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.
More State Political Parties Endorse Marijuana Legalization
Delegates at Democratic party conventions in two separate states voted to add marijuana legalization planks to their official platforms this weekend.
In Texas, Democrats embraced a policy to “legalize possession and use of marijuana and its derivatives and to regulate its use, production and sale as is successfully done in Colorado, Washington and other States.” Delegates also called on the immediate legalization of medical marijuana, the removal of cannabis from the list of federally banned substances and the release of individuals convicted of marijuana possession, as well as the expungement of records for individuals convicted of marijuana-related misdemeanors.
A separate plank adopted by the party embraces the “legalization of hemp for agricultural purposes.”
The language of the planks is similar to the Texas Democratic Party’s current platform, which also called for marijuana decriminalization and the regulation of the “use, cultivation, production, and sale [of cannabis] as is done with tobacco and alcohol.”
The move comes about a week after the state’s Republican party delegates approved platform planks to decriminalize cannabis, expand the state’s medical marijuana program, reschedule marijuana under federal law and push forward with hemp reform.
In New Hampshire, Democratic delegates also voted in favor of adding a platform plank to legalize cannabis. “We believe that marijuana should be legalized, taxed, and regulated,” the Granite State Dems’ new plank reads. Delegates at the convention also approved a resolution supporting the removal of marijuana from the Controlled Substances Act.
The passage of the pro-legalization plank in New Hampshire reflects a significant policy evolution—but the path to its approval wasn’t necessarily smooth. There was debate among party officials about the initial language of the plank, which said the state should “treat cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol.” The plank was changed to satisfy some members who took issue with the reference to alcohol, The Concord Monitor reported. Even so, not all members were on board with the plank, with House Minority Leader Steve Shurtleff arguing that the party should wait until a legislative commission studying the impact of legalization in the state submits its report in November.
That the party’s delegates went ahead and adopted the legal marijuana endorsement is “an encouraging development that bodes very well for the future of cannabis policy in New Hampshire,” Matt Simon, New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “After several years of modest, incremental reforms being obstructed by previous Democratic Governors John Lynch and Maggie Hassan, it’s great to see that the party, and both of its gubernatorial candidates, are now embracing legalization and regulation.”
New Hampshire’s Republican party has not taken up legalization as a platform plank.
The Texas and New Hampshire Dems joined the ranks of several others that approved similar platform positions.
In May, the Democratic Party of New York endorsed a resolution supporting “the legalization of marijuana which should be regulated and taxed in a manner similar to alcohol.” Connecticut’s Democratic party also adopted a platform plank this year stating that “[t]he time for legalization of Marijuana has come.”
“Doing so will raise revenue, which can be used to benefit those suffering from the disease of addiction to prescription pain medications and other opioids.”
And from California to Wisconsin, Democratic party delegates across the country officially backed marijuana legalization in 2016—and numerous others threw their support behind more modest cannabis reform policies such as decriminalization. Iowa’s Democratic party went even further, calling for the legalization of all drugs.
That same year, the Democratic National Convention (DNC) approved the first-ever major party platform to include a plank embracing a “reasoned pathway for future legalization” and the rescheduling of cannabis under federal law.
“We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty. And we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.”
The growing support for legalization among Democratic state parties appears to reflect a similar trend in public opinion toward cannabis reform nationally. A recent poll found that a record 68 percent of Americans believe marijuana should be legal. That includes a majority of Republicans. While federal lawmakers have generally been slower to adopt pro-legalization stances, a number of bipartisan bills have also been introduced in recent months that aim to reform the country’s cannabis laws.
James Comey Weighs In On Marijuana Legalization
Former FBI Director James Comey, at the center of a wide-ranging investigation into whether President Trump obstructed justice, has been asked many times what he thinks about the rule of law and related matters during the course of a publicity tour for his new book.
On Friday, he was asked to share his thoughts about marijuana legalization.
“The experiment is underway in the United States and I think the jury is still out on it,” Comey said.
