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.
Where Presidential Candidate Joe Sestak Stands On Marijuana
Joe Sestak, a former congressman from Pennsylvania and three-star vice admiral in the Navy, announced on Sunday that he is launching a relatively late run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Though his record in Congress doesn’t offer many insights into where Sestak stands on marijuana policy, he took one vote in support of shielding state medical cannabis laws from federal interference, and his current campaign site proposes reforming federal laws to facilitate research into the therapeutic potential of psychedelics.
Legislation And Policy Actions
Sestak served in Congress from 2007 to 2011. In that time, he did not proactively sponsor or cosponsor any cannabis-related legislation.
The congressman was present for a vote on just one marijuana amendment attached to a spending bill—one to protect states that have legalized medical cannabis from Justice Department intervention—and he voted in favor of the proposal, even though his state had not yet enacted its own medical marijuana law.
Quotes And Social Media Posts
It’s difficult to assess exactly where the candidate stands on marijuana in part because a scan for relevant terms on his social media posts turns up nil.
Adding to the confusion is the apparent lack of public comments about cannabis policy from Sestak—at least any comments that have been reported by media.
The Philadelphia Inquirer did publish an article in 2016 that described Sestak, a former U.S. Navy admiral, as a “longtime supporter of medical access [to marijuana]—especially for vets” but it did not quote the congressman directly. That piece also noted that his position on cannabis decriminalization is unclear.
Statements on his campaign site do provide a small window into his views on the drug war more broadly.
Sestak argued that President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the U.S.-Mexico border would be ineffective because “most illicit trafficking of drugs, humans, and weapons, actually happens right under the noses of our border security agents” at legal ports of entry.
He also partially blamed “misguided US policies and the high demand for illegal drugs in the United States” for creating crises that leave many to flee their home countries to seek asylum in the U.S.
“Our country, which sends hundreds of millions in foreign aid to these countries, must do a better job of holding Central American officials accountable for seeing that our funds are spent effectively—and that they do not become fuel for the fires of corruption and instability,” he said.
One of the most revealing positions on drug policy that Sestak has offered also comes from his campaign site: he said that he supports efforts to combat mental health conditions and addiction, and one part of that plan involves changing “federal law to allow doctors and scientists to expand research into the potential of certain psychedelic drugs to complement traditional substance abuse and other mental health treatment.”
“Anti-drug laws should never be an impediment to sound scientific research, but especially not during a public health crisis such as this one,” he said.
Discussing veterans issues, Sestak said that the country “must learn from innovative approaches taken to reduce chronic veteran homelessness like Phoenix’s ‘housing first’ strategy in which homeless veterans are given housing before being required to prove sobriety or pass a drug test,” which also seems to indicate an openness to alternative approaches to drug policy.
Personal Experience With Marijuana
It does not appear that Sestak has publicly commented on any personal experience he’s had with marijuana.
Marijuana Under A Sestak Presidency
Though some reports indicate that Sestak supports medical cannabis reform, and he took one step to protect states that have implemented such programs during his time in Congress, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the candidate’s position on marijuana.
At the very least, his willingness to vote in favor of medical cannabis protections ahead of his state enacting a medical marijuana law should give patients in legal states some sense of comfort, although his limited record on the issue raises questions about whether he’d be willing to extend those protections to adult-use states—and whether cannabis reform would be a priority of his administration at all.
That said, the fact that he included a position on psychedelics reform on his campaign website signals that he’s cognizant of the issue and that his views on broader drug policy reform may have simply flown under the radar.
Hawaii Marijuana Decriminalization Will Take Effect, Governor Says
Hawaii Gov. David Ige (D), who has at times expressed serious concerns about marijuana policy reform, announced that he will allow a legislature-passed bill to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis to go into effect.
Ige didn’t include the decrim proposal in a list of legislation he intends to veto by Monday’s deadline.
Lawmakers sent the bill, which punishes possession of three grams of marijuana with a $130 fine instead of jail time, to the governor’s desk in April. As originally introduced, it covered greater amounts of marijuana in line with decriminalization policies in other states, but was watered down as it advanced through the legislative process.
Under current law, possessing cannabis is a petty misdemeanor that carries up to a $1,000 fine.
In a press conference to discuss his veto list, Ige called the marijuana legislation “a very tough call” and said went “go back and forth” on the issue before deciding to let the bill take effect.
