2018 Election Season: Cannabis Legalization Update
Following Canada’s legalization of cannabis, the 2018 fall election season is shaping up to be a busy time for pro-cannabis legislation here in the U.S.
Three states are deciding whether to ratify and implement wide-ranging, adult-use legalized cannabis markets, while a couple more states will look at approving access to medical marijuana for its citizens.
Additionally, there are various efforts underway in Congress to extend legal cannabis across the entire nation. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) introduced the Marijuana Freedom and Opportunity Act (S. 3174) back in June. This bill would remove cannabis from both the federal schedule of controlled substances and the Controlled Substances Act, while also providing federal funding for public defenders to help those with marijuana possession convictions expunge the charges from their criminal records.
Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Cory Booker (D-NJ) are also co-sponsoring a bill, The Marijuana Justice Act, which would make cannabis legal at the federal level while also incentivizing individual states to reform existing marijuana laws and expunge all convictions pertaining to use or possession.
Either of the Senate-level initiatives would be groundbreaking legislation if passed. By removing cannabis from the drug schedule, the industry would then be free to conduct advanced research at the university level, access new avenues of small business financing currently off-limits to cannabis businesses, and move cannabis supplies across state borders, opening up new markets for cultivators.
Now, let’s look in-depth at some of the state-level initiatives on the ballot in 2018:
Michigan: The Mitten State, a medical marijuana state since 2008, will vote on a recreational cannabis initiative this November. If approved (experts expect Michiganders to issue a resounding yes vote on adult-use cannabis) the possession and sale of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis would become legal. Michigan would levy a 10% excise tax on sales (along with the statewide 6% sales tax) that would go toward funding public education and road maintenance in the state.
Nebraska: That’s right, you read that correctly. Nebraska, a state that has some of the most stringent cannabis laws on the books in this country and has often threatened legal action against neighbor Colorado for the legal pot that began flooding its streets after Colorado legalized adult-use cannabis back in 2012, is voting on the Nebraska Right to Cannabis Initiative this fall. If approved, all persons over the age of 21 would have the unalienable right to possess, consume, manufacture, and distribute cannabis, and those under the age of 21 would be eligible for a medical marijuana license.
North Dakota: After OK’ing medical marijuana two years ago, North Dakotans will vote this fall on full adult-use and growing of cannabis for all residents over the age of 21. Unlike other state-level initiatives, North Dakota’s is the only one that sets no limit on the amount of cannabis one can legally possess or grow. The law would also establish a distribution and sales network (i.e., retail dispensaries).
Utah: Utah, a state with some of the more restrictive alcohol laws in place, will vote on medical cannabis this fall. If approved, patients with proper medical cards would be allowed to buy up to two ounces of unprocessed marijuana with no more than 10 grams of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) or cannabidiol (CBD) once every two weeks.
Missouri: The Show-Me State reportedly has three different medical marijuana initiatives in front of state voters for the 2018 fall election season. New Approach Missouri, a group that failed to land on the 2016 ballot in Missouri, gathered the required number of signatures this time to make the ballot. New Approach Missouri’s bill would allow physicians to prescribe cannabis for one of 10 specified medical conditions, and the state would tax those sales at 4%. New Approach is the only initiative of the three on the ballot that would allow home grows, although plants must be grown in a facility that is registered with the state, and growers must pay a $100 license fee to the state.
The Bradshaw Amendment, named for Springfield attorney and physician Brad Bradshaw, is another measure on the ballot for 2018. It would create a state research institute and establish a nine-person research board led by Bradshaw himself. According to the petition, the institute would work on “developing cures and treatments for cancer and other incurable diseases or medical conditions.” The board could also determine what diseases would benefit from medical marijuana treatment. Bradshaw’s plan has the highest tax rate of the three initiatives at 15%.
While the two aforementioned initiatives are constitutional amendments and would require an additional popular vote to amend, the Missourians For Patient Care Act is a statutory amendment that would create a new law under Missouri state law, allowing lawmakers to potentially modify or adjust the bill later.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), 30 U.S. states, Washington, D.C., Guam, and Puerto Rico have enacted legislation pertaining to physician-permitted use of marijuana. And roughly 63 million Americans now live in jurisdictions in which any individuals aged 21 and over can possess marijuana legally.