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Midterm elections and marijuana: Winners and losers

Voters in four U.S. states decided the fate of marijuana initiatives yesterday. Measures passed in three states — Missouri and Utah (both medical) and Michigan (recreational). Voters in North Dakota declined to adopt what many saw a vastly underregulated proposal to legalize the recreational use of marijuana without setting up a regulated market.

Although a vast majority of voters had already made up their minds on the issue, advocates and detractors alike worked feverishly in the days leading up to the vote to energize their base. Millions of dollars were being spent pounding away at social media promotions, TV ads, robocalls, and email blasts.


Michigan Proposal 1: PASSED

The biggest news of the night came out of Michigan where Proposal 1 passed by a (preliminary) margin of 56 percent to 44 percent. The portion of the measure which allows adults over 21 to grow and possess marijuana legally is set to take effect within 10 days of the vote being certified which should be before the month is over. The development of a licensing and regulation system for commercial growers, processors, labs, distributors, and retailers is expected to come online over the next year.

Under Proposal 1 Michigan residents will be allowed to grow up to 12 marijuana plants at home and possess up to 10 ounces of dried cannabis in their residence, and 2.5 ounces in public.

[“Reefer Madness” advocate Pete Sessions ousted from Congress by cannabis-friendly candidate Colin Allred]

The law imposes a 10 percent excise tax on wholesale cannabis products. The state’s usual 6 percent sales tax will also be applied at retail counters. Marijuana tax revenue is earmarked to cover the cost of implementation and regulation of the program, with any remaining funds to go to schools, roads, and local governments. It will also help fund research into the medicinal benefits of cannabis for military veterans suffering from PTSD and other conditions.

Individual cities and towns in Michigan will have the right to regulate commercial production and sale further or opt out of the program altogether.

The passage of Proposal 1 makes Michigan the tenth U.S. state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Medical marijuana use was approved by Michigan voters in 2008 by a margin of nearly two to one, and eight years later, in 2016 bills were passed to create a regulated and taxed medical market. However, medical marijuana businesses have only recently been awarded licenses by the state’s Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.

“Voters in Michigan sent a resounding rebuke to their state’s failed policy of prohibition and elected to follow a new, more sensible path of regulation and legalization. Instead of arresting thousands of citizens a year for possession of a plant, Michigan will now be able to prioritize law enforcement resources towards combating violent crime, honor personal freedom and civil liberties, end the racist application of weaponizing prohibition laws against communities of color and collect tax revenue that was previously going to black market elements and put it towards important social programs such as education and infrastructure development.” ~ Erik Altieri, NORML Executive Director

Missouri Proposal 2: PASSED

Rather than having a single ballot initiative voters in Missouri had three separate medical marijuana legalization proposals to consider. Only the most widely favored measure, Constitutional Amendment 2, passed, making the “Show Me State” the thirty-second U.S. state to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. The measure passed by a margin of close to 2 to 1.

The proposal, which amends the state constitution, allows doctors to prescribe the use of medical marijuana to treat any of a list of 10 qualifying medical conditions including cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma. However, it also specifies that doctors may prescribe cannabis for “any other chronic, debilitating or other medical condition.”

[Prohibition recedes across the globe as medical cannabis becomes legal in the UK]

Amendment 2 is the only one of the three measures that give patients and caretakers the legal right to grow cannabis. It allows state-licensed medical patients to grow up to six plants at home while caregivers would be allowed to grow up to 18 plants. The measure requires that plants be in a locked enclosure and subject to state inspection. Growers would be required to register with the state and pay a $100 annual fee.

Amendment 2 was by far the broadest and best funded of the three initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot and the only measure that allows residents to grow their own medicine, with a limit of six flowering plants.

Retail sales will be subject to a 4 percent tax. Estimates put revenue from marijuana taxes at $18 million yearly. Any funds over and above the expenses — which are estimated to be only $7 million annually — would be redirected to the Missouri Veterans Commission providing the agency with somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million annually.

“It was a historic day for Missouri patients and veterans. Missourians suffering from cancer, epilepsy, PTSD and other debilitating illnesses can now finally work with their doctors to determine if medical marijuana is an appropriate treatment option.” ~  Jack Cardetti of New Approach Missouri

Utah Proposition 2: PASSED

In Utah, voters passed Proposition 2, which covered the use of marijuana for medical conditions such as HIV, multiple sclerosis, post-traumatic stress disorder, epilepsy, autism, cancer and Alzheimer’s. However, before the election, a legislative compromise was reached by advocates, lawmakers, and groups opposed to the measure led by the Mormon Church.

Aside from some minor adjustments to the list of qualifying medical conditions, the most significant difference between Proposition 2 and the proposed compromise is that the sale of edible forms of cannabis is prohibited. Both measures prohibit smokables. Also, medical marijuana retail outlets will be called pharmacies and will be required to have a licensed pharmacist on staff. Furthermore, local jurisdictions will have the right to ban dispensaries.   

[Morning briefing: PotNetwork Holdings to the CSE, Boehner calls for legalization, Amazon feels generous]

Sixty percent of voters in the state are members of the Mormon Church. Interestingly, in an October poll, one out of five respondents said that voting on Proposal 2 was their primary motivation for participating in the election.

“Our expectation is that prompt legislative action will address the shortfalls of the initiative which have been acknowledged by advocates of Proposition 2. The legislative alternative is better public policy and has broad support among Utahns.” ~ Marty Stephens, the LDS church director of community and government relations

North Dakota Measure 3: FAILED

In North Dakota voters rejected Measure 3 which would have made it legal for all adults to grow, buy, and sell marijuana. The measure would also have expunged previous marijuana convictions from criminal records.

The failure of the measure is being chalked up to a lack of state regulation and no provisions for taxation — a major benefit of legalization in other states. However, authors of the measure claimed that those details would be left up to state lawmakers as they draft cannabis legislation.

Another reason Measure 3 may have failed is that the state already has a functional medical marijuana program. The North Dakota Medical Marijuana Legalization initiative, Initiated by Statutory Measure 5, which passed in 2016 allows the use of medical marijuana by patients with debilitating medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, hepatitis C, ALS, glaucoma, and epilepsy.

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