The governor said he would have preferred if the decriminalization proposal included provisions aimed at “young people who we would want to get into substance abuse or other kinds of programs to help them deal with drug use.”
In the end, he said, he decided “it would be best not to veto that.”
Watch Ige discuss his decision not to veto marijuana decriminalization, about 23:35 into the video below:
Some legislative leaders have expressed interest in considering legislation to legalize and regulate marijuana.
Asked by a reporter about the possibility of broader cannabis reforms in Hawaii, Ige said that the state “can benefit from not being at the head of the table.”
“We continue to learn from other states about the problems that they see with recreational marijuana,” he said, echoing concerns he has about legalization and noting that he’s been discussing the possible reform with governors from some western states that have already enacted it. “We would be smart to engage and recognize what’s happening in other states, acknowledge the challenges and problems it has raised.”
Nikos Leverenz, board president for the Drug Policy Forum of Hawaii, told Marijuana Moment that Ige should be “commended” for not vetoing the bill.
“It’s also encouraging that he’s having ongoing conversations with other governors from states that have legalized adult-use cannabis,” he said. “Hawai’i can indeed learn a great deal from other states, including the enactment of social equity measures to ensure broad local participation by women, underrepresented minorities, and those harmed by the drug war.”
Also on Monday, Ige announced that he intends to veto a bill allowing medical cannabis patients to transport their medicine between islands.
“Marijuana, including medical cannabis, remains illegal under federal law. Both the airspace and certain areas of water fall within the exclusive jurisdiction of the federal government,” he wrote. “This bill may lead travelers, acting in reliance on this provision, to erroneously believe they are immune from federal prosecution.”
Another proposal on the governor’s veto list would establish a hemp licensing program.
“There are concerns that this bill creates a licensing structure that cannot be enforced, will not meet USDA requirements for an approved industrial hemp program, and creates practical problems in the enforcement of existing medical cannabis,” he reasoned.
Finally, Ige plans to veto a bill to scale back the use of asset forfeiture, which is often used against people accused of drug crimes, with the governor calling the practice “an effective and critical law enforcement tool that prevents the economic benefits of committing a crime from outweighing consequential criminal penalties and punishment.”
USDA Sets Target Deadline To Release Hemp Regulations
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) offered new insights into its rulemaking process for hemp regulations in a notice published in the Federal Register on Monday.
Of particular note is the deadline by which USDA is aiming to release its interim final rule for the newly legal crop: August. Previously, the department simply said it would have the rules in place in time for the 2020 planting season.
“This action will initiate a new part 990 establishing rules and regulations for the domestic production of hemp,” the new notice states. “This action is required to implement provisions of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (Farm Bill).”
The hemp update update is part of a larger regulatory agenda for various agencies that’s being released by the Trump administration.
“It is great to see that USDA is on track to complete federal hemp farming regulations this year,” Eric Steenstra, president of Vote Hemp, told Marijuana Moment.
A USDA spokesperson told Marijuana Moment in an email that the August projection is the department’s “best estimate” for when the regulations will be released. It remains USDA’s intention “to have the regulations in place by this fall to allow for a 2020 planting season.”
“However, the clearance process will dictate the actual timing of the publication,” the spokesperson said.
While USDA officials have said the department didn’t plan to expedite the regulatory process despite strong interest among stakeholders, it seems to be making steady progress so far. The department said in March that it has “begun the process to gather information for rulemaking.”
USDA has also outlined the basic elements that will be required when states or tribes are eventually able to submit regulatory plans for federal approval. Those proposals will have to include information about the land that will be used to cultivate hemp, testing standards, disposal procedures, law enforcement compliance, annual inspections and certification for products and personnel.
The new update comes about six months after hemp and its derivatives were federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill. But until USDA releases its guidelines, hemp farmers must adhere to the earlier rules established under a narrower research-focused provision of the 2014 version of the agriculture legislation.
While the rules are yet to be published and there are therefore some restrictions on what hemp farmers can lawfully do, USDA has clarified several policies that have already gone into effect in recent months.
The department is accepting intellectual property applications for hemp products, for example. It also explained that hemp seeds can be lawfully imported from other countries and that the crop can be transported across state lines since it’s been federally descheduled.