Cannabis Legalization Could Make New Strides in 2023

The effort to reform the nation’s cannabis laws made new strides in 2022 with the passage of recreational marijuana legalization ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri in the November midterm elections. Success was not universal, however, as similar propositions on the ballot in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota failed to gain the approval of voters. 

Looking at 2023, new milestones have already been achieved this year, with Connecticut launching regulated retail sales of adult-use cannabis on January 10, a move that was preceded by the expungement of nearly 43,000 marijuana-related convictions in the state at the dawn of the new year. And as we head further into 2023, several states across the country are likely to make new ground in the struggle to end cannabis prohibition.

A New Focus

Brian Vicente, a founding partner at the cannabis and psychedelics law firm, Vicente Sederberg LLP, says that despite spending millions of dollars on lobbying federal lawmakers in 2022, the efforts of cannabis activists were unable to result in the passage of any meaningful marijuana policy reform at the next level. With the change in the political climate in Washington, D.C., efforts this year will take a new focus.

“With Republicans taking over the House, any federal reform in the two years seems exceedingly unlikely. Fortunately, movement leaders have begun coalescing around a strategy to cut back on federal lobbying and instead push resources toward state-level reform,” Vicente said in an email. “These efforts are aiming to flip as many as 10 states to adult-use in just three years, which would not only open new markets for consumers, but also create intense pressure on Congress to pass legislation aligning federal law with the thirty-odd states where cannabis is legal for adults.”

As the new year begins, more than a half-dozen states are likely to consider legislation to reform their marijuana laws, with most activity centering in the South and Midwest regions. Outside those broad areas, Hawaii could be poised to make progress on the issue with a new governor at the helm, Democrat Josh Green, who included support for expanding the state’s current legalization of medical marijuana to include adult-use cannabis as part of his campaign for office last year. On January 11, Democratic state Rep. Jeanné Kapela announced her plans to introduce a recreational marijuana legalization bill, saying, “this year, we stand on the precipice of history.”

“We now have a roadmap for legalizing recreational cannabis in our islands,” Kapela said in a statement quoted by Marijuana Moment. “Legalizing cannabis is not just a matter of money, it is a matter of moralities.”

Snowden Stieber, a regulatory analyst with cannabis compliance technology firm Simplifya, notes that the bill has some hurdles to clear before it can get to Green’s desk, however.

“The Hawaii Senate President, Ron Kouchi, has already come out with statements expressing skepticism on any fast movement for cannabis legalization, and many elected officials are still waiting on the upcoming report from the Dual Use of Cannabis Task Force to guide their votes in the new year,” he said in an email. “While it is of course possible that the task force recommends full legalization, prior experience in other states would suggest that legislators will take their time with any report’s findings and that a sudden move toward legalization is unlikely.”

The South

Vicente believes three states in the South—Kentucky, North Carolina and South Carolina—could pass legislation to legalize medical marijuana this year. With the nearby states of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and Florida already demonstrating that a regulated marijuana industry can provide jobs and tax revenue, other states in the region are likely not far behind.

South Carolina, where Rep. Nancy Mace has become one of the few Republicans in Congress advocating for cannabis policy reform at the national level, is one of the few remaining states that still hasn’t legalized marijuana in any form. But reform is popular with the state’s residents, with a Winthrop University poll conducted before last year’s midterm elections showing that more than 75% of voters support the legalization of medical cannabis. This year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have pre-filed separate medical marijuana legalization bills for the 2023 legislative session. But Simplifya regulatory analyst Justin Bedford isn’t optimistic about the fate of the legislation.

“Though these may seem like promising developments, history suggests that South Carolina still has a long way to go before any form of commercial legalization occurs,” he wrote in an email. “All 14 cannabis-related bills that were deliberated during the 2022 legislative session failed to pass, with most dying in the early stages of development. Nothing has changed in the state’s sociopolitical environment that would suggest anything will be different this year.”

In North Carolina, the state Senate passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana in June 2022, but the House of Representatives declined to take up the legislation. Brian Fitzpatrick, chairman and CEO of cannabis software developer Qredible Inc, notes that public support for medical marijuana legalization is strong, and if a bill makes it to the desk of Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, he’s likely to sign it into law.

“A poll carried out in January 2021 by Elon University found that 73% of North Carolinians supported medical cannabis,” Fitzpatrick said in an email. “A subsequent poll in May 2022 showed that support had increased to 82% across bipartisan lines. I believe that the governor is aware of this and will fully support the legalization of a medical cannabis bill in 2023.”

In Kentucky, where an executive order from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear decriminalizing medical marijuana went into effect on New Year’s Day, a bill to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis was unveiled by lawmakers on January 7. The measure, Senate Bill 51, would legalize and regulate the “possession, cultivation, production, processing, packaging, transportation, testing, marketing, sale and use of medical cannabis and adult-use cannabis,” according to a report from the online resource Business Insurance. With Kentucky being one of the nation’s largest hemp producers, industry insiders believe the legislation has a good chance of success this year.

The Midwest and Surrounding States

Several states in the Midwest could make advancements in cannabis policy reform in 2023. In Ohio, voters could get the chance to vote on a cannabis legalization measure championed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which was kept off the ballot for the November midterm election after legal challenges. Last week, Secretary of State Frank LaRose reintroduced the proposal, which would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and levy a 10% tax on commercial cannabis products. If the state legislature doesn’t approve the measure within four months, the coalition can collect signatures to put the proposal before the votes in the fall. Trent Woloveck, chief commercial director of cannabis commerce platform Jushi, believes legalization efforts have an even chance of success in Ohio this year.

“It is very unlikely that the legislature acts on the initiated stature in the next four months, but reasonably likely that the Coalition will be able to gather the additional required signatures for the effort to make the ballot,” he says. “While polling would suggest a ballot initiative legalizing cannabis would pass, the Senate president and other legislators disagree. And, even if voters approved an initiated statute, the legislature would have unrestricted authority to repeal or materially revise legalization.”

Like Hawaii, Pennsylvania has a new governor, Democrat Josh Shapiro, who has expressed support for legalizing recreational marijuana. The issue has been stymied in years past by Republican lawmakers, but a new Democratic majority in the state House of Representatives may help the chances at success.

“While we’ve heard some interest from both sides of the aisle in previous years, conversations about legalization seem to be happening among a much larger group of legislators with increased frequency and specificity,” Woloveck says. “It also sounds like many legislators, including several previously unwilling to engage in any cannabis-related discussions, now acknowledge something has to be done about the illicit market and to stop revenue from flowing to neighboring states where people can buy legal, regulated cannabis for non-medical purposes.”

