It’s been almost two years since voters in five states approved cannabis ballot measures in an unprecedented wave of reform that swept through nearly every U.S. region during the 2020 election.
Much of the same could play out on Nov. 8, 2022, when registered voters 18 years and older could decide the fate of legalizing cannabis for those 21 and older in six states: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
Editor’s note: See the state-by-state 2022 ballot measure breakdowns below
But even if cannabis ballot measures go six-for-six in the upcoming election (granted Arkansas and Oklahoma’s initiatives hang in the balance of Supreme Court decisions), uncertainly still awaits. If there was one takeaway from the 2020 election, it’s that legalization efforts are far from a done deal following citizen majorities at the polls.
The South Dakota Supreme Court overturned a voter-approved adult-use ballot measure roughly a year after the 2020 election on the basis that it violated the state’s single-subject rule. That measure had passed with a 54.2% majority.
And the Mississippi Supreme Court overturned its voter-approved medical cannabis ballot initiative six months after the 2020 election on the basis of an outdated initiative process going back to the 2000 Census.
But that’s not to say that all victories were short-lived or even ineffective.
With 74% of Mississippians voting in favor of Initiative 65 at the polls, winning in all 82 counties, state lawmakers took notice and passed their own medical cannabis legislation in February 2022. Commercials sales are projected to launch by the end of the year.
Also as a result of citizen initiatives from 2020, Arizona launched adult-use sales in 2021, and Montana and New Jersey launched adult-use sales in 2022. In addition, South Dakota launched commercial medical sales in July 2022.
So, what’s in store for the November 2022 election? Here’s the six-state skinny:
On the ballot, then off the ballot, and back on the ballot—for now—Arkansas’ adult-use cannabis initiative has taken more turns than a roulette wheel in Vegas.
As it currently stands, the Arkansas Supreme Court issued a formal order Aug. 10 to grant a preliminary injunction to allow Responsible Growth Arkansas’ constitutional amendment to appear on the statewide ballot this fall.
That order is a temporary win for Responsible Growth Arkansas, led by former Arkansas state Rep. Eddie Armstrong, a Democrat who served as minority leader during his statehouse tenure from 2013-2019. Armstrong filed the 2022 ballot initiative, the Arkansas Adult-Use Amendment, in January.
That court order came after the group’s campaign organizers submitted 190,000-plus signatures July 8—more than double the required 89,151 valid signatures necessary to land on the ballot. Secretary of State John Thurston certified the signatures on July 29 for the ballot, but then the state Board of Election Commissioners (chaired by Thurston) rejected the measure on Aug. 3, after they indicated that they didn’t believe the ballot title fully explained to voters the impact of the constitutional amendment.
However, Responsible Growth Arkansas advocates filed a lawsuit Aug. 4 in the state’s Supreme Court to challenge the board’s decision.
Less than a week later, the Supreme Court issued that formal order, directing Thurston to “conditionally certify petitioners’ proposed initiated amendment pending this court’s decision in the case,” meaning voters will have the opportunity to cast ballots on the amendment in the upcoming election. But the Supreme Court still has the authority to determine whether those votes will hold bearing on the legalization effort at a later date.
Editor's note: Since this article was first published, a series of briefs and reply briefs between Responsible Growth attorneys and Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge’s office—acting on behalf of Thurston—have been filed with the Arkansas Supreme Court.
But that’s only half the story.
Included in the nuts and bolts of the group’s ballot proposal, the measure would:
- legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older;
- establish a licensed program for commercial cultivation and retail;
- authorize the Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) Division to regulate the industry; and
- levy a 10% “supplemental sales” tax at retail with 70% of revenue going to the state’s general fund.
Existing medical operators would be grandfathered into the expanded adult market, while an additional 12 cultivation and 40 retail licenses would be awarded through a lottery. But existing medical operators would be given a leg up in the new market.
Under the ballot proposal, each medical operator would be able to double its existing retail footprint (but no more than 18 adult-use dispensaries per ownership) while new market entrants could not open a dispensary within 5 miles of those preestablished retailers. In addition, new market entrants in cultivation would be limited to growing no more than 250 mature cannabis plants at any one time.
While 19 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized adult-use cannabis—either through initiative or legislation—and advocacy group NORML has generally been in support of those reform efforts, the same doesn’t not hold true in Arkansas.
Arkansas NORML Treasurer Melissa Fults opposes the Responsible Growth Arkansas 2022 initiative, ABC News-affiliate KAIT reported in July. Specifically, Fults took aim at the absence of a home cultivation provision in the ballot proposal.
“When you control the industry, you can set the prices to whatever you want to and make people pay it,” she told the news outlet. “It would also destroy the medical industry we worked so hard to build.”
