Marijuana Midterms: What to Watch on Election Day
This year’s midterm elections are, by far, one of the most crucial in American history. Millions of voters will take to the polls on Tuesday, November 6th, and ultimately determine the fate of the country moving forward.
In addition to voting people into office, people across the country will also decide on hundreds of significant ballot initiatives, including statewide measures to legalize marijuana in some form. From California to Utah, comprehensive cannabis reform has taken center stage in a key number of states. And the results of next week’s elections could bring about a sea change in how we treat pot in America.
Here’s a roundup of what’s on the ballots and which races to watch.
Statewide Ballot Measures, Recreational
Michigan could become the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational cannabis use, joining nine other states, if voters pass Proposition 18-1. The ballot initiative would make marijuana legal for adults who are age 21 or older, and allow for flower, concentrates or cannabis-infused edibles. Prop 18-1 would also give consumers permission to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use, but limit possession to 10 ounces of marijuana products stored in their home and to 2.5 ounces in public, provided no more than 15 grams are in concentrate form. (Using cannabis in public, though, is prohibited under the measure). The state would also impose a 10 percent cannabis sales tax, the revenue from which would go toward infrastructure, clinical research, education and regularly costs, as well as localities where marijuana businesses operate. Prop 18-1 would also give local municipalities the ability to opt out of the program, letting them ban or restrict the commercial cannabis industry in their area. The opt-out scheme, though, only applies to recreational marijuana businesses and doesn’t apply to personal cultivation or possession.
North Dakota is another state where cannabis legalization is on the table for voters. The state’s Measure 3 would remove “hashish, marijuana, and tetrahydrocannabinols” (THC) from its list of Schedule I substances, ultimately making recreational pot use legal for all adults. If passed, the ballot initiative would prohibit anyone over 21 years old from being prosecuted for a nonviolent cannabis-related offense, such as growing, possession or selling, and wouldn’t impose any limits, so there’s no cap on the amount of cannabis a North Dakotan could possess or how many cannabis plants they can cultivate at home. But the legislation is not just about legalization — it also fits into the larger criminal justice reform and expungement movement. Measure 3 would give thousands of North Dakotans a fresh start by triggering the automatic expungement of all nonviolent convictions for “a controlled substance that has been legalized” (in this case, cannabis) and create an appeals process for people who claim the state didn’t expunge their record properly. A potential downside: Measure 3 doesn’t have provisions for regulations or licensing, nor does it create a cannabis-specific tax, which means the state won’t reap the rewards of legalizing weed.
Statewide Ballot Measures, Medicinal
Voters in Utah will decide on Proposition 2, a ballot measure that would legalize medical marijuana, which 77 percent of Utahans supports, according to UtahPolicy.com. If approved, Prop 2 would allow people with a wide range of qualifying health conditions — including but not limited to HIV, chronic pain, autism, epilepsy, Alzheimer’s, ALS, cancer, gastrointestinal disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder — to obtain raw cannabis flower or oils, edibles and other cannabis products containing THC or CBD for therapeutic use, as well as grow up to six cannabis plants for personal medicinal use in limited circumstances. The initiative would also establish state-controlled medical marijuana dispensaries. If Prop 2 fails, Gov. Gary Herbert has said he would push the state legislature to pass a medical marijuana bill.
Missouri: Unlike Michigan, North Dakota and Utah, Missouri has three — yes, three — legalization initiatives on its ballot, all of which relate to medical marijuana only. Though competing, the measures are markedly different in scope and intention. The first one, Amendment 2, is the most substantive ballot initiative and aligns most closely with other state medical marijuana programs. Amendment 2 would legalize medical cannabis and impose a 4 percent sales tax, the revenue of which would fund veteran health care services. The second measure, Amendment 3, written by Brad Bradshaw, a local attorney and physician, is less comprehensive — it would legal medical marijuana and imposes a 15 percent sales tax that would fund a research and drug development institute. That clinical facility, though, would be run by Bradshaw, which critics claims it means he stands to gain millions if his measure got the green light from voters. Bradshaw, though, denies this, telling Fox2Now, “People think I`m actually going to make money off of this. But it’s actually written into the constitutional amendment that the person who serves in the spot where I will be temporarily, will be unpaid.” The third and last initiative, Proposition C, penned by lobbyist Travis Brown, would create a whole new law rather than amend the state’s constitution, legalizing medical cannabis and implementing a 2 percent sales tax that would help pay for veteran’s services, drug treatment, education and law enforcement. Though that seems great on paper, Brown has been tightlipped about who’s bankrolling Proposition C, which has caused as stir in the state. As for the kinds of products patients will get under these measures, it’s unclear if there’s any discernible difference.
