The path to marijuana public reforms is inevitable. According to recent surveys, 64 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana and roughly 90 percent support its legal use for medical purposes. This growing popularity of cannabis has been reflected in recent legislative and referendum actions across the country at the state level.
Earlier this year, shortly after Vermont legalized, we looked at four states–New Jersey, Oklahoma, Michigan, and Virginia–most likely to follow the footsteps of the existing 9 states that had already passed laws to regulate marijuana and the 28 with medical cannabis programs. Today, on the eve of the November 6 elections, we take another look at the legislative and/or referendum developments in these jurisdictions and see whether these four states have in fact come closer to ending marijuana prohibition.
New Jersey’s governor, Phil Murphy, has made legalizing, regulating, and taxing marijuana a goal of his administration. Unfortunately, Gov. Murphy has yet to convince lawmakers to pass a combined bill that aims to (1) expand medical marijuana and (2) fully legalize recreational marijuana for adults. Because New Jersey does not allow its citizens to bring direct initiatives, the fate of marijuana will have to be decided by legislators, a process that will most certainly take time. But the state seems close.
On June 26th, Oklahoma voters approved State Question 788, an initiative that legalized the use of medical cannabis. Specifically, the initiative allowed for the use, cultivation, and distribution of medical cannabis to qualified patients. The Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (“OMMA”), which oversees the program, has been accepting online applications since August 24th. As of early this week, OMMA had already issued more than 1,000 patient licenses and 100 business licenses.
In April, the Michigan Board of Canvassers ruled (a 4-0 decision) that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the committee behind the initiative that would end marijuana prohibition in the state, had collected enough signatures to qualify for the November 6 ballot. According to a March survey conducted by the Michigan-based pollster EPIC-MRA, 61 percent of Michigan voters favor the legalization and regulation of marijuana. If this poll is accurate and if the initiative were to pass, it would:
- Legalize the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana for personal use by individuals over the ages of 21;
- Allow possession of up to 10 ounces of marijuana at home;
- Impose testing and safe transportation guidelines within the state;
- Impose a 10 percent excise tax on the sale of marijuana at the retail level and a 6 percent state tax;
- The revenues generated from those taxes would be allocated as follows: 35 percent to K-12 education, 15 percent to roads, 15 percent to communities that allow marijuana businesses in their communities, and 15 percent to counties where marijuana businesses are located; and
- Give communities the opportunity to decide whether to allow marijuana businesses in their towns.
Like Gov. Murphy, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam was unable to convince his colleagues to pass a bill decriminalizing marijuana before the end of his first legislative session. Although marijuana possession remains a criminal act in the state, Gov. Northam managed to enact on major piece of legislation this year by signing a bill that will allow doctors to recommend cannabidioil (CBD) or HC-A oil for any medical condition.
Other states will decide the fate of recreational and medical marijuana during the November election. North Dakota voters will consider initiatives that would legalize and regulate marijuana for adults’ use, whereas voters in Utah and Missouri will decide the fate of medical marijuana ballot measures. I’ll cover those states in part two of this installment.
In addition, the legislature of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands has recently approved a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult and medical use. The bill is now sitting on Gov. Ralph Deleon Guerrero Torres’ desk. If enacted, the bill would make the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands the first U.S. territory to legalize and regulate marijuana for adult use.