Now that most states allow medical cannabis and nearly half of the states allow recreational cannabis sales for adults over 21, legalization doesn’t get as much media attention. When a state passes legal medical or recreational cannabis, it largely goes unnoticed outside of niche publications. The fact of the matter is that each state’s decision represents a critical step in reforming the nation’s stance on marijuana prohibition. The good news is that cannabis had a good mid-term election worth celebrating.
Maryland and Missouri Ballot Measures Legalize Recreational Use
Maryland and Missouri asked residents to vote on ballot measures that would legalize recreational cannabis. Voters in both states approved the measures.
In Maryland, nearly 67% of voters favored Question 4, which directs the state’s legislators to pass laws and regulations and create an infrastructure for distribution and taxation. Starting July 2023, all adults over 21 can use cannabis without prosecution.
Missouri Amendment 3 (the Marijuana Legalization Initiative) didn’t receive as much support as the ballot measure in Maryland. Still, over 53% of voters approved passing a law that will expunge the records of people with certain marijuana convictions, legalize possession, delivery, consumption, and sales for personal use, and create a 6% sales tax for cannabis products. 53% might not sound like a huge win, but it means 126,787 more voters approved than disapproved of the measure.
Most Americans Approve of Cannabis Legalization
When put to the public, ballot measures usually pass and make cannabis legal. Delays most often happen when legislators try to pass (or not pass) state government bills.
It’s not surprising that ballot measures succeed so often. The majority of Americans approve of medical and recreational cannabis. Exactly how much they approve depends on the survey you look at.
A Pew Research Center study from October 2022 shows that only 10% of Americans think cannabis should not be legal. 59% say they support medical and recreational legalization. 89% support medical use only.
In November 2022, Gallup released poll results showing that more Americans than ever support cannabis legalization. The Gallup poll didn’t specify between medicinal and recreational legalization. It simply asked, “Do you think the use of marijuana should be legal, or not?” Even with this broad question, 68% of Americans agreed that marijuana should be legal. That’s part of an ongoing trend that has seen increasing support for legalization. A decade ago (2012), 48% of respondents agreed with legalization. In 2002, only 34% thought cannabis should be legalized.
Interestingly, the Gallup survey breaks responses into demographics to show what different groups of people think about legalization. 51% of people who identify as Republicans prefer legalization. The only groups that didn’t exceed the 50% mark were “conservatives” (49% of whom support legalization) and “attend church weekly” (46% of whom support legalization).
The highest levels of support come from non-religious people who identify as “liberals.” Even among the most conservative groups in America, though, a near-majority want to make cannabis legal.
Political Opposition Remains
If it were up to voters, cannabis would be legal in the United States. Despite overwhelming support, state and federal lawmakers continue to oppose legalization. President Joe Biden is an excellent example of this. While he pardoned thousands of people with marijuana convictions and says he opposes jailing cannabis users, he does not want to legalize cannabis. More than 80% of Democrats support legalization, so he’s at odds with the vast majority of his political party.
Struggles also continue at the state level. When South Dakota voters approved a ballot measure that would legalize marijuana, the state’s governor, Kristi Noem, took the issue to court, where it was struck down. Disagreeing with the majority of voters seems like an odd political strategy. Regardless, Noem easily won reelection with 63.1% of the vote in the 2022 mid-terms. This likely suggests that residents of South Dakota want to legalize cannabis, but it isn’t a priority for them.
Is Federal Legalization Inevitable?
Cannabis had a good election in 2022, but it remains illegal at the federal level. That creates all kinds of problems for the industry.
Despite the federal status, it looks like legalization is inevitable. Federal agencies have revised their job applications to reflect “changing societal norms.” Having used cannabis no longer means you can’t get hired by most federal agencies.
President Biden has also signed a cannabis research bill into law. The bill passed the House unanimously. The new law will make it much easier for researchers to study cannabis to evaluate potential benefits and problems. Having more information should help voters and legislators make data-driven decisions about the future of cannabis laws.
Currently, we see a softening of laws around the country and at the federal level. Assuming this trend continues, it’s almost inevitable that the federal government will reform marijuana laws within the next decade or two.