Fults was the executive director of Arkansas for Cannabis Reform, which fell short on a signature gathering attempt for a 2020 adult-use ballot measure.
The proposed 2022 measure also omits a provision to expunge criminal records. Within the filed initiative, there is no mention of expungement, social equity, restorative justice or individuals disproportionately impacted by prohibition—all of which have become rising focuses of legalization efforts elsewhere in recent years.
A ballot measure sponsored by state lawmakers and backed by voters at the polls this November might be the golden ticket to adult-use cannabis legalization in Maryland.
State lawmakers voted April 1 in favor of putting a constitutional amendment, House Bill 1, on the November 2022 ballot, asking the state’s voters if they favor the legalization of adult-use cannabis.
Separately, the Maryland General Assembly also passed H.B. 837, companion legislation that defines possession and home-grow limits, as well as an avenue to provide automatic expungement for certain cannabis-related convictions.
If approved by voters, the referendum will take effect on July 1, 2023. Adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis, 12 grams of concentrate, 750 milligrams of delta-9 THC or two plants for personal use. The legislation would also decriminalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces as a civil offense rather than a misdemeanor.
Both pieces of legislation are sponsored by Del. Luke Clippinger, a Democrat from Baltimore City who chairs the Judiciary Committee.
While voter approval of H.B. 1 on the ballot would set in motion certain steps toward implementing a state-legal program, lawmakers wouldn’t decide on more specific parameters, such as licensing and taxes, until next year.
Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan did not sign nor veto the framework legislation for the adult-use legalization push.
Maryland Secretary of State John Wobensmith officially certified the ballot measure Aug. 2. It will appear as Question 4 on the statewide ballot this November.
The road to November’s ballot appeared all but clear for Legal Missouri 2022’s adult-use cannabis initiative after receiving certification from Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office on Aug. 9.
The initiative’s proponents submitted roughly 400,000 signatures for their petition, and state officials certified 214,535 of them—well exceeding the 184,720 valid signatures required to appear on the ballot.
But cannabis reform is never that easy.
Joy Sweeney, a resident of Jefferson City, Mo., who serves on the Community Anti-Drug Coalitions of America, filed a lawsuit Aug. 19 in an attempt to remove the measure from the state ballot. The lawsuit is supported by Protect Our Kids, a political action committee (PAC) formed by Luke Niforatos of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a notorious prohibitionist group dubbed SAM.
The same PAC is also pouring tens of thousands of dollars into South Carolina’s 1st Congressional District in an effort to unseat U.S. Rep. Nancy Mace, a first-term Republican who late last year introduced the States Reform Act, legislation to end federal cannabis prohibition.
The suit filed by Sweeney claims Legal Missouri 2022 (LM22) did not gather enough valid signatures and that the group’s initiative deals with too many policy changes in violation of state law, according to The Associated Press.
Issuing a public statement in response, LM22 Campaign Manager John Payne said, “This lawsuit lacks merit and in less than three months Missouri will be the 20th state to regulate, tax and legalize cannabis.”
Editor's note: Since this article was first published, Missouri's Supreme Court denied taking on the case filed by Sweeney.
LM22’s proposed constitutional amendment will be listed on the ballot as Amendment 3 and, if passed, will allow Missourians 21 and older to possess, consume, purchase and cultivate cannabis.
The proposal would also allow individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarceration and/or have their records automatically expunged. The criminal justice reform aspect of the constitutional amendment would make Missouri the first state where voters took such a step, according to LM22. Current Missouri law requires those seeking to vacate their convictions to first petition the courts, an expensive and time-consuming process.
In addition, the ballot measure aims to establish a lottery to award licenses distributed equally to congressional districts. A new category of cannabis licenses would be reserved for small businesses, which, over time, would add a minimum of 144 licensed facilities to the existing 393 medical cannabis businesses in the state. Each of the state’s eight congressional districts would include at least six new retail licenses for adult-use cannabis under the new category.
Finally, the proposal would require a registration card for personal cultivation and impose a 6% tax on cannabis sales, among other provisions.
The 6% state sales tax would generate an estimated annual revenue of more than $40 million, according to a state auditor’s projection analysis. That money would cover the costs associated with implementing a state-licensed program as well as automatic expungement, with remaining funds allocated to veterans’ services, drug addictions treatment and Missouri’s public defender system.
A SurveyUSA poll released in July that included nearly 2,000 registered voters in the state revealed that 62% of Missourians support legalizing adult-use cannabis.
The LM22 initiative is supported by NORML, the ACLU of Missouri, Missouri Medical Cannabis Trade Association, Empower Missouri, Missouri Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, Reale Justice Network, the St. Louis City, St. Louis County and St. Charles County chapters of the NAACP, and others.
