Marijuana Legalization Wins in 3 of 4 States

By: and - November 7, 2018 12:00 am

Utahans cheer the passage of a medical marijuana initiative at an election night party in Salt Lake City. Kristin Murphy/The Deseret News via The Associated Press

This story is part of Stateline’s midterm election coverage.

Adults in Michigan can now use marijuana recreationally, and Missouri and Utah residents can use the drug for medical purposes, thanks to ballot measures voters approved on Election Day.

“This Election Day showed the burgeoning political clout of the drug policy reform movement, with the results expected to accelerate efforts to legalize marijuana and to end the broader war on drugs in states across the U.S., at the federal level, and internationally,” the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports marijuana legalization, said in a statement.

But not all voters joined the movement: North Dakotans rejected a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana use and created an automatic expungement process for people with past pot convictions.

“Legalization is far from inevitable,” said Dr. Kevin Sabet, president of SAM Action, which opposes commercialization of marijuana. “The results of the election in North Dakota are a huge win for public health, safety, and frankly, common sense.”

Nine other states have legalized adult recreational marijuana use and 23 have legalized medical marijuana. In almost all the states where adults can now smoke or ingest pot for fun, voters — not the legislatures — chose to legalize the drug. Vermont is the exception.

Several of the legalization proposals that voters and lawmakers considered this year included a focus on helping low-income and minority communities harmed by strict drug laws.

The debate over legalizing medical marijuana in Utah was particularly heated, as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints  opposed the measure. But before the election, lawmakers, the church and Republican Gov. Gary Herbert agreed to work on legislation that would allow sick people to access cannabis regardless of the outcome of the ballot initiative.

In Missouri, voters considered three separate ballot measures legalizing medical marijuana, all opposed by the Missouri State Medical Association and physician groups. Amendment 2, backed by the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, was approved.

The federal government continues to classify marijuana as a dangerous drug. While federal lawmakers have proposed several bills in recent years that would fully legalize the plant, none have gained traction. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is a longtime critic of marijuana use.

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Sophie Quinton

Sophie Quinton writes about fiscal and economic policy for Stateline. Previously, she wrote for National Journal.

Christine Vestal

Christine Vestal covers mental health and drug addiction for Stateline. Previously, she covered health care for McGraw-Hill and the Financial Times.