Marijuana could become legal in nearly half of the U.S. following the 2022 Midterm Elections—if voters in five states pass the ballot measures before them on Nov. 8.
In Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota voters are being asked whether they support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults. The measure looks likely to pass in three states—Arkansas, Maryland, and Missouri, according to polls. However, the outcome is less certain in the Dakotas.
Oklahoma voters will also have the chance to vote on marijuana recreational legalization in a special election in March.
If legislation passes, they would join 19 states and the District of Columbia. Marijuana is completely outlawed in just 13 states—with no allowances for medical or recreational use.
Here’s what to know about the future of cannabis in the upcoming election.
Where is marijuana on the ballot in 2022?
Cannabis will be on the ballot in Arkansas after the state’s Supreme Court overturned a decision by the board of elections. Arkansas first approved medical marijuana in 2016. If voters pass Issue 4—an amendment that would allow for the “possession, personal use, and consumption of cannabis by adults,” along with its cultivation and sale—the state would become one of very few in the South to legalize cannabis for recreational use. A poll of likely voters by Arkansas news site Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College in mid-October found that 50.5% respondents would support the measure, with 43% opposed, and 6.5% undecided.
Polling trends for Maryland show strong support, with 73% of respondents saying they would vote in favor of legalization. If the constitutional amendment, which would allow those 21 and older to use cannabis, passes, recreational marijuana would become legal by July 2023.
Missouri has a similar amendment in place. MJBizDaily’s most recent poll shows support, with only 35% of likely voters saying they opposed the measure in late September. But there are still concerns over the penalties recreational marijuana users could face if the measure passes, with advocates expressing concern that people can still be fined for public consumption, or if they exceed a possession limit of 3 ounces.
North Dakota voted against legalization in the 2018 Midterm Elections, and the current race seems too close to call, according to polls. But legalization advocates seem to have a stronger chance of succeeding this time around with increased funding toward this campaign. This renewed initiative also better addresses people’s concerns surrounding oversight, Jared Moffat, a campaign manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, told NPR.
Voters in South Dakota previously approved recreational marijuana use in 2020, but the decision was dismissed by the state Supreme Court. The outcome of the ballot measure is uncertain—recent poll data from local media group Keloland shows that nearly 40% of respondents are in favor of legalizing the recreational use of marijuana, with 51% opposing.
Who is supporting and who is opposing marijuana ballot initiatives?
An overwhelming majority of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, with a record-high of 68% in favor. It’s an issue with bipartisan support, with about 50% of Republicans in favor. “In this age of hyper-partisan politics, legalizing and regulating marijuana is one of the few political issues that voters on both the ideological ‘right’ and ‘left’ agree upon,” Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), wrote in a blog post.
This year, the cannabis industry has invested nearly $10 million toward legalization efforts in states. But support is far from universal; the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee says that legalizing marijuana will increase petty crime and substance abuse. That group and others have enlisted the support of prominent political figures including former Vice President Mike Pence and Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson to oppose the measure.
Opponents point to Colorado for evidence that legalization can have adverse effects. Colorado’s Division of Criminal Justice regularly reports findings on the effects of cannabis following legalization there. Some may point to harrowing statistics released last year that found the number of DUI summonses in which drivers tested positive for marijuana increased by 120% from 2014 to 2020. And nearly three-quarters of people aged 10 to 17 in treatment for substance abuse say marijuana is their primary drug of use.
But, the authors of the report say that it is still difficult to “draw conclusions about the potential effects of marijuana legalization and commercialization on public safety, public health, or youth outcomes” because of the lack of historical data and possible increased participation in surveys and research as the social stigma surrounding cannabis falls.
And in terms of usage, the Colorado report showed no significant change in youth marijuana use from 2013 to 2019. The number of juvenile marijuana arrests has decreased 37%.
Still, organizations like the Missouri NAACP, have not endorsed the initiative, saying it would prevent people of color from entering the cannabis industry, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports. The Missouri Association of Prosecuting Attorneys has also voiced concerns about whether drug deals can be prosecuted properly under the law.
The Missouri ACLU, Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the state’s largest labor union, Missouri AFL-CIO, are in favor.
Which states outlaw marijuana entirely?
Only three states—Idaho, Kansas, and Nebraska—have completely outlawed marijuana (including CBD products), according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Thirty seven states and the District of Columbia allow for medicinal cannabis use.
Only 27 states have partially or fully decriminalized certain marijuana possession offenses, according to NORML, a nonprofit public-interest advocacy group.
Will marijuana be legalized at the federal level?
Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act, meaning the government labels it as a drug with high potential for abuse and no accepted medical use. By federal standards, marijuana thus poses the same amount of risk as drugs like heroin, LSD and ecstasy.
In October, President Biden issued an executive order to pardon people with federal charges of possession of marijuana. That same order asked “to initiate the administrative process to review expeditiously how marijuana is scheduled under federal law.”
While Democrats are generally supportive of the federal legalization of marijuana, a timeline on when that will happen is not clear.
Recent remarks from Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer during a debate on Oct. 30 said Congress was “very close” to passing a bill that would do so. Schumer said he was working to pass the Safe Banking Act, which allows cannabis-related businesses to access banking services, and also pushing for the expungements of past convictions.
Schumer, along with fellow Democratic Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey and Ron Wyden of Oregon, also introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act this past July, which sought to “end federal cannabis prohibition by removing cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act; empower states to create their own cannabis laws; ensure federal regulation protects public health and safety; and prioritize restorative and economic justice.” There has been no action taken on the bill, however.