Maryland and Missouri Voters Approve Adult-Use Recreational Cannabis
Two states have been added to the growing list of states that have legalized adult-use recreational cannabis thanks to the 2022 midterm election. On Nov. 8, voters in Maryland and Missouri approved ballot measures that will bring adult-use cannabis to their states as early as February 2023. Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota also had adult-use cannabis on the ballot. However, all three measures failed.
Maryland voters were asked several questions on their ballots this year. In particular, Question 4 asked: “Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?” As of Nov. 10, reports show that 65.6% of voters answered “yes” to this question while only 34.4% answered “no.”
Question 4 was based on House Bill 837 (“HB 837”) which passed in the state’s General Assembly in April of this year. HB 837 allows adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, 12 grams of concentrate, 750 milligrams of delta-9 THC, or two plants for personal use. Now that HB 837 has passed, lawmakers can focus on creating an adult-use marketplace by July 1, 2023. Since HB 837 does not provide much regarding how the market will operate, separate legislation will need to be created in order to implement the regulatory and licensing framework for the program.
In Maryland, there is emphasis among lawmakers that the cannabis market will be fair and equitable. HB 837 will also facilitate the automatic review and expungement of low-level cannabis convictions. On or before July 1, 2024, the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services shall expunge all cases in which “(1) possession of cannabis under § 5–601 of the Criminal Law Article is the only charge in the case; and (2) the charge was issued before July 1, 2023.” § 5–601 of the Criminal Law Article makes it a crime for a person to use or possess less than ten grams of cannabis. Even more, possession of up to 2.50 ounces will be decriminalized as a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor.
Currently, there is no sales tax for medical cannabis sales in Maryland. No tax rate has been established for recreational cannabis yet, but it is safe to say that the state will impose a sales tax in the anticipated legislation.
Medical use of cannabis has been legal in Missouri since 2018. With 53.1% of voters backing Amendment 3, Missouri now joins 20 other states in legalizing adult-use recreational cannabis. By removing the state’s prohibitions on the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacturing, and sale of marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of 21, consumers have the potential to start purchasing cannabis at dispensaries as soon as February 2023.
The amendment legalizes recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older while also expunging most records of past arrests and convictions for minor marijuana violations. Adults will be able to possess up to three ounces of cannabis and home-cultivate plants for personal use.
Like HB 837, Amendment 3 also expunges most records of past arrests and convictions, although not automatically. The language states that Amendment 3 will “allow individuals with certain marijuana-related offenses to petition for release from prison or parole and probation and have their records expunged.” While this language and the process for petitioning is not entirely clear, John Payne, the Campaign Director of Legal Missouri 2022, a political action committee that backed the initiative, believes that Amendment 3 will put an end to nearly 20,000 minor marijuana violation arrests annually.
The Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services will likely start awarding comprehensive licenses to medical marijuana facilities by Feb. 6. The medical marijuana facilities already in place can start selling recreational marijuana at that point once they have received a license. For businesses looking to enter the market, Amendment 3 establishes a lottery selection process that will award licenses and certificates to be distributed equally to each congressional district. A 6% tax will be imposed on the retail price of recreational cannabis.
States to Watch
Maryland and Missouri were not the only two states with cannabis on the ballot. Voters in North Dakota, South Dakota, and Arkansas rejected ballot measures that would have legalized adult-use cannabis. Although Arkansas voters previously voted in favor of medical marijuana in 2016, reports show that more than 56% of Arkansas voters rejected this year’s ballot measure to legalize recreational cannabis. Numbers were similar in North Dakota and South Dakota, with about 53-55% of voters saying “no” to adult-use cannabis. It has not been determined whether similar measures will make their way onto future ballots in these states.
With President Biden’s recent push to revisit the scheduling of cannabis, it is likely that adult-use cannabis will remain a prominent topic among state governments. In Ohio, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, a citizen-led initiative, narrowly missed the deadline for collecting signatures to have a measure on the 2022 ballot. However, Ohio voters will see this issue on their 2023 ballots, according to an agreement between the coalition and Ohio legislators. With polls showing strong support among Ohio residents for the legalization of adult-use cannabis, it is likely a future ballot measure will see success in Ohio.
Democratic and Republican supporters of the legalization of adult-use cannabis are making their voices heard. Legalization efforts in deep red states like Arkansas and North and South Dakota suggest that legalization efforts may be more bipartisan than not. Arkansas activists are already discussing plans for a 2024 ballot measure that will expand upon this year’s failed ballot measure. In Wisconsin, newly re-elected Governor Tony Evers, a Democrat, reiterated his commitment to legalizing cannabis within the state. As the control shifts as a result of the midterm election, it is likely that we will see more legalization efforts and more ballot measures pushing legalization of adult-use cannabis in the coming years.
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