Voters don’t care about pot use — but they do care how it’s sold

Elections 2022

With recreational cannabis now legalized in 21 states, it seems there are more options than ever for smokers to set up shop. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson, File)

(NewsNation) — Marijuana smoke filled the Crown Room in downtown St. Louis on the day after the election, with revelers taking a puff of their prescription joints while waiting for the announcement that Amendment 3 passed, the law allowing recreational use of the drug in Missouri. 

“This (passing) means increased revenue, it means access to all patients, it means funding programs that need the funding. It means new growth, it means opportunity, it means innovation into an industry that’s endless,” party attender Tanisha Patterson told KCUR.

Yet when Missouri’s measure passed with just over 53% of the vote, it will have something none of the other 19 states with legal recreational use do.

“Missouri also made history by being the first state in the nation to automatically expunge past, nonviolent marijuana offenses by a vote of the people,” Campaign Director John Payne wrote on the Legal MO 22 Instagram account

Of the five states where recreational marijuana was on the ballot, Missouri and Maryland said yes, while Arkansas, South Dakota and North Dakota said no. 

Many experts say it looks like the argument over legalizing weed to all adults is done. It retains widespread support among voters across political lines — as many as 60% nationally — and recreational marijuana is already legal in 19 states

“Opinions are changing around the nation,” said Kathryn Jamboretz, communication director for Legal MO 22. “If you talk to the hundreds of thousands of people who have accessed medical marijuana in Missouri, they’re the best ambassador. … It allowed new people to be advocates.

But acceptance of a practice doesn’t mean all voters said “yes” this year. While Americans are changing how they look at marijuana, they also see its revenue potential — and the need to regulate what has become a billion dollar industry.

Take for example Missouri’s neighbor to the south, Arkansas. Another historically Conservative state, Issue 4 failed by almost 12 percentage points. The state legalized medical use over a decade ago. 

Proponents in Arkansas argued doing the same would keep weed tax dollars from flowing across state lines. Yet many voters expressed concern with how the proposed marijuana market place would work — and decided to vote no instead of what some view as half measures.

“While people are concerned about drug use, the most vocal opposition was from people who actually support recreational marijuana — but not this proposal,” said Kristin Higgins, with the Public Policy Center at the University of Arkansas, System Division of Agriculture.

Criminal justice advocates wanted the measure to include expunging low-level criminal drug charges, she said. Others though industry regulations were too stringent. And still others worried the legislation could set up a monopoly in the state.

“We heard people saying … this issue didn’t go far enough,” Higgins added.

Some political watchers say the failure of three out of five ballot measures “may show the limits of legalization efforts.” The deeply red states of North and South Dakota both voted against those measures.

Even in Missouri, Amendment 3 faced criticism from organizations and politicians that typically may have been considered an ally. Most notably, St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones (D), among others, believed enacting the reform as a constitutional amendment was not “forward-thinking” or “flexible” enough, and would result in inequity when implemented. 

Still it seems very likely we’ll continue to see more pot ballot measures in the coming elections. 

Nine states legalized weed between the summers of 2020 and 2021 alone, and some even say the widespread acceptance of weed may provide a blueprint for other outlawed plants with medicinal benefits, like magic mushrooms. 

And a group in Arkansas has already filed a more comprehensive marijuana measure to be voted on in 2024.

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