Voters in 5 states decide whether or not to legalize marijuana


SMALL ROCK, Arch. — Voters in five states decide on Election Day whether to approve of 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 steps taken by President Joe Biden to decriminalize marijuana. Biden announced last month that he was pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law.

Proponents of the marijuana initiatives said Biden’s announcement could give their efforts a boost.

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

All 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. State dispensaries opened in 2019 and more than 91,000 patients have cards to legally purchase marijuana for medical conditions.

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

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

The initiative has drawn criticism from traditional opponents of legalization as well as some medical marijuana advocates, who say Arkansas’ proposal imposes too many limits and would only benefit a handful of dispensaries. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, 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-related offenses except for selling to minors or driving under influence. Maryland’s proposal would also make criminal law changes and create automatic expungements for past convictions for possession of marijuana.

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

South Dakotans, including a significant 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 associated with medical marijuana and hemp. This year, the recreational pot stands alone in front of voters.

In Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for nearly a decade, voters on Tuesday passed 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.

ABC News

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