Although it’s legal to use and possess cannabis in California, lawmakers have still imposed bans on marijuana dispensaries and farms at the local city and county levels. Voters throughout the state will decide on more than 80 municipal ballot initiatives that would either loosen limits on commercial marijuana companies or establish local cannabis taxes, if not both.
Voters in Ohio will decide on State Issue 1, an omnibus drug policy reform that would reduce certain cannabis use and possession felonies to misdemeanors with no jail time. (“No jail time” would be for first and second offenses committed within a 24-month period.) The proposed constitutional amendment would also cut prison time for people convicted of a drug offense who completed rehabilitation programs, among other measures. Locally, residents in Dayton will decide on an advisory measure that would decriminalize small amounts of cannabis and remove penalties for minor marijuana and hashish possession misdemeanors.
There is no statewide measure on the ballot, but residents in 16 counties and two cities — Waukesha and Racine — will decide on cannabis policy in some form. These advisory referendum questions are meant to show lawmakers in the Badger State that voters want comprehensive cannabis reform, and ultimately put pressure on the state legislature to legalize recreational use cannabis next session.
Races to Watch
There’s a good reason to the governor’s race in Florida has become national news. The two gubernatorial hopefuls, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum and Trump-backed Republican opponent Ron DeSantis, are running neck-and-neck. But their stances on cannabis legalization could be the deciding factor for Florida voters, where more than 60 percent of voters support legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana use, according to a recent University of North Florida poll. Gillum has made the issue a key part of his platform, citing that legalizing and taxing recreational adult-use cannabis could bring in $1 billion in new state revenue that could go towards its failing school system. DeSantis, on the other hand, is against broader cannabis legalization, but has said he wants to expand Florida’s medical marijuana program in some form.
As seen in Florida, the candidates in Illinois’ gubernatorial race are decidedly split when it comes to the issue of cannabis legalization, and their respective stances may ultimately tip the scales. Incumbent Gov. Bruce Rauner, who signed a medical marijuana bill into law over the summer, is a staunch opponent of legalizing recreational marijuana use, while the Democratic candidate, J.B. Pritzker, has called for smart cannabis policy, suggesting that pot legalization could generate hundreds of millions in annual state tax revenue. (Pritzker has also made criminal justice reform related to drug offenses a part of his platform.) Kash Jackson, the Libertarian challenger, also supports legalizing recreational cannabis use and has promised to pardon non-violent marijuana convictions. If Pritzker or Jackson is elected, Illinois could then become one of the first Midwestern state to legalize cannabis — that is, if Michigan’s ballot initiative fails.
Connecticut is another state where the gubernatorial race is tight and cannabis reform could play a role in which way it swings. Ned Lamont, the Democratic candidate, supports legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana and believes that the added tax revenue, which is estimated to be around $30 million, could help fix Connecticut’s budgeting crisis — though there’s some skepticism around this claim, even among pro-legalization advocates. His Republican opponent, Bob Stefanowski, is not against recreational cannabis legalization per se, but has said that it is not a focal point of his agenda. Oz Griebel, their Independent challenger, supports “a responsible path to legalization” that also incorporates criminal justice reform and uses tax revenue on mental health, substance use programs and education programs.
Like Connecticut and Florida, Minnesota’s gubernatorial race is almost extremely close, and the candidates sit on opposite sides of the spectrum when it comes to marijuana reform. Democratic contender Tim Walz, the favored candidate, supports legalizing and regulating cannabis for any use, and cites the tax-related economic benefits as part of his position. Jeff Johnson, his Trump-backed Republican challenger, is opposed to the legalization of recreational pot use, though he’s said he may consider expanding the state’s medical marijuana program. Josh Welter and Chris Wright, the Libertarian and Grassroots candidates, respectively, side with Walz when it comes to legal weed.
When it comes to Senate races, all eyes are on Texas. Democrat Beto O’Rourke is chasing after Republican incumbent Ted Cruz’s seat in Congress, and the fight is heated. (After all, Cruz wants to protect his standing in the hard red state, while an upset by O’Rourke would unravel Texas conservatism.) One major point of contention between the candidates: Cannabis legalization. The issue had become a key focus of the race after Cruz tried to paint O’Rourke as “too liberal” for Texas because of his drug policy reform. That’s because the El Paso congressman has made marijuana decriminalization, legalization and regulation a major part of his political platform since being elected into office in 2012 (though it’s not a major part of his senate campaign, according to the Texas Tribune). Cruz, on the other hand, is opposed to legalizing cannabis, but has argued as a senator that state’s rights should be preserved on the matter. In other words, his hands-off approach has him straddling both sides of the fence. Comprehensive cannabis reform may not be the decidi—g factor in the Texas senate race — understandably so, if you follow Texas politics — but there’s no doubt that it’ll play a role.
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