The initiative also has its fair share of opponents, including Republican Gov. Mike Parson, Democratic state Rep. Ashley Bland Manlove and Christina Thompson, of advocacy group ShowMe Canna-Freedom.
When Republican state Rep. Ron Hicks presented his adult-use cannabis bill, the Cannabis Freedom Act (now dead), before the House Public Safety Committee in March, Thompson said it was imperative that the General Assembly pass the legislation or else the Missouri Constitution will be “corrupted for profit” but LM22’s initiative.
“This is the same group that designed the broken medical marijuana program, and they want to write another violent and subversive business monopoly into our state Constitution,” she said. “I say monopoly because this initiative eliminates nearly all competition through constitutionally protected license caps.”
LM22 received more than $2.5 million in cash contributions in support of its ballot effort, including $250,000 from Good Day Farm Missouri LLC, $250,000 from BD Health Ventures LLC, $247,500 from New Growth Horizon LLC and $177,500 from Green Four Ventures LLC, according to the Missouri Ethics Commission.
Adult-use cannabis legalization will have a chance at redemption this November in North Dakota, after a previous reform effort suffered a 20-point defeat in the state’s 2018 election.
This time around, New Approach North Dakota is leading the charge with a 2022 ballot measure aiming to regulate a licensed industry and allow those 21 and older to purchase, possess and use cannabis.
The referendum, which will be titled “Initiated Statutory Measure No. 1,” will be the only voter initiative to appear on North Dakota’s statewide ballot this year. The news came with Secretary of State Al Jaeger announcing Aug. 15 that he certified New Approach ND’s petition.
That announcement came after the group’s campaign organizers submitted 26,048 signatures to Jaeger’s office on July 11, leaving a safe buffer for the 15,582 valid signatures required—or 2% of the state’s population—to be placed on the ballot.
Only 2,680 of the submitted signatures (about 10%) were rejected, meaning the group crossed the finish line in excess of nearly 7,800 valid signatures, according to Jaeger’s office.
According to New Approach ND organizers, the ballot proposal is largely based on language from House Bill 1420, legislation that was passed by the North Dakota House via a 56-38 vote in 2021. That bill died on a 37-10 defeat in the Senate.
If supported by voters, the 2022 ballot proposal will legalize the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis, 4 grams of concentrate or up to 500 milligrams of cannabis in an infused product, as well as the personal cultivation of up to three cannabis plants at private residences.
The initiative also aims to establish a licensed industry for cultivation, processing, retail and testing laboratories, requiring the Department of Health and Human Services, or another department or agency designated by the state Legislature, to establish a licensed program by Oct. 1, 2023. Under the measure, seven cultivation facilities and 18 retailers would be licensed.
Cannabis products would require testing to determine potency and safety, and a track-and-trace system would be implemented from seed to sale to help ensure accurate labeling, according to the certified petition.
With North Dakota being one of the most conservative states in the U.S., where a Republican trifecta in the governor’s office and both chambers of the Legislature has been in control since 1995, New Approach ND’s proposal is in line with the political makeup of the state, Rep. Matthew Ruby, R-Minot, said in a public statement Aug. 15. Ruby is a member of the campaign’s sponsoring committee.
According to advocacy group NORML, North Dakota has long had one of the highest cannabis arrests rates in the nation, despite having among the lowest reported marijuana use of any state.
Mark Friese, an attorney and former police officer who serves as New Approach ND’s campaign treasurer, said this election could change all that.
“I served as a police officer in Bismarck for over five years and have defended those accused of marijuana offenses for the last 20 years,” he said in a public statement. “There is no public safety benefit from arresting adults for small amounts of marijuana. It is a waste of taxpayer resources and a distraction from serious public safety concerns. Cannabis causes far less harm than alcohol. Many people find therapeutic benefits from it. The government shouldn’t be in the business of punishing adults who use cannabis responsibly.”
The 48 days it took for Oklahoma state officials to validate signatures and certify an adult-use cannabis ballot initiative are at the root of a pending Supreme Court decision ahead of this November’s election.
Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML), dubbed the “Yes on 820 Campaign,” submitted roughly 164,000 signatures July 5 to Secretary of State Brian Bingman’s office to place State Question 820 on the ballot.
Bingman’s office took until Aug. 22 to certify 117,257 signatures, surpassing the required minimum of 94,911 to land on the 2022 ballot.
That didn’t leave enough time for a 10-day protest period—a state statue allowing for opponents to challenge a ballot initiative’s validity—to unfold before the Aug. 26 deadline for the measure to be finalized, according to Oklahoma Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax.
