Voters in 5 states decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana

Voters in five states are deciding on Election Day whether to approve recreational marijuana, a move that could signal a major shift toward legalization in even the most conservative parts of the country.

The proposals are on the ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota and follow moves by President Joe Biden toward decriminalizing marijuana. Biden last month announced he was pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law.

Advocates of the marijuana initiatives have said Biden’s announcement may give a boost to their efforts.

Recreational marijuana already is legal in 19 states, and polls have shown opposition to legalization softening. All of the states with recreational marijuana on the ballot, except for Maryland, voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

The five states also currently have legal medical marijuana programs. That includes Arkansas, which in 2016 became the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuana. The state’s dispensaries opened in 2019, and more than 91,000 patients have cards to legally buy marijuana for medical conditions.

The legalization campaigns have raised about $23 million in the five states, with the vast majority in Arkansas and Missouri. More than 85% of contributions in those two states have come from donors associated with companies holding medical marijuana licenses, according to an Associated Press analysis of the most recent campaign finance reports.

In Arkansas, supporters have been running upbeat ads touting the thousands of jobs they say will be created by the measure. Opponents have run more ominous spots, warning voters to “protect Arkansas from big marijuana.”

The initiative has drawn the criticism of traditional legalization opponents as well as some medical marijuana advocates, who say the Arkansas proposal places too many limits and would only benefit a handful of dispensaries. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, has also opposed the measure.

Missouri’s proposal would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and expunge records of past arrests and convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, except for selling to minors or driving under the influence. Maryland’s proposal would also make changes in criminal law and create automatic expungements of past marijuana possession convictions.

North Dakota’s measure would allow people 21 and older to legally use marijuana at home as well as possess and cultivate restricted amounts of cannabis. It also would establish policies to regulate retail stores, cultivators, and other types of marijuana businesses.

South Dakotans, including a sizable number of Republicans, voted to legalize marijuana possession in 2020, but that law was struck down by the state Supreme Court in part because the proposal was coupled with medical marijuana and hemp. This year, recreational pot is standing by itself as it goes before voters.

In Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for nearly a decade, voters on Tuesday are taking up a proposal that would allow the use of certain psychedelic substances. If approved, it would make Colorado the second state to take such a step. Oregon was the first.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Story Continues Below

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

4 thoughts on “Voters in 5 states decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana

    1. I keep saying the same thing. Indiana’s government leaders keep wondering why BIG tech companies and electric battery manufacturing companies skips this state for Ohio or Tennessee. Most of these states think more progressively than here.We can no longer just brag about the low cost of living and the friendly business atmosphere here, most states have that same talking point. Indiana always wait till other states have had time to capitalize on things and then jumps in well afterwards and try to play catch up. Indy is the state capital, you should at least be able to do more here than in smaller cities in the state. We should have a RedLight district.

    2. Omigerd! We’re not progressive enough!

      Never mind the fact that your beloved tough-on-law-enforcement Prosecutor Mears has essentially gone rogue and decriminalized it in Marion County, do you really think reefer is the indicator of enlightened thinking? (Ohmygod, she said “reefer”, what is she…like seventy or something?)

      I’m comfortable with it being legalized, but it clearly isn’t facing many restrictions in terms of how people consume it (including while driving). And yet somehow “experts” shake their heads at why we have such astronomical increases in vehicle fatalities. We’re lax on drunk driving in this country too.

      The Netherlands approach, where people can legally use it in select locations, seems far better than what we see in this country where it’s been decriminalized…and people can use it pretty much anywhere and everywhere (and do).

      No thought about the negative consequences–just a goal of “keeping up with the joneses”. And the results are obvious.

  1. No need for a Redlight District Kev. We just need to move forward with medical and recreational, not to mention grow our own.
    As Robert points out, Indiana is always last, and he’s right! Even though much more than 50% of our Indiana adult and voting public uses cannabis, the good old state caucus remains in fear. Unfortunately it’s the fear of themselves, and their leadership, Time for a change in their thinking, and in the flimsy excuse of Governor Holcomb’s that the feds say it’s illegal.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets on
{{ count_down }}