After legalizing low-potency THC edibles last year, cannabis policy experts say Minnesota could be the most likely state to legalize recreational marijuana in 2023. The state’s Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party (DFL) is now in charge of both the legislative and executive branches of government, and party leaders including Gov. Tim Walz have said that cannabis legalization will be a priority for 2023. Last Wednesday, a bill sponsored by DFL lawmakers Rep. Zack Stephenson and Sen. Lindsey Port received the approval of a legislative committee, with more hearings on the measure to come.

In Oklahoma, where 10% of adults hold cards to participate in the state’s liberal medical marijuana program, voters will decide on a ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis in March. If passed, State Question 820 would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. The measure also contains provisions to expunge past convictions for marijuana-related offenses. Proponents of the measure had hoped it would appear before voters during the November midterm elections, but a delay in certifying petition signatures and legal challenges from opponents prevented its inclusion on the ballot.

Lawmakers in other states including Georgia and Delaware could also take up measures to legalize marijuana this year, although the prospects for success in 2023 seem unlikely given the political climate in those states. But progress in cannabis policy will probably continue if the trend seen over the last decade goes on.

“Since 2012, when Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize cannabis, we’ve seen an average of two states per year pass adult-use laws,” Vicente notes. “I predict that 2023 will continue this trend with both Oklahoma and Minnesota looking very likely to legalize.”

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Arkansas Regulators Revoke Medical Cannabis Cultivator’s License

Regulators in Arkansas on Monday revoked a medical marijuana cultivator’s license to operate after a judge ruled earlier this month that the state erred when it granted the license two years ago. Doralee Chandler, the director of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Administration and the head regulator of the state Medical Marijuana Commission (MMC), revoked the license from medicinal cannabis cultivator River Valley Relief (RVR) on November 28 at a hearing that lasted nearly an hour.

The Arkansas Medical Marijuana Commission granted RVR a license to cultivate medicinal cannabis in July 2020, making the company the last of eight growers authorized by the state. But another company, 2600 Holdings, filed a lawsuit in January 2021, arguing that RVR should not have been granted the cultivation license. The plaintiff asked the court to disqualify River Valley Relief and award the license to 2600 or provide other relief under the Arkansas Administrative Procedures Act.

Attorneys for 2600 argued that the MMC had illegally granted the license to Nolan Storm, the owner of RVR, during the state’s second round of cultivator licensing. They maintained that the action violated state law because Storm’s license application was no longer valid and the site for the cultivation operation was too close to Sebastian County Juvenile Detention Center. The plaintiff argued that the site violated state requirements that medical marijuana facilities be located at least 3,000 feet from schools, churches, and daycare centers.

The case was litigated for the state by attorneys for the DFA, which submitted a 36-page brief disputing 2600’s filing. Nolan and his legal representatives were blocked from participating in the case by Pulaski County Circuit Court Judge Herb Wright. 

Earlier this month, Wright ruled that 2600 had proven its case and should be granted relief, ordering that RVR’s license be revoked. The judge decided that the MMC’s action had exceeded the agency’s authority, which is referred to as an “ultra vires” act.

“Plaintiff has, therefore, met its burden in showing that the undisputed facts of the case, viewed in a light most favorable to Defendants, prove that the plaintiff is entitled to relief,” Wright noted in his ruling handed down on November 3. “Defendants have acted unreasonably, unlawfully, and capriciously by awarding Nolan a license.”

“An effort was clearly made by the MMC to give Nolan thread to stitch up the holes in the RVRC application,” Wright continued in his decision. “Whether that was fair or unfair to any of the applicants, it was at minimum an unconstitutional and ultra vires act.”

Arkansas License Revoked at Hearing on Monday

At a Monday hearing of the Arkansas Department of Finance and Administration (DFA), the MMC oversight agency, Nolan and his attorney Matthew Horan argued that Wright’s decision contained important errors. Nolan addressed each point while under oath during the hearing, saying that he was trying to abide by the state Medical Marijuana Commission’s rules and the guidelines of officials including the secretary of state. Among other points, the attorney argued that the cultivation site, which is 2,400 feet from the youth detention center, did not violate MMC regulations.

“There is no evidence anywhere that the detention center is operated by a public school,” Horan said, adding that the Arkansas Department of Education issued a letter saying the juvenile facility was not a school. But Chandler noted that the hearing was being held solely for the purpose of deciding on the license revocation and refused to reconsider matters settled by the court case.

“We’re not here to litigate matters over any other location,” Chandler told Nolan, according to a report from the Arkansas Times. “You need to worry about your permit and your application.”

Scott Hardin, a spokesman for the DFA, said in a statement that the formal license revocation order would likely be issued no later than the end of the week, according to a report from Arkansas news site Talk Business & Politics.

Hardin also noted that Nolan has appealed Chandler’s administrative decision to revoke the license. The appeal temporarily halts the license until after a hearing by the full board overseeing Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Control. The next hearing of the board is scheduled for December 21, meaning that RVR will be able to continue operating at least until that time.

After Monday’s hearing, Nolan said that the case would be appealed to the Arkansas Supreme Court.

“River Valley Relief Cultivation has appealed the Pulaski Circuit Court decision to the Arkansas Supreme Court,” Nolan said in a statement to Talk Business & Politics. “RVRC has asked that proceedings be stayed until the appeal is heard. We await the decision of the Supreme Court.” 

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Breaking: Maryland and Missouri Vote to Legalize Cannabis

Voters in Maryland and Missouri voted to legalize recreational marijuana in Tuesday’s midterm elections, bringing the total number of states that have legalized cannabis for use by adults to 21. Ballot measures to legalize marijuana failed to win a majority of votes in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota, however, with voters in those states instead opting to maintain nearly a century of cannabis prohibition. 

Maryland Approves Question 4

In Maryland, voters approved Question 4, a referendum that amends the state constitution to legalize marijuana and directs the state legislature to pass legislation to regulate commercial cannabis activity. With 82% of the votes counted on Wednesday afternoon, Question 4 was on its way to approval with nearly two-thirds (65.5%) of the vote, according to data from The New York Times. Troy Datcher, the CEO of California-based The Parent Company (TPCO), said that he is encouraged by the passage of Question 4 in Maryland, noting that the measure mandates expungement for eligible cannabis convictions and includes resentencing provisions for other offenses. He also noted the high level of support for legalization in the state. In July, TPCO, the home of Jay-Z’s luxury cannabis brand Monogram, announced that it would be entering Maryland’s medical marijuana market through a partnership with Curio Wellness. 

