The Utah Patients Coalition is the driving force behind the measure, and is primarily funded by the Marijuana Policy Project.
Polling: Numerous polls have shown strong majority support for medical cannabis. An October Salt Lake Tribune survey found that 75 percent of the state’s registered voters back medical marijuana.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands: Lawmakers in the U.S territory are considering legislation that would place a measure legalizing marijuana and allowing medical cannabis before voters in 2018.
Maryland: State legislators are considering putting a marijuana referendum on the ballot so that voters can decide to enact legalization.
Rhode Island: Some lawmakers in the state have in years past floated the idea of placing a nonbinding legalization referendum on the state ballot so that voters could weigh in on the issue. Activists prefer for the legislature to simply pass a bill to end prohibition, but if that doesn’t seem possible as the 2018 session goes on, they may pursue the referendum approach. If a referendum were to pass, lawmakers would likely feel increased pressure to enact a bill in 2019.
South Dakota: Activists with New Approach South Dakota are circulating petitions for two ballot measures: One to allow medical cannabis and one to legalize recreational marijuana.
Photo courtesy of Democracy Chronicles.
Marijuana Policy Project Welcomes New Executive Director
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), the nation’s best-funded cannabis advocacy group, has named long-time social justice reform advocate Steve Hawkins as its next executive director.
Hawkins, who previously served as the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (NCADP) and executive vice president of the NAACP, will assume responsibility for MPP’s national legalization advocacy efforts just months before a number of states vote to enact their own legal systems.
The decision was made after a “months-long candidate search that included several exceptionally qualified candidates,” MPP said in a press release.
“We are still battling the effects of decades of anti-marijuana legislation and propaganda in this country,” Hawkins told Marijuana Moment. “Huge strides have been made when it comes to setting the record straight, but our work is far from over and there is still a lot of misinformation out there that needs to be addressed.”
“Fundraising and maintaining momentum is also a core challenge for the movement, which is in some ways a victim of its own success. Thanks to the major gains it has made in recent years, many people think legalization is inevitable and that their donations are no longer needed or that they don’t need to take the time to write their elected officials. These laws are not going to change themselves and there is more need than ever for resources and engagement to support federal and state-level reform efforts.”
Hawkins’s experience running successful criminal justice reform campaigns—including a bipartisan effort to end capital punishment for juveniles during his time at the NCADP—made him an apt candidate to spearhead the fight to end prohibition, Troy Dayton, chair of MPP’s board of directors, said in a statement.
“Steve has a strong track record in the field of criminal justice reform, and he knows how to build a movement toward meaningful social change,” Dayton said. “We were not only impressed by his expertise and experience, but also his strong convictions regarding the injustice of marijuana prohibition.”
“The country is moving in the right direction on marijuana policy, but there is still a lot of work to be done.”
Hawkins also previously held leadership positions at Amnesty International and the Coalition for Public Safety.
He told Marijuana Moment that his three decades of experience “defending civil and human rights” has informed his belief that we should “bring an end to marijuana prohibition, which has had a hugely detrimental impact, especially to communities of color,” and that we should “replace it with a more sensible system of regulation.”
“I also believe it is critical we ensure those populations that were so negatively impacted by prohibition are able to participate in and experience the positive impacts of such a regulated system.”
At MPP, Hawkins will succeed Rob Kampia, who late last year left the organization he founded in 1995 to start a for-profit cannabis policy consulting firm called the Marijuana Leadership Campaign. Kampia’s departure was announced shortly after sexual misconduct allegations against him resurfaced amid the #MeToo movement.
Kampia offered some words of advice for the next person to occupy his former seat in a phone interview with Marijuana Moment:
“View yourself as a fundraiser who has to engage in transactional fundraising with the marijuana industry in part, and view yourself as needing to come up with a smart, strategic plan for lobbying in state legislatures rather than doing ballot initiatives where no one else is going to touch it. Do not view yourself as a spokesperson.”
Or in other words, less of a focus on talk, and more on action.
MPP named Matthew Schweich as the interim executive director while the group scouted for a replacement. Scweich will now serve as MPP’s deputy director overseeing marijuana reform initiatives in Michigan and Utah.
In a statement, MPP board member Joby Pritzker said Schweich “provided critical leadership during a challenging transition period for MPP.”
“He maintained the effectiveness of our advocacy operations, managed our fundraising efforts, and oversaw ballot initiative campaigns in multiple states, while at the same time leading our staff and assisting the board with the executive director search.”
The past few years have seen a number of leadership changeups at national pro-legalization groups.
NORML brought on Erik Altieri as executive director in 2016 after Allen St. Pierre left the organization following 11 years of service. And last year, the Drug Policy Alliance announced that it had hired Maria McFarland Sánchez-Moreno, who worked on international and domestic drug policies issues for 13 years at the Human Rights Watch, as the new executive director to replace retiring founder Ethan Nadelmann.
