Drugs

Marijuana Midterms: How the Prospects for State-Level Legalization and Medical Marijuana Are Looking

Less than two weeks out, a couple of these races are turning into nailbiters.

2013 Twin Cities Pride Parade on Hennepin Avenue in Downtown Minneapolis.
Photo Credit: Tony Webster / Flickr

With less than two weeks to go to Election Day, it’s looking like a mixed picture for state-level marijuana policy initiatives. There are two states—Michigan and North Dakota—with marijuana legalization on the ballot, and there are two more states—Missouri and Utah—with medical marijuana initiatives on the ballot.

It’s possible that all four will pass, but it’s looking more likely in Michigan and Missouri than in North Dakota and Utah. In North Dakota, well-funded opposition may drown out the legalization message, while in Utah, late maneuvering by the Mormon church and state political leaders is undercutting support from what had previously appeared to be a measure cruising toward victory.

Here’s a quick recap of the initiatives and their prospects.

Michigan

Michigan is poised to become marijuana legalization’s Midwest breakout state. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has qualified a marijuana legalization initiative, Proposal 1, for the November ballot.

The measure would legalize the possession up to 2.5 ounces of pot for personal use and up to 10 ounces at home, as well as allowing for the personal cultivation of up to 12 plants and the fruits of that harvest. It also creates a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce, with a 10 percent excise tax at the retail level in addition to the 6 percent sales tax. The measure would give cities and counties the option of allowing pot businesses or not.

The initiative looks well-positioned to win in November. It had been holding steady at 61 percent support as late as May, the kind of polling numbers initiative and referendum experts like to see at the beginning of the campaign because they suggest that even with the inevitable erosion of support in the face of opposition attacks, the measure still has a big enough cushion to pull off a victory.

Support had indeed declined in the final weeks of the campaign as limited opposition finally emerged, but a September Detroit Free Press poll still has it winning with 55 percent of the vote and only three percent undecided and a September Detroit News poll had it winning with 56 percent.

Missouri

Missouri voters will be able to choose from not one, not two, but three separate medical marijuana measures when they go to the polls in November. Two are constitutional amendments; one is a statutory initiative that could more easily be modified by the legislature.

Amendment 2, sponsored by New Approach Missouri, would allow doctors to recommend medical cannabis for any condition they see fit. Registered patients and caregivers would be allowed to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase up to four ounces from dispensaries per month. Medical cannabis sales at dispensaries would be taxed at 4 percent.

Amendment 3, sponsored by Find the Cures, would let doctors recommend medical marijuana to patients who have any of a specific list of qualifying conditions (while regulators would be able to add more conditions in the future). The retail sales tax on medical marijuana would be set at the much higher rate of 15 percent. Funds would be used to support research with the aim of developing cures and treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Proposition C, backed by Missourians for Patient Care, also outlines a list of specific conditions that would qualify patients to legally use medical cannabis. Sales would be taxed at 2 percent.

An August poll conducted by TJP strategies had support for amending the state constitution to allow medical marijuana at 54 percent.

There has been no more recent polling, but with 93 percent of the nation backing medical cannabis in an April 2018 Quinnipiac University poll, it’s likely that Missouri isn’t going to buck the trend. The fundraising also points toward a successful campaign. Both New Approach Missouri and Find the Cure have raised more than a million dollars over the course of the campaign and both still have tens of thousands of dollars banked for the final push. The only ballot committee opposed to both campaigns, Citizens for Safe Medicine, was just registered last month and has reported no donations or expenditures.

North Dakota

This year, a grassroots group, Legalize ND, managed to get enough signatures to get Measure 3, the Marijuana Legalization and Automatic Expungement initiative, on the November ballot.

This is a radical initiative. It would legalize all forms of marijuana for adults by removing marijuana, THC, and hashish from the state’s controlled substance schedules, and it sets no limits on the amount of marijuana people could possess or how many plants they grow. It also provides for the automatic expungement of criminal convictions for anyone convicted of a marijuana-related crime that would be legal under the measure.

And it does not create a framework for regulated marijuana sales, nor does it set any taxes. Creating a system of taxed and regulated marijuana commerce would be up to the state legislature.

Legalize ND faces the toughest odds. While a June poll, commissioned by Legalize ND and conducted by the Florida-based Kitchen Group, had the initiative winning 46 percent to 39 percent, with 15 percent undecided and a poll this month, also commissioned by Legalize ND had it winning with 51 percent to 36 percent, two other recent polls have support at under 40 percent.

It also faces the toughest organized opposition, which is heavily out-fundraising it. While Legalize ND has raised less than $30,000 in cash and in-kind contributions, the national anti-marijuana lobbying group Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) has provided 100 percent of the contributions to Healthy and Productive North Dakota, an amount totaling more than $156,000.

A separate anti-initiative committee, North Dakotans Against the Legalization of Recreational Marijuana, which represents business groups and is headed by the director of government affairs for the state Chamber of Commerce, has raised $86,000. If Legalize ND can pull off a victory, it will be sweet, indeed, but it’s looking like an uphill battle.

Utah

Sponsored by the Utah Patients Coalition, the medical marijuana statutory initiative, Proposition 2, has qualified for the November ballot. The bottom-up effort comes after the state legislature has refused to advance meaningful medical marijuana legislation.

Under the measure, people who suffer from one of a list of designated qualifying medical conditions could receive a medical marijuana card with a physician’s recommendation. That would entitle them to possess up to two ounces of marijuana or any amount of a marijuana product with up to 10 grams of THC. Patients could not grow their own unless they live more than 100 miles from a dispensary. And the patients cannot smoke marijuana.

A Utah Policy poll released in September had support for the measure at 64 percent,
with even Mormons generally breaking with the church leadership on the issue. But
after that poll was released, state political leaders, advocates, and the Mormon church announced they’d agreed on a medical marijuana plan that lawmakers would consider in a November special session. That has, to some degree, cut the legs out from under the initiative.

A Salt Lake Tribune poll released last week had support dropping to only 51 percent, with 46 percent opposed. What looked like a cakewalk just a few weeks ago has turned into a nailbiter.

There you have it. Marijuana could go four for four this year, but it’s not at all at done deal, and we may end up having to settle for only three or maybe even two out of four. Going only 50-50 on marijuana initiatives would be the worst performance of the modern era. Let’s hope 2018 doesn’t earn that distinction.

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

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Phillip Smith has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. Smith is currently a senior writing fellow at the Independent Media Institute