“The fact that Question 4 garnered more support than any adult-use cannabis ballot measure in the country’s history speaks to the shared support that Americans of all political stripes have for moving past the unjust cannabis laws that have criminalized Americans for nearly a century,” Datcher said in an email to Cannabis Now. “Tuesday’s vote also reflects the massive potential of adult-use legalization to stimulate Maryland’s economy, creating tens of thousands of new jobs for its residents and generating considerable tax revenue for the state.”

Missouri Voters Say Yes To Legalization

In Missouri, Amendment 3 was projected to be approved by voters, tallying more than 53% of the votes on Wednesday afternoon with 89% of ballots counted. The successful amendment to the state’s constitution legalizes the possession, use, sale and delivery of marijuana for personal use and sets a 6% tax on commercial cannabis sales. Additionally, the amendment includes provisions for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions. Jeffrey M. Zucker, vice chair of the Marijuana Policy Project board of directors and president of the consulting company Green Lion Partners, praised the work of activists who campaigned to make legal recreational marijuana part of the state’s constitution.

“It is an exciting time for the people of Missouri as their state legalizes adult-use cannabis,” Zucker said in an emailed statement. “I am in awe of the hard work that cannabis activists have done in Missouri, and I look forward to seeing how both established medical marijuana dispensaries and new players in Missouri’s regulated cannabis industry grow and begin to thrive over the coming months.”

With the approval of the cannabis legalization measures, Maryland and Missouri have become the 20th and 21st states to legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Mason Tvert, communications adviser for the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg LLC, noted that in addition to ending the criminalization of cannabis, the successful ballot measures in Maryland and Missouri will spur economic development and create new jobs.

“With legal cannabis in these two states comes new economic opportunity. Expansion of the regulated cannabis market will result in new businesses, more jobs, and significant tax revenue,” Tvert wrote in an email. “There is still plenty of work to be done when it comes to implementing the new law and ironing out all the rules. Marijuana-related policy discussions will become the new norm in state and local governments, much like we see with alcohol. Ending prohibition is just the beginning.”

Three States Decline To Legalize Weed

Despite the strong showing for cannabis policy reform in Maryland and Missouri, voters in Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota rejected ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana. Arkansas voters said no to Issue 4, with more than 56% of the electorate voting against the measure. In South Dakota, cannabis legalization initiative Measure 27 only garnered 47% of votes, with 53% voting against it. And in North Dakota, where voters approved a 2020 ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana that was invalidated by the state Supreme Court, voters declined to repeat their previous approval of reform. Measure 2, which would have legalized the possession and use of cannabis for adults, received the approval of 45% of voters, with nearly 55% voting against the measure.

Other Races Bode Well For Continued Reform

Although marijuana legalization measures were only on the ballot in five states on Tuesday, other races in this week’s midterm elections are likely to foster progress on cannabis policy reform efforts. In Minnesota, control of the state Senate was won by Democrats, giving the party control of both houses of the legislature and the governor’s office. With the new majority in the Senate, lawmakers are likely to advance legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis, according to a report from Marijuana Moment.

“We are excited about the prospects for full legalization, but Minnesotans who want to see legalization will still have work to do,” said Maren Schroeder, coalition director for the MNisReady Coalition. “We’re optimistic that we’ll get it across the finish line in 2023.”

In Pennsylvania, voters elevated Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, an outspoken advocate of cannabis policy reform, to the US Senate, where he will be a new voice for progress on the issue at the federal level. Voters also selected fellow Democrat Josh Shapiro as governor over Republican Douglas Mastriano, who characterized recreational marijuana legalization as a “stupid idea,” according to a report from Marijuana Moment. Tracey Kauffman, founder and chairperson of cannabis consulting firm Cannaspire, says that the results in her home state of Pennsylvania indicate a willingness among voters to support candidates who are in favor of cannabis policy reform.

“Yesterday was a huge victory for cannabis in Pennsylvania. Both John Fetterman and Josh Shapiro support legalizing adult-use cannabis and expungement, so hopefully we will see swift changes in our state,” Kauffman wrote in an email. “I would like to see a cannabis task force organized so we can analyze key learnings from how our neighbors in New York and New Jersey have approached legalization and translate them into what will be successful in Pennsylvania.”

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) lauded the approval of cannabis legalization measures in Tuesday’s election, noting in a statement on Wednesday that in addition to the successes in Maryland and Missouri, marijuana decriminalization measures were passed by voters in several cities located in states that maintain prohibitions on adult-use cannabis, including Texas and Ohio.

“While this year’s mid-term elections may not have been a ‘clean sweep’ for reform advocates, our momentum continues unabated,” NORML deputy director Paul Armentano said in a statement from the advocacy group. “Are we in a stronger place today than we were yesterday? Of course we are. Two more states, Maryland and Missouri, have wisely elected to legalize and regulate cannabis — policies that will expand the freedoms and civil liberties of over 7 million Americans. In addition, voters in cities across this country — including over 400,000 Texans — acted to end the senseless and counterproductive policy of arresting and prosecuting those who possess and use cannabis.”

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Arkansas Voters Reject Adult-Use Cannabis Bill

Voters Tuesday rejected Issue 4, a measure that would have legalized adult-use cannabis, to the dismay of Arkansas cannabis advocates who worked hard to push the bill forward. 

Led by Responsible Growth Arkansas, advocates promoted the approval of an amendment to the Arkansas Constitution which would have authorized the possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults 21 and over, as well as the cultivation and sale of cannabis by licensed commercial facilities.

The bill would have authorized licensed dispensaries to sell cannabis produced by licensed medical and adult-use cultivation facilities, including cannabis produced under Amendment 98, beginning on March 8, 2023.

Critics of the bill said it lacked expungement provisions and that it didn’t allow for home growing. And as a constitutional amendment, it would be difficult to make those changes further down the line. Even longtime cannabis advocates in the state opposed the bill because of these omissions.

From the get-go, Issue 4 faced challenges in a state that typically votes conservative. First, state officials, including Arkansas’ secretary of state, challenged the validity of the measure, which would be an amendment to the state’s constitution. Advocates submitted more than enough valid signatures for the proposal to qualify for the ballot, but the state Board of Election Commissioners rejected the measure, explaining that the ballot title did not adequately explain the amendment to voters.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson held a joint press briefing October 31 at the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce in Little Rock, joining insurance, construction, truckers, and agriculture officials to speak out against Issue 4.

“This puts us at a disadvantage in [the] recruiting industry if Issue 4 passes,” Hutchinson said, citing how workplace drug testing would be impacted.