In turn, OSML campaign leaders filed an emergency lawsuit asking the Oklahoma Supreme Court Aug. 26 to exercise its constitutional authority to approve the ballot title and ensure State Question 820 is printed on the November 2022 ballot. The campaign’s legal action is the result of “a third-party vendor’s unprecedented slow signature count and absurd bureaucratic delays,” according to an OSML press release.
Editor's note: Since this article was published, the Oklahoma Supreme Court ruled State Question 820 will not be on the November 2022 ballot and instead will be voted on by November 2024 at the latest.
In Arkansas, by comparison, it took state officials just 21 days to review 190,000-plus submitted signatures and certify a 2022 adult-use ballot measure.
Despite the extended certification process in Oklahoma, OSML organizers expressed optimism when the state’s Supreme Court justices indicated Aug. 30 that they would exercise their authority on the ballot measure but would defer a final decision until after the 10-day protest period expires.
“We are thrilled the Court has officially recognized State Question 820 has more than enough valid signatures to be considered for the November 2022 ballot,” OSML Campaign Director Michelle Tilley said in a public statement Aug. 30.
While State Question 820 hangs in the balance, if enacted by voters it will legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, including the possession of up to 1 ounce of dried flower or 8 grams of concentrate. Also, individuals would be allowed to grow up to six mature plants and six seedlings at a time in their homes.
The state would levy a 15% excise tax on commercial adult-use cannabis sales, and the revenue would be split among the state’s general fund (30%), public school program grants (30%), drug addiction treatment programs (20%), a state judicial revolving fund (10%) and to municipalities or counties where the cannabis is sold (10%).
Local municipalities may regulate the time, place and manner of cannabis business operations within their jurisdictions; however, a local government may not limit the number of, or completely prohibit, such businesses.
For the first two years of enactment, adult-use cannabis business licenses would be available only to existing licensees in operation one year or more. The existing Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority would be authorized to administer and enforce the law.
And the initiative also aims to provide commons sense criminal justice reform and expungement for certain low-level cannabis offenses, as well as defend the rights and civil liberties of patients and adult consumers alike.
South Dakota voters already passed an adult-use cannabis legalization referendum in 2020—but to no avail following a state Supreme Court decision—yet one recent poll suggests an appetite for reform has dissipated since.
The statewide poll of 500 registered voters conducted July 19-22 by Mason-Dixon Polling & Strategy revealed that 43.8% of South Dakotans support adult-use cannabis legalization, while 54.4% expressed opposition to the issue.
That polling data came on the heels of a successful signature gathering campaign by organizers from South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML), whose 2022 adult-use initiative will go before voters this November. Their petition, Initiated Measure 27, was certified by Secretary of State Steve Barnett on May 25.
With South Dakota voters previously supporting SDBML’s 2020 adult-use ballot initiative via a 54.2% majority, Campaign Director Matthew Schweich expressed doubts about the accuracy of the recent Mason-Dixon poll when it was released Aug. 24.
Schweich noted three main concerns with the poll:
- The Mason-Dixon poll showed the lowest amount of support in Sioux Falls, which does not align with any of SDBML’s internal polling conducted since 2019 and conflicts with 2020 election results.
- The Mason-Dixon poll showed that the second-highest level of support (44.4%) was among respondents aged 65 and older, which contradicts polls and elections results from throughout the U.S., where older populations are generally the least likely to support legalization.
- The Mason-Dixon poll suggests a 10-point drop in support of legalization compared to two years ago in South Dakota, despite normalization and acceptance of reform generally gaining popularity in recent years throughout the U.S.
“Not only have I never seen that in a South Dakota poll, I’ve never seen that in a cannabis poll anywhere (and I’ve done them in many, many states) over four election cycles,” Schweich said in a social media statement regarding the 65-and-older demographics.
Should voters in fact show support for reform in November, Initiated Measure 27 will legalize the possession, use and distribution of up to 1 ounce of cannabis or 8 grams of concentrate by those 21 and older, who could also grow up to three cannabis plants with no more than six plants per private residence.
The measure states that home grows would only be permitted in private residences located in jurisdictions where there is no licensed retail store. However, the measure does not lay the groundwork for a commercial adult-use cultivation or retail program. There is no mention of a regulatory authority, licensing system or taxation structure in the ballot proposal.
The initiative also doesn’t touch on expungement, restorative justice or social equity measures.
When SDBML’s 2020 initiative was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court on the basis that it violated the state’s single-subject rule, plaintiffs argued that it included five subjects: legalizing cannabis, regulating cannabis, taxing cannabis, requiring the South Dakota Legislature to pass laws regarding hemp and ensuring access to medical cannabis.
The 2022 initiative focuses on legalizing cannabis.
Cannabis Business Times Senior Digital Editor Melissa Schiller contributed to this report.