While the objective at all of these groups—promoting equitable drug policy reform in the United States—has remained the same, the nature of the movement has evolved. A majority of states have now legalized cannabis for medical or recreational purposes, and though state-level reform efforts continue, calls for change at the federal level are increasingly resonant.
That is to say, these new executive directors will face a different set of challenges than their predecessors did.
Photo courtesy of Beloit College.
UN Launches First-Ever Full Review Of Marijuana’s Status Under International Law
For the first time ever, the United Nations (UN) is launching an in-depth review of whether marijuana is properly classified under international drug treaties.
In a related development, the UN’s World Health Organization (WHO) has announced that cannabidiol (CBD), a compound in marijuana that is increasingly used for medical purposes, does not warrant being controlled under the global agreements.
“The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled within the International Drug Control Conventions,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote in a letter announcing the moves. “The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to a Critical Review” of marijuana, hashish, cannabis extracts and THC.
That broader review is set for November, and follows the results of an initial pre-review conducted by WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence (ECDD) in June.
“A pre-review is the first step of the ECDD’s assessment process, where it is determined whether there is enough robust scientific information to proceed to the next step, called a critical review,” an explanatory document accompanying the new letter reads. “This initial evaluation is also an opportunity to identify gaps in the available scientific data. A critical review is carried out when there is sufficient scientific evidence to allow the ECDD to make informed an recommendation that the substance be placed under international control, or if its level of control should be changed.”
The reviews include analyses of the chemistry, pharmacology, toxicology, epidemiology and therapeutic use of the substances.
If the UN ultimately decides to change marijuana’s status under international law, it would trigger a review on U.S. scheduling, according to provisions of the Controlled Substances Act.
“Thankfully the World Health Organization has accepted the challenge of evaluating the placement of cannabis in the 1962 Single Convention treaty,” Michael Krawitz of Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access told Marijuana Moment. “Cannabis placement in the treaty was done in the absence of scientific evaluation and has provided the basis for a moral campaign against drugs by the USA for many decades. Since our work on medical access to cannabis has been based upon scientific inquiry we know that any rational assessment of the evidence leads the observer to understand cannabis indeed has proven medicinal value and, compared to other medicines, has profoundly fewer negative side effects.”
Here’s what the UN experts have determined so far:
“There are no case reports of abuse or dependence relating to the use of pure CBD. No public health problems have been associated with CBD use,” an annex attached to Ghebreyesus’s letter reads, noting that research has shown it to be effective in treating epilepsy. “CBD has been found to be generally well tolerated with a good safety profile.”
“Cannabidiol (CBD) is not specifically listed in the schedules of the 1961, 1971 or 1988 United Nations International Drug Control Conventions… There is no evidence that CBD as a substance is liable to similar abuse and similar ill-effects as substances in the 1961 or 1971 Conventions such as cannabis or THC, respectively. The Committee recommended that preparations considered to be pure CBD should not be scheduled.”
When it comes to whole-plant marijuana and resin, ECDD’s pre-review found that while “adverse effects” are possible and that cannabis can cause physical dependence, its current categorization in international treaties “may not appear to be consistent with the criteria.”
“Several countries permit the use of cannabis for the treatment of medical conditions such as back pain, sleep disorders, depression, post-injury pain, and multiple sclerosis,” the document says. “The evidence presented to the Committee did not indicate that cannabis plant and cannabis resin were liable to produce ill-effects similar to these other substances that are in Schedule IV of the 1961 Convention on Narcotic Drugs. The inclusion of cannabis and cannabis resin in Schedule IV may not appear to be consistent with the criteria for Schedule IV.”
“The Committee concluded that there is sufficient evidence to proceed to critical review of cannabis plant and cannabis resin at a future ECDD meeting and explore further the appropriateness of their current scheduling within the 1961 Convention.”
With respect to extracts and tinctures of cannabis, the committee similarly identified health issues associated with consumption, but said “there is limited evidence of a withdrawal syndrome upon abrupt cessation.”
The committee also looked at THC itself and isomers of THC, and recommended that both be subject to critical reviews in November.
Ghebreyesus’s letter is addressed to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who will be the ultimate recipient of WHO’s recommendations on cannabis and related extracts and compounds following the review.
Guterres was prime minister of Portugal when that nation decriminalized all drugs, a move he touted last year in an address to the UN’s Commission on Narcotic Drugs. After the critical reviews are in, that body will vote on whether to alter cannabis’s status under the international treaties.
Marijuana Moment Patreon supporters can see the full text of the new WHO letter on cannabis below:
North Dakota Marijuana Legalization Measure Qualifies For November Ballot
North Dakotans voted to approve medical cannabis two years ago, and now they will get the chance to decide on full marijuana legalization this November.
Activists collected a sufficient number of signatures to qualify a ballot measure that would allow adults over 21 to use and grow marijuana, the secretary of state’s office determined on Monday.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.