Opponents of the bill pointed out that it does not expunge criminal records, nor does it allow for home growing. And if passed, the amendment cannot be altered by the Arkansas State Legislature. For now, only medical cannabis is legal in Arkansas under Amendment 98.

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Five States To Vote on Recreational Cannabis This Election Season

Currently, adult-use cannabis is legal in 19 states, two territories and Washington, D.C., with medical cannabis legal in 37 states, three territories and D.C. If all five states approved adult-use cannabis, nearly half the U.S. population would reside in a jurisdiction where the possession and use of cannabis is legal for adults.

And, while many of these states have a reputation for leaning more conservative, this year also shows the progress behind cannabis reform, with political parties slowly becoming less and less relevant.

As Americans collectively look ahead to midterms, let’s take a closer look at the cannabis policy these states will consider this year:

Arkansas – Issue 4

Back in 2016, Arkansas voters legalized medical cannabis, by a vote of 53.11% to 46.89%, winning in 38 of the state’s 75 counties. This November, Arkansans will vote on Arkansas Issue 4, or the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment.

What it does: The amendment would authorize the possession, personal use and consumption of cannabis by adults who are at least 21 years of age. Residents would be allowed possession and use of up to one ounce of cannabis. The amendment would also come with a 10% tax on cannabis states, requiring the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control Division to develop rules to regulate cannabis businesses. 

The amendment that legalized medical cannabis in the state allowed for a maximum of 40 dispensaries and eight cultivators; this year’s recreational amendment would increase the maximum number of cultivation facilities to 20 and the maximum number of dispensaries to 120.

What the polls say: The last poll of Arkansas voters on this initiative was back in September, finding that voters backed the initiative by a 2-to-1 margin. The Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College survey of 835 likely Arkansas voters was conducted September 12 and found that 58.5% were for the initiative, 29% were against it and 12.5% were unsure.

The same organization ran a similar poll back in February, surveying 961 likely Arkansas voters, and still found that a majority of voters supported adult-use cannabis: 53.5% said they supported adult-use cannabis, 32% said they supported medical cannabis only, 10.5% said cannabis should be illegal and 4% said they were unsure.

Maryland – Question 4

Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2014, facilitating sales since 2017, and the momentum for reform has grown in the state since. Medical usage is booming: As of November 2021, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission reported nearly 150,000 state-registered patients and about $600 million in sales, according to state regulators—a huge leap from 2020’s $423 million and 2019’s $255 million in revenue.

Now, voters decide whether or not to keep the cannabis train moving, with Maryland Question 4, or the Marijuana Legalization Amendment.

What it does: The amendment legalizes cannabis for adults 21 and older beginning July 2023, directing the Maryland State Legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution and taxation of cannabis.

The General Assembly also passed companion legislation that would become effective upon 4’s passing and provide additional clarity around the implementation of the amendment. House Bill 837 clarifies that, should Question 4 pass, the possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis or 10 grams of cannabis concentrate would immediately be decriminalized, only subject to small administrative fines. After June 30, 2021, possessing these amounts of cannabis would be completely legal.

HB 837 also notes that residents would be allowed to cultivate up to two cannabis plants per household. All prior cannabis possession convictions that would be legal under the new provisions will also automatically be expunged, with those currently serving time allowed to apply for resentencing of possession convictions. 

What the polls say: Polling has shown consistent support for cannabis over the years among Maryland residents. The two most recent polls from Goucher College and Washington Post/The University of Maryland both took place in September. 

The Goucher poll ultimately found that 59% indicated they would vote to approve the question, with 34% against and 7% undecided. The Post poll shows even more support, with 73% in favor of legalizing adult-use cannabis, with 23% against and 4% stating “no opinion.” 

Support has been consistent, with a 2019 Post-UMD poll finding that 66% of Maryland residents supported legalizing cannabis and using its tax revenue for educational programming and another Goucher poll from March 2022 finding 62% of Maryland residents supported legalizing recreational cannabis. Ultimately, many experts expect voters will likely pass the bill.

Missouri – Amendment 3

Four years following a successful public initiative to legalize medical cannabis in Missouri, and just two years after sales officially launched across the state, Missouri voters are revisiting cannabis at the ballot box with Missouri Amendment 3.

What it does: A yes vote for Amendment 3 amends the Missouri Constitution to legalize the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture and sale of cannabis for personal use for adults over 21 years of age. The amendment would also allow people with certain cannabis-related offenses to petition for release from prison, or parole and probation, and have their records expunged. Additionally, it would enact a 6% tax on the retail price of recreational cannabis.

The petition also outlines a system that would grant 144 additional licenses for “microbusiness facilities,” comprised of six dispensaries and 12 wholesale facilities in each of Missouri’s congressional districts. The licenses will be selected through a lottery process, and licensees would be allowed to manufacture and cultivate cannabis products.

What the polls say: A number of new polls shed light on the potential outcome of the vote, though they might leave folks with more questions than definitive answers.

One mid-September poll by Remington Research Group, commissioned by Missouri Scout, found that just 43% of respondents supported Amendment 3, with 47% against and 10% unsure. Results from another poll, from Emerson College Polling and The Hill, were shared at the end of September, finding that 48% of respondents back the legalization proposal, while 35% were opposed and 17% were unsure.

Another poll, conducted in mid-September by SurveyUSA, complicates things further: It found that 62% of voters are “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3, with 22% opposed and 16% unsure. With the available data and time ticking away until Voting Day, many have indicated that this specific vote is a toss-up.

North Dakota – Statutory Measure 2

North Dakota voters passed Measure 5, the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act, back in 2016, authorizing the sale of medical cannabis. It took two years for the North Dakota Legislative Assembly to create regulations, and in 2019, Governor Doug Burgum reduced cannabis possession penalties and expanded the list of qualifying conditions for medical cannabis patients.

This year, voters will decide whether or not the state will go a step further, with Statutory Measure 2.

What it does: The measure would create a new chapter of the North Dakota Century Code, legalizing the production, processing and sale of cannabis and the use of “various forms of cannabis” for adults 21 years old and up. Specifically, it would legalize possession of up to one ounce of cannabis, four grams of concentrate and 500mg of THC in an infused product. Adults in the state who are of age would also be allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants, and the measure requires the Department of Health and Human Services to establish rules regulating the market by October 1, 2023. 

Under the measure, the department could also license seven cultivation facilities and 18 cannabis retailers.

What the polls say: North Dakota is a fairly conservative state, where voters rejected a similar ballot measure in 2018 to legalize cannabis 59.45% to 40.55%.