“What I like about what’s going on in the U.S. is we call the states the laboratories of democracy, and allow the people in the states to experiment — experiment is probably the wrong word in this context — but to make choices, to try and figure out the best way not to overcriminalize behavior that people want to engage in, but also not to reward behavior that might hurt especially young people.”
While the former top federal cop indicated he supports letting states implement cannabis policies that are in conflict with U.S. laws, he’s not yet ready to personally endorse legalization.
“I’d like to see how it goes and what the natural break on it is. Does it really lead down a slippery slope to other drugs?” he said in the interview with LBC in the UK. “And there’s emerging science about the the dangers to the brain of smoked marijuana. Smoked marijuana is not medicine, and so I honestly don’t know.”
“I think it’s worth experimenting with relaxation, talking about it, but monitoring it very closely.”
See Comey’s marijuana comments, roughly 18:50 into the clip below:
In 2014, as FBI director, Comey made headlines by suggesting that he wanted to relax the bureau’s employment policies with respect to drug use.
“I have to hire a great work force to compete with those cyber criminals and some of those kids want to smoke weed on the way to the interview,” he said at the time.
He walked the comments back days later in response to questioning from then-Sen. Jeff Sessions, who now serves as U.S. attorney general.
“I was trying to be both serious and funny,” Comey said in response to the “disappointed” senator.
Photo courtesy of FBI.
Marijuana Legalization Bill Moves Forward In U.S. Territory
About a week after a U.S. territory hit a snag on the road to full marijuana legalization, a committee made several revisions to the bill that are expected to clear the path to passage.
Lawmakers in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) seemed set to put a legalization bill to a full House of Representatives vote on June 12, but the bill was unexpectedly sent back to the chamber’s Committee on Judiciary and Governmental Operations (JGO).
That same committee previously unanimously approved the legislation in May. It also passed in the territory’s full Senate that month.
Upon referral, the committee made a number of revisions, including the removal of licensing fees for statutory reasons and the addition of a policy that bans regulatory commissioners from participating in the program if they’ve been convicted of a crime within the last 15 years, legalization advocate Gerry Palacios of Sensible CNMI told Marijuana Moment. Because two sections regarding cannabis use and sales for individuals under 21 contradicted each other, one was struck from the legislation.
One question still needs to be resolved by lawmakers: the JGO recommended a recess until July 2 in order to clear up whether fines levied against individuals who violate the law would be counted as “revenue generators.” If the commission determines that these fines are not a part of the revenue stream, the fines provision will remain in the bill. (Revenue generation legislation is supposed to originate in the House — and not the Senate, where the legalization bill was first filed.)
Another change the committee made to the bill on Thursday would speed up the timeline for implementing legalization. The JGO amended the legislation to require that the CNMI Cannabis Commission would be created within 30 days of the passage of the bill instead of 90 days.
“These changes were made for clarification and constitutional purposes for speedy passage of the bill,” Palacios said. “The goal is to keep the intent and integrity of the bill intact while at the same time addressing issues on interpretation of its language.”
“Once the JGO convenes on July 2 after clarification on [the] ‘fines’ issue, they will move to adopt and push for full House review.”
So that’s where the state of cannabis legalization in the U.S. jurisdiction stands. Advocates tell Marijuana Moment that the Senate is likely to OK the changes recommended by the committee, but it’s unclear when a full House vote will take place at this point. If the bill ultimately passes, CNMI will be the first U.S. territory to fully legalize without a preexisting medical cannabis system in place.
“The Senate will have no problem with these changes as long as the bill’s integrity and intent are kept.”
That said, the territory’s governor, Ralph Torres, expressed concerns earlier this month about the potential impact of legalization on public health and crime.
“In the nine states that have legalized marijuana, have we seen an increase in crime?,” he asked, according to Marianas Variety. “If there is, what is the nature of these crimes? We should look at this and other things. I am concerned about public safety issues.”
Here’s what the bill would accomplish
- Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess, grow and consume cannabis.
- CNMI would establish a regulatory system to produce, process and manage retail sales of marijuana.
- Tax revenue from marijuana sales would go toward funding the regulatory system and other government services.