It has been a big year for marijuana policy in North America. Mexico’s supreme court overturned pot prohibition last week, while Canada’s recreational marijuana market officially opened its doors in October.
Stateside, recreational marijuana use became legal in Vermont on July 1, Oklahoma voters approved one of the country’s most progressive medical marijuana bills in June, the New York Department of Health officially recommended legalization to the governor and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands legalized recreational use.
Now, legalization advocates are hoping to build on these successes with a number of statewide ballot measures up for consideration Tuesday, including full recreational legalization in two states and medical marijuana in two more. Here’s a rundown of what the measures say and where the polling on them stands.
Michigan: Recreational use
Michigan voters will consider a Colorado-style recreational bill that would legalize the sale and use of marijuana for individuals over the age of 21. Michigan’s bill is more permissive than the law in other states: It would allow individuals to possess up to 2 1/2 ounces of marijuana at any given time (most other states allow one ounce) and would allow them to grow up to 12 individual plants for their own consumption (most other states permit six).
The latest polls all show the measure passing with a comfortable margin. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gretchen Whitmer supports legalization, while Republican candidate Bill Schuette released a statement saying he does not “personally support legalizing recreational marijuana but as governor he will respect the will of the voters.”
North Dakota: Recreational use
North Dakota’s ballot measure came out of nowhere, taking much of the marijuana policy world by surprise. The initiative was engineered by local marijuana reform advocates, with no initial assistance from the big national players such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Marijuana Policy Project.
As a result, the measure doesn’t follow the template for recreational marijuana programs set up in other states. It places no limits on possession, and legalizes the sale and commercialization of the drug without setting up a regulatory structure to govern those sales. Supporters say they expect the legislature to iron out those details if the bill passes. The measure would also expunge the criminal records of individuals with prior marijuana convictions.
The polling on the measure is all over the place, with two surveys fielded at roughly the same time in October yielding opposite, lopsided results: One showed the initiative passing 51 percent to 36 percent, while the other showed it failing with 65 percent opposed. With numbers like those, it’s hard to predict how this one will shake out.
Missouri: Medical use
Missouri voters will consider not one, not two, but three separate medical marijuana initiatives at the polls. The measures differ on some details, like how much to tax medical pot and whether patients are allowed to grow their own plants. The one with the broadest range of endorsements from national drug policy groups as well as local newspapers is Amendment 2, which is similar to other states' medical policies: Doctors would be able to recommend marijuana for a number of specified ailments, and patients would be able to obtain the drug either through a dispensary or by growing it at home.
Polling on the issue has been scant, but a survey in August showed that voters supported, in general terms, an amendment to the state constitution that would legalize medical marijuana. If two or more of the measures pass, it’s likely that the measure that receives the most votes will go into effect.
Utah: Medical use
Utah voters will weigh in on medical marijuana, but the eventual result is essentially a foregone conclusion. In October, supporters and opponents of the medical marijuana measure struck a compromise: The governor would convene a special session of the legislature immediately after the election to craft a more limited medical marijuana bill, regardless of the ballot item’s outcome.
Backers of the ballot measure agreed to the compromise proposal because in Utah, legislators have the power to overturn statutory ballot initiatives with a majority vote. “If Proposition 2 passed without any agreement on next steps, patients may have been left waiting years to access legal medical cannabis,” said the Marijuana Policy Project’s Matthew Schweich in an October statement. “This compromise eliminates that uncertainty and ensures legislative leaders are committed to making the law work.”
Other medical marijuana supporters are unhappy with the proposed compromise bill, which is more limited in scope than medical marijuana programs in other states. It doesn’t allow patients to grow their own plants, and only allows for smoked marijuana in a few circumstances.
There are also a handful of miscellaneous bills being considered at the local level: Voters in a number of Ohio cities will weigh in on measures to decriminalize marijuana use, which would essentially treat minor infractions like a speeding ticket. Some Wisconsin towns, meanwhile, will hold nonbinding referenda on whether marijuana should be legalized for medical or recreational use. Activists hope the results will help persuade Wisconsin legislators to consider legalization at the state level.