One July poll from The Dickinson Press looked specifically at southwest North Dakota readers, finding that 39% supported the measure, 43% were opposed and 18% didn’t have a preference. The paper also suggested that opinions may have shifted in the area over time, as a similar 2018 poll found southwestern North Dakotans supported that year’s legislation 60% to 40%, despite the outcome.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any other publicized and recent polls on the issue. However, one key difference this year, versus 2018’s effort, that could push the conversation in another direction is money, U.S. News and Associated Press reports. Four years ago, cannabis advocates had little money for their efforts, but this year, the North Dakota legalization group has received more than $520,000.

Additionally, the North Dakota Petroleum Council, which helped fund opposition to the measure in 2018, will not contribute to the fight against cannabis legalization this time around, according to the group’s president Ron Ness. 

There are several factors that could spell success for the effort, but unfortunately without more concrete polling data, it’s tough to anticipate where the vote could go.

South Dakota – Initiative Measure 27

After passing the state’s medical cannabis legalization initiative in 2020, with the state’s first licensed dispensary opening its doors July 2022, South Dakota voters will once again vote on cannabis with Initiative Measure 27. The state has a storied history with cannabis, leaving the vote this year a bit different than some of the other states posing similar questions.

What it does: A yes vote for Initiative Measure 27 supports the legalization of possession, distribution and use of cannabis for people 21 years old or older. The measure does not address licensing, taxation, local government regulations of cannabis or hemp regulations.

In 2020, along with medical cannabis, voters approved Amendment A. The amendment would have legalized recreational cannabis; authorized the State Department of Revenue to issue cannabis-related licenses for cultivation, testing, manufacturing, wholesale and retail; imposed a 15% tax on cannabis sales; authorized local governments to enact regulations for licensees in their jurisdictions; and required the state legislature to pass laws providing a program for medical cannabis and hemp.

Voters approved the measure 54% to 46% in the November 3, 2020 general election, but the Supreme Court overturned the measure February 8, 2022, with Judge Christina Klinger ruling it was unconstitutional for violating South Dakota’s single-subject rule (state law says constitutional amendments can only cover a single issue) and because it was a revision of the constitution rather than an amendment.

This time around, advocates aren’t risking invalidation, instead moving forward to strictly enforce legalization. Cannabis sales could come at a future date, if separate laws are passed by lawmakers or voters.

What the polls say: While voters just approved a similar initiative two years ago, with even more directly attached to it, recent polls show that South Dakotans are split on the issue.

South Dakota State University released results of their survey of South Dakota voters earlier this month, finding that 45% supported the measure, 47% were against and 8% were not sure. Another poll from Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy of Florida, conducted in July, found that 43.8% of respondents supporting legalization of recreational cannabis, while 54.4% opposed it. 

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We can theorize all we want, but of course we’ll have to collectively hang tight to witness the final outcomes in these states. While we might not see all five states enacting cannabis reform this year, we’re likely to escape election season with a little more state support for recreational cannabis.

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Five States to Vote on Cannabis Legalization Measures

Voters in five states will see recreational marijuana legalization proposals on their ballots for the November midterm elections, giving the cannabis community a chance to gain new ground in the movement to free the plant.

Activists in Arkansas, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota have successfully led campaigns to put an adult-use cannabis legalization initiative on the ballot in their states, while lawmakers in Maryland have turned to the voters for guidance with a referendum to legalize recreational marijuana. As the November election nears, the campaigns for reform are busy rallying the voters for support. And with the number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana approaching half the country, each new jurisdiction brings the country one step closer to comprehensive reform.

Brooke Butler, vice president of partnership at cannabis compliance tech company Simplifya, told Cannabis Now that in addition to giving voters a chance to weigh in on cannabis reform in their own states, the ballot measures in this year’s election can help inform policy and spur progress in other jurisdictions and at the national level.

“As we head into midterms, we’re going to see a number of cannabis ballot initiatives take center stage,” Butler said. “Ballot initiatives are one of the truest forms of democracy in action and a great barometer of where America stands on key issues. When it comes to cannabis, historically, Americans have said yes in overwhelming numbers.”

Arkansas

PHOTO Christopher Boswell

In Arkansas, voters will see Issue 4, a proposed initiative to amend the state’s constitution, on their ballots. If passed, the measure from Responsible Growth Arkansas would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of cannabis and permit licensed dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana. Taxes raised on sales on adult-use cannabis would be used to fund hospitals and healthcare research, law enforcement and drug courts, which focus on reducing repeat offenses and substance abuse among nonviolent offenders with substance misuse disorders.

Polling by Talk Business & Politics-Hendrix College released last month showed that Arkansas’ legalization proposal was supported by 59% of likely voters, with just 29% opposed and 13% undecided. Brian Vicente, founding partner of the cannabis and psychedelics law firm Vicente Sederberg, said that the legalization of recreational marijuana in Arkansas would be a significant victory for the cannabis reform community. But provisions of the measure that favor the state’s existing medical marijuana industry have left segments of the movement unsatisfied with the legislation.

“A win for legalization in Arkansas would be seen as a major win for legalization advocates due to the fact that the current Governor Asa Hutchinson is a rabid prohibitionist who served as a chief architect of the nation’s Drug War when he was the head of the DEA,” Vicente noted. “However, this measure is the most controversial of the five ballot initiatives, since it provides a major benefit to the relatively small number of current medical marijuana business owners and only allows a very narrow path for new business entrants.”

Maryland

Maryland marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Christopher Boswell

Voters in Maryland will decide on Question 4, a referendum that would amend the state constitution to legalize marijuana for adults 21 years of age or older beginning in July 2023. The measure also directs the state legislature to pass laws for the use, distribution, regulation and taxation of marijuana. Currently, marijuana is legal for medicinal use in Maryland under a 2013 law, while possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis was decriminalized in 2014. Question 4 is overwhelmingly supported by Maryland voters, with a poll from The Washington Post and the University of Maryland showing 73% in favor of the proposal.

In July, California firm The Parent Company, home of Jay-Z’s Monogram brand, announced that it would be entering Maryland’s medical marijuana market through a partnership with Curio Wellness. TPCO CEO Troy Datcher said that if Question 4 succeeds, the company will be well-positioned to grow with the state’s newly legal market for adult-use cannabis. As might be expected, Datcher told Cannabis Now in an email that “TPCO is in favor of passage of Question 4.”

