The Midwest May Be the Next Frontier In Marijuana Legalization
Michigan fully legalized marijuana, Missouri voted to allow medical cannabis and Democrats picked up four gubernatorial seats in the Midwest on Tuesday. What does that say about the future of marijuana reform in the region?
With the gubernatorial wins of Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, J. B. Pritzker in Illinois, Tim Walz in Minnesota and Tony Evers in Wisconsin, the stage seems to be set for a Midwestern green revolution. Michigan became the first state in the region to legalize for adult use, but the overall political landscape bodes well for cannabis reform efforts with the new governors-elect taking their seats soon.
Illinois and Minnesota already have exiting medical cannabis systems in place. Pritzker said on Wednesday that he thinks his state should consider adult-use legalization “right away,” noting the economic benefits. A system designed to expunge the criminal records of individuals who’ve been convicted of cannabis-related offenses is also on the table for Illinois, he said.
Governor-elect @JBPritzker wants to legalize recreational marijuana in Illinois almost immediately after being sworn in next year. He also said he will look at vacating arrest records for those who have been convicted of crimes involving marijuana. https://t.co/NESIbgSgU1 pic.twitter.com/qM889uy405
— FOX 32 News (@fox32news) November 7, 2018
Similarly, Whitmer said that Michigan voters have made clear that “no one should bear a lifelong record” for an offense that has since been legalized. She will be “looking into” policies to ameliorate that problem.
“A green Midwest would say [to the federal government] what we’re seeing in so many other arenas,” Jolene Forman, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment. “Marijuana is not an exclusively a leftist or libertarian issue. It’s really an issue that the American public wants to see.”
Historically, the Midwest hasn’t been regarded as a region especially friendly toward progressive cannabis policies. But that’s rapidly changing, and the results of the midterm election could signal a paradigm shift that’s been a long time coming, Forman said.
For example, Walz, in Minnesota, said he wants to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
In Wisconsin, voters in 16 counties and two cities embraced various marijuana reform proposals in the form of non-binding advisory questions on Tuesday. Outgoing Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walter (R) opposed full legalization and called marijuana a “gateway drug” as recently as May, but governor-elect Evers has said he wants to put a legalization question on the statewide ballot for voters to weigh in on and would support ending prohibition if they approved it. In the meantime he wants to enact decriminalization and legalize medical cannabis.
Meanwhile, voters in five Ohio cities approved local marijuana decriminalization measures.
“The Midwest, which is the heartland of America—if legalization starts to take root there, it’s only a matter of time that federal law changes and that the rest of the country follows,” Forman said.
Photo courtesy of Nicholas C. Morton.