“Cannabis criminalization in Maryland has been a major public policy failure and has resulted in the disproportionate incarceration of communities of color,” said Datcher. “It is critical that the state take a new direction, particularly as many of its neighboring states begin adopting adult-use programs. In addition, legalizing cannabis in Maryland would stimulate the state’s economy and create tens of thousands of new jobs for locals.”

Missouri

MIssouri marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Sean Pavone

Midterm election ballots in Missouri will include Amendment 3, which would change the state constitution to legalize the possession, use, sale and delivery of marijuana for personal use and sets a 6% tax on commercial cannabis sales. The proposal, advanced by Legal Missouri 2022, also includes provisions for the expungement of certain marijuana-related convictions. Polling on Amendment 3 is mixed, with a survey commissioned by the Missouri Scout in early September finding only 43% of respondents in support of Amendment 3, compared to 47% against and 10% undecided. However, a SurveyUSA poll conducted only days later found that 62% of voters were “certain to vote yes” on Amendment 3.  

Mark Toigo, CEO of Organic Remedies Missouri (ORMO), said that his company supports the ballot measure, noting that polling has shown that a significant majority of the state’s residents support legalizing adult-use cannabis. But the state legislature has failed to act in accordance with the will of the people. Noting that the initiative campaign collected more than 400,000 signatures from supporters, Toigo believes the whole state will benefit if the measure is approved.

“If the ballot question receives a majority vote it will transform the Missouri cannabis industry into one of the strongest in the country. With existing infrastructure, a well-trained workforce, and some of the best brands in cannabis already established in the Missouri Medical Marijuana program, Missouri will be positioned to no longer lose its tax revenue to states like Illinois and Oklahoma,” Toigo explained in an email. “Legal Mo 22 ensures sustained job creation, economic development and revenue flow to Missouri, while also righting the wrongs of cannabis’ past prohibition and providing ample opportunities for those most harmed by the failed war on drugs.”

North Dakota

North Dakota marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Eldon

Statutory Measure 2 in North Dakota would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and permit the home cultivation of up to three cannabis plants. Retail sales of marijuana would be permitted by the measure, although the initiative includes a cap of 18 dispensaries and seven production facilities. The measure also requires the state Department of Health and Human Services to enact regulations governing commercial cannabis cultivation, manufacturing and sales by October 1, 2023. Although statewide polling data is not available, a poll of southwestern North Dakota residents in July found that only 39% supported the marijuana legalization initiative from New Approach North Dakota, while 43% were opposed and 18% were indifferent. A similar effort in 2018 failed at the polls, with 59% voting against the measure and 41% in favor. But the campaign manager for both efforts, David Owen, believes this year might be different.

“We’re a viable campaign that has a good chance of success,” he told the Associated Press.

South Dakota

South Dakota marijuana ballot measures
PHOTO Eldon

Voters in neighboring South Dakota will also have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana in November. If they vote in favor of the measure, it wouldn’t be the first time. A 2020 ballot measure to legalize adult-use cannabis passed with 54% of the vote, but a legal challenge supported by Gov. Kristi Noem led to the state Supreme Court invalidating the measure on procedural grounds. The vote on this year’s proposal, Initiated Measure 27, could be closer than two years ago, with the results uncertain as election day approaches. A South Dakota State University poll released on October 14 showed that 45% were in favor of the legalization bid and 47% against, with 8% undecided.

If Measure 27 prevails on election day, possession and use of cannabis and marijuana paraphernalia will be legalized. Adults 21 and older would be permitted to possess or distribute up to one ounce of marijuana. Those living in a jurisdiction without a licensed marijuana retailer would be allowed to grow up to three cannabis plants in a secure location. Attorney Vicente says legalization in the Dakotas could put additional pressure on lawmakers in Congress to finally achieve national marijuana reform.

“Despite their small populations (both Dakotas have more cows than people), legalization votes in these states could move the needle in a profound way at the federal level,” Vicente wrote in an email. “Upon their states’ voting to legalize, the four U.S. Senators representing the Dakotas would be faced with an important decision—do they continue to vote to uphold federal prohibition and criminalize their own constituents, or do they join the growing number of voices in the Senate who are looking to legalize.”

How Will Legalization Efforts Fare in 2022?

federal cannabis legalization

With just weeks to go before the midterm elections on November 8, pollsters and pundits are closely watching the marijuana legalization proposals in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Beyond their intended effect on each state’s respective cannabis policy, the ballot measures could also affect other races on those ballots. Ellen Mellody, vice president at cannabis public relations firm Mattio Communications and a former spokesperson for the Obama-Biden campaigns, said that the marijuana legalization measures on the ballot this year are likely to spur turnout among prospective voters who support cannabis legalization efforts. Additionally, she noted that President Joseph Biden’s recent announcement that he would pardon federal convictions for marijuana possession, which she termed a “brilliant move” that is “likely to pay out dividends,” could also boost turnout and encourage voters to support Democratic candidates and bolster efforts to legalize cannabis at the federal level.

“These ballot initiatives will absolutely swing results in certain states and districts, and the pollsters are finally catching on. At the federal level, it’s unlikely the timing of Biden’s announcement last week was an accident,” Mellody wrote in an email to Cannabis Now. “Even in red states Arkansas, Missouri and South Dakota, you’re seeing numbers come in at over 50 percent. It’s no wonder why more electeds at the federal level are hopping on the legalization bus. At a minimum, the results of these initiatives should solidify that the dam is breaking.”

With polling showing that at least three of the cannabis policy reform measures on the ballot are likely to succeed, it’s becoming clear that this year’s election will make new strides in the efforts to end the prohibition of marijuana in the United States. A clean sweep similar to 2020, when voters in all five states deciding on cannabis legalization measures approved the efforts, would be a significant victory for the movement. Datcher of TPCO said that if cannabis policy reform measures post a strong showing next month, it would reenergize efforts to pass comprehensive national marijuana legalization.

“If all five measures pass, the number of states that have legalized adult-use cannabis will increase from 19 to 24, nearly half of the states in the country,” he said. “We are thus getting increasingly close to a ‘tipping point’ where we will hopefully see meaningful movement at the federal level.”

But even if all five states are added to the recreational marijuana fold, activists warn the progress won’t necessarily be the end of story in those states. In addition to South Dakota’s invalidation of the successful 2020 measure, the Mississippi Supreme Court also struck down a medical marijuana legalization initiative that passed the same year. And Paul Armentano, the deputy director National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, noted that several of this year’s ballot measures faced opposition and efforts to keep them off the ballot. The tactic worked in Oklahoma, where voters will have to wait until 2024 to decide on State Question 820. In September, the state Supreme Court ruled that the recreational marijuana legalization measure would not appear on the November ballot, despite the campaign’s adherence to the state’s regulatory guidance and deadlines.

“With public support for marijuana policy reform reaching super-majority status in recent years, prohibitionists and other political opponents have largely abandoned efforts to try and influence public opinion,” Armentano said in a statement from the agency. “Rather, they are now relying on anti-democratic gamesmanship to prevent voters from weighing in on the issue.”

On November 9, the day after this year’s midterm elections, the cannabis community is sure to have new wins to celebrate. But the parties should be tempered with a realization that the job is not yet done. More than half the states in the nation will still have bans on adult-use cannabis, and prohibitionists will regroup to stand their ground, dwindling as it is. To maintain progress once the ballots are counted, the cannabis community must celebrate the victories, assess the failures and stay vigilant for the fight ahead.

The post Five States to Vote on Cannabis Legalization Measures appeared first on Cannabis Now.

Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee Slams Cannabis Industry, Says It Targets ‘Gullible’ People

In a series of videos, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee warned that legalizing adult-use cannabis in Arkansas will help drug cartels and that the cannabis industry will “make a buck off of gullible people.” The videos were released as voters gear up to choose the state’s next governor and whether to legalize pot.

The videos—full of misleading and factually incorrect notions—warn about the dangers of pot. In the first video, Huckabee looks at the camera directly and expresses why he opposes legalization. In the second video, Huckabee’s video begins with images of homeless people, drug addicts, and syringes littered on the streets.

The videos were posted on the website of Family Council Action Committee—one of three groups joining together in a coalition to oppose Issue 4, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment.

“Unfortunately, you aren’t the one who is going to be making the money, drug cartels will,” Huckabee said in the video.

“And if you are one of those people that can sell the drug, maybe you’ll make a buck off of the gullible people who will somehow convince themselves this is absolutely harmless,” Huckabee added.

“Southern Baptist ministries in Arkansas have worked for decades to help people overcome addiction and substance abuse. Issue 4 undermines those addiction recovery programs,” Family Council Action Committee Executive Director Jerry Cox said in an October 14 press release. “Some people will tell you that marijuana isn’t any more harmful than alcohol. That might have been true ten or twelve years ago, but it doesn’t seem to be true any more. High potency marijuana is the norm in states like Colorado and California, and Issue 4 legalizes THC extracts that are even more potent than a typical marijuana plant. Those drugs will hurt a lot of people. That’s just another reason why Arkansans should vote against Issue 4 this November.”

Arkansas’s road to legalization has been rocky to say the least.

On August 3, The State Board of Election Commissioners (SBEC) denied certification of Issue 4 to legalize adult-use cannabis, citing concerns about sufficient background checks for dispensary owners and limits on THC. The SBEC review is part of a new process for ballot petitions.

Then on September 22, the Arkansas Supreme Court overturned the SBEC’s decision to deny certification of the constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana use for adults. In a 5-2 opinion, the Arkansas Supreme Court rejected the panel’s concerns about ballot sufficiency. Justices Shawn Womack and Barbara Webb dissented.

“With these standards in mind, we conclude that the ballot title at issue is complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed amendment,” Associate Justice Robin Wynne wrote in the majority opinion. “Therefore, Respondents and Intervenors have not met their burden of proving that the ballot title is insufficient. The people will decide whether to approve the proposed amendment in November. Accordingly, we grant the petition and order the Secretary of State to certify the proposed amendment for inclusion on the November 8, 2022 general election ballot.”

Huckabee criticized the opinion. “[The justices] surely are intelligent people and they know the only people to really benefit from this, other than those who are going to be selling it at a high price and making a lot of money, are going to be the people who maybe sell snack foods to satisfy the munchies for people who are engaged in the use of recreational marijuana,” Huckabee said. While Huckabee blamed the justices, they don’t necessarily agree with bills they approve or reject.

Ironically, some Arkansans who are part of the cannabis industry there contributed to Huckabee’s campaigns. Arkansas Cannabiz identified over $50,000 in contributions from people currently working in the Arkansas cannabis industry who have contributed to Sanders’ campaign.

Huckabee’s daughter and former  White House Press Secretary for President Trump Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who also opposes Issue 4, is on the ballot this November. The latest polling indicates that she has an 11-point lead over Democrat Chris Jones with seven percent of people who said they are undecided in the race.

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Arkansas Supreme Court Signs off on Legalization Ballot Measure

The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled late Thursday that voters in the state will have the opportunity to decide on a recreational marijuana proposal that will appear on this November’s ballot.

The decision ends a drawn-out dispute over the measure, which would legalize pot for adults aged 21 and older while also establishing a state-regulated marijuana market.

State officials, including Arkansas’ secretary of state, challenged the validity of the measure, which would be an amendment to the state’s constitution.

Activists submitted more than enough valid signatures for the proposal to qualify for the ballot, but the state Board of Election Commissioners rejected the measure, contending that the ballot title did not adequately explain the amendment to voters.

The group behind the proposal, Responsible Growth Arkansas, filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court, which made a preliminary ruling last month that the amendment should appear on the ballot, but held off on deciding whether the votes will actually count.

On Thursday, the court issued its final decision, ruling that the amendment is sufficient and rejecting the Board of Election Commissioners’ authority to deny the proposal in the first place.

As the Associated Press reported, the justices “rejected the board’s arguments for denying the measure” and “also struck down the 2019 law that empowered the board to certify ballot measures.”

According to local news station WREG, the majority opinion said that “the ballot title at issue is complete enough to convey an intelligible idea of the scope and import of the proposed amendment,” and that “Respondents and Intervenors have not met their burden of proving that the ballot title is insufficient.”

“The people will decide whether to approve the proposed amendment in November,” the opinion said.

Responsible Growth Arkansas celebrated the decision.

“We’re extremely grateful to the Supreme Court that they agreed with us and felt like it was a complete validation of everything we’ve done,” said the group’s attorney, Steve Lancaster, as quoted by the Associated Press. “We’re excited and moving on to November.”

The majority also said that the Board of Election Commissioners “has no discretion to determine whether to certify a ballot title,” according to WREG, and that “the Board had no authority to decline to certify the ballot title to the Secretary of State, and its action is without legal effect.”

“I am confident that Arkansans can read this ballot title and understand that a vote for the initiative is a vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and that their decision could have a wide-ranging impact on current medical-marijuana laws and regulations and children. It is for the people—not this court—to exercise the right to amend the constitution, and our court must continue to preserve this first power of the people of Arkansas by not supplanting their decisions with ours,” wrote Justice Rhonda Wood in a concurring opinion, as quoted by WREG.

Another justice, Shawn Womack, “concurred in part with the majority’s opinion but also dissented,” according to WREG, saying that the “ballot title fails to sufficiently advise voters of the magnitude of the change and gives the marijuana industry greater leeway to operate with limited oversight in these areas.”

But Womack also said he’s “confident that Arkansans can read this ballot title and understand that a vote for the initiative is a vote in favor of legalizing recreational marijuana and that their decision could have a wide-ranging impact on current medical-marijuana laws and regulations and children.”

“It is for the people—not this court—to exercise the right to amend the constitution, and our court must continue to preserve this first power of the people of Arkansas by not supplanting their decisions with ours,” Womack said, as quoted by WREG.

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Arkansas Secretary of State Calls Legalization Ballot Measure Insufficient

Arkansas’ secretary of state said on Tuesday that a proposed measure to legalize recreational cannabis in the state is not up to snuff in order to qualify for this year’s ballot.

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reports that Secretary of State John Thurston said “Tuesday in a declaration to the Arkansas Supreme Court the proposed constitutional amendment is insufficient because the State Board of Election Commissioners did not certify the ballot title and popular name.”

A spokesman for Thurston told the Democrat Gazette “he expects the declaration to be filed Tuesday with the state Supreme Court,” and that “the secretary of state’s office believes the declaration is a formality that the state Supreme Court is going through and doesn’t believe the declaration will be the final decision on the recreational marijuana issue.”

On Monday, the state Supreme Court “handed down a per curiam opinion that stated the court had issued a writ of mandamus to the secretary of state’s office to decide the sufficiency of the proposed initiative petition,” the Democrat Gazette reported.

The declaration from the secretary of state represents the latest development in what has become a protracted battle over the legalization proposal.

Last month, the Arkansas Supreme Court said that the measure will indeed appear on this fall’s ballot in the state––but the votes may not actually be counted.

The Fort Smith Times Record reports that the high court’s decision on whether or not the votes will count “could be decided as soon as Thursday.”

The advocacy group behind the proposal, Responsible Growth Arkansas, filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court last month after the Arkansas Board of Election Commissioners rejected its name and title.

In July, the group submitted almost thousands of signatures to the Board of Election Commissioners, which rejected the proposal, saying that the title did not adequately explain what the measure would do if it were passed.

The Associated Press reported that commissioners “said they were concerned that the amendment would repeal the state’s current limit under its medical marijuana amendment on how much THC is allowed in edible marijuana products.”

“The type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” Responsible Growth Arkansas attorney Steven Lancaster said last month. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot.”

“You’re going to see the Responsible Growth Arkansas measure on your ballot. You’ll be able to cast a vote,” Lancaster said last month, as quoted by local station 4029 News. “But what’s going to happen in the interim is the Supreme Court will make its decision, and if they agree with us that our ballot title is good, then the votes will count. Otherwise, if the court decides that our ballot title is not sufficient, they’ll just never count those votes.”

“I’m confident that once the court looks at this, they’re going to agree with us that our ballot title is fine,” Lancaster added. “So I’m, again, confident that … votes are going to count in November.”

The Arkansas Democrat Gazette reported this week that “Lancaster said he remains confident the court will rule to keep the recreational marijuana issue on the ballot.”

Should the votes count in November, there is good reason to think that legalization is coming to Arkansas.

A poll conducted earlier this year found that a majority of registered voters in the state––53.5%––think that weed should be legal for adults aged 21 and older, while 32% said cannabis should only be legal for medical reasons and 10.5% said that it should be broadly illegal for any reason.

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Recreational Pot Question Back on Arkansas Ballot—But Will Votes Count?

The Arkansas Supreme Court this week said that a marijuana legalization proposal should be placed back on the state’s ballot, but it remains unclear whether the vote will ultimately mean anything.

It is the latest twist in what has become a messy dispute surrounding a campaign to end prohibition in the state. Earlier this month, the advocacy group Responsible Growth Arkansas filed an appeal to the state Supreme Court after the state Board of Election Commissioners rejected the group’s bid to get the proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Organizers with Responsible Growth Arkansas submitted nearly 90,000 valid signatures––well above the threshold to qualify for the ballot––but the Board of Election Commissioners rejected the proposal because “commissioners said they didn’t believe the ballot title fully explained to voters the impact of the amendment,” according to the Associated Press.

“For example, commissioners said they were concerned that the amendment would repeal the state’s current limit under its medical marijuana amendment on how much THC is allowed in edible marijuana products,” the Associated Press reported.

Responsible Growth Arkansas objected to the board’s ruling, arguing that commissioners were asking for an unreasonable amount of information.

“The type of detail that the board expected, or demanded in this case, would make our ballot title thousands and thousands of words long,” Steve Lancaster, an attorney for Responsible Growth Arkansas, said after the board’s vote, as quoted by the Associated Press. “That just simply is not workable for a ballot.”

On Wednesday, the state’s high court sided with the group, but uncertainty remains high.

According to local television station KARK, “the Arkansas Supreme Court instructed Secretary of State John Thurston to certify the ballot title for [recreational] marijuana in order to place it on the November ballot,” which “will allow voters to vote in favor or against expanded access to marijuana in the state.”

But, the station noted, “it remains to be seen if the general election votes will be counted.”

KARK explains: “At issue is the deadlines for items to appear on the November ballot. Any proposed Arkansas constitutional amendment must be certified by the Secretary of State by August 25. The Supreme Court’s schedule, however, will not allow it to hear the case filed by Responsible Growth Arkansas, the group working to put recreational marijuana on the ballot, until September.”

“What that means is that we’re going to be on the ballot. You’re going to see the Responsible Growth Arkansas measure on your ballot. You’ll be able to cast a vote,” Lancaster said, as quoted by local station 4029 News. “But what’s going to happen in the interim is the Supreme Court will make its decision, and if they agree with us that our ballot title is good, then the votes will count. Otherwise, if the court decides that our ballot title is not sufficient, they’ll just never count those votes.”

“I’m confident that once the court looks at this, they’re going to agree with us that our ballot title is fine,” Lancaster continued. “So I’m, again, confident that … votes are going to count in November.”

Arkansas voters narrowly approved a ballot proposal in 2016 that legalized medical cannabis in the state.

A poll earlier this year found that a slight majority of Arkansas voters––53%–– believe that recreational cannabis should be made legal for adults aged 21 and older, while 32% said that it should only be legal for medical purposes.

Only about 10% of those polled said that cannabis should remain broadly illegal.

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