As the saying goes, “elections have consequences,” and while cannabis was on the ballot in five states, Tuesday’s election results will have consequences for cannabis in some states that didn’t have cannabis on the ballot. Here’s a brief rundown on what we see for those states.
Arkansas’ wave of Republican opposition
Last September an Arkansas insider politics newsletter published a poll showing a double digit lead for adult use cannabis legalization. But on election day, adult use legalization ended up losing by double digits, 56-44%, a difference of over 109,000 votes.
That didn’t surprise Arkansas native and Greenlight Cannabis owner John Muller.
“Internal polls had us down a couple points, Mueller told Grown In. “I thought we’d get an uplift of 2-3% from those who don’t want to tell pollsters they support a federally illegal substance. It really didn’t happen.”
The opposition to legalization effort was strong in Arkansas, starting with Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a former head of the Drug Enforcement Agency, who publicly campaigned against the measure. It was also opposed by Republican candidates up and down the ballot, which makes a big impact in the deep red state
Optimism in Maryland despite a one more year of waiting
The first legal adult use sales in Maryland may still be a long way away, but after this week’s election in favor of legalization, medical operators in the state are optimistic about the future.
Voters sent a resounding demand for legal adult use cannabis in Maryland on election day when the state’s Question 4 won with 65.6%. The entire text of the question was “Do you favor the legalization of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023 in the State of Maryland?”
“As a state we have a lot to celebrate today,” said Jon Kozesky, executive director of the Maryland Medical Dispensary Association.
With the passage of the ballot question, the state’s legislature is now going to have to write the laws that will regulate a new adult use market, within their four-month legislative session in early 2023. The state has until July 1, 2023 to write the rules before legal possession goes into effect.
Brandon Barksdale, co-CEO of Remedy said he was hopeful that the strength of Maryland’s medical market would ease the transition into having an adult use market. Remedy operates a pair of medical dispensaries in the state, one in Baltimore and another in Columbia.
“Maryland will probably follow in the footsteps of Arizona, in terms of a quick transition from a successful medical program that was robust to really drive a robust recreational program that meets multiple goals for the state,” he said.
Remedy recently announced that the company was relocating its Columbia store into a much larger space within the same town with over 10,000 square feet of space. Although the retail store is still licensed for medical use only, this could set them up if they were to attempt to convert to adult use or a hybrid model.
“I think it was definitely part of the decision making, anticipating that at some point in the future that there would be a broader market outside of medical,” said Barksdale.
Maryland will likely have to wait until 2024 for sales to start, considering that the state will have to pass a legalization bill, establish a governing body for the industry and an application process before the first adult use cultivator is able to get started on their inaugural crop.
“The private sector in conjunction with the legislature has a lot of work to do in a very short period of time,” said Kozesky. “That being said, in our conversations as an association with our elected officials, they knew this was coming, and so I feel that while there’s certainly a tremendous amount of work to do, we’re not starting from scratch. I have a lot of faith that at the Maryland legislature over the course of the four month session, we’re gonna be able to hash out a lot of this and I’m optimistic that we can have this up and running much sooner than later.”
The original legislation that sent the adult use question before the voters included an initial set of guidelines to serve as a basis Maryland’s eventual enacting law. This includes creating a process for expungement of past cannabis convictions, allowing cannabis businesses to apply business tax deductions for state taxes and establishing new funds to help assist women and minority applicants.
“As an association that’s something that we’ve been fighting for, for a very long time. If I’m most excited about anything today, it’s certainly that,” said Kozesky.
Michigan’s new legislature might bring changes
Although cannabis was not on a statewide Michigan ballot, 32 municipalities held local votes to allow retail, or medical cannabis sales. Of the group, 15 passed and 17 failed, where five of the successful measures were to allow only medical cannabis businesses. mLive produced a complete list.
But perhaps the bigger, long-term change is that Michigan’s legislature flipped from totally Republican-controlled to Democratic-controlled, with a returning Democratic governor. Advocates are excited about the potential changes, but caution that the next six weeks of the legislature’s lame duck session could be problematic.
“We’re concerned about some negative marajuana proposals,” said Michigan NORML’s Rick Thompson. “We’re very nervous about the lame duck session in Michigan.”
For instance, Thompson says there’s an effort to use cannabis taxes to fund the state police.
“We’re watching a positive proposal to bring tribal entities into the system, but contained in that is a proposal to allow the state police to bill an unlimited amount to the CRA [Cannabis Regulatory Agency]. This is a backdoor to pay for cops,” he said.
But longer term, lobbyist Eric Foster says Lansing will likely focus on trimming up the system, like streamlining the licensing process, adding funding for diverse and social equity programming, and creating a state cannabis research program.
“Getting a medical research act passed, similar to Connecticut or Massachusetts, that has statutory language that drives cannabis research,” said Foster. “The Pennsylvania and Connecticut models are the best, because you have the involvement of the universities doing clinical and observational research. They’re moving forward without the DEA.”
Missouri gets legal adult use sales in March
After a raucous fight which saw both Republicans and Democrats opposing the measure, Missouri’s adult use cannabis law was enshrined in the state constitution last Tuesday, by a 53-47% vote.
Unlike most other legalization measures, Missouri’s has an almost immediate impact, where every existing medical license holder gets an adult use license by December 7, 2022 and regulators are required to have a system in place to manage the adult use market within 90 days after that. So, by March 7, 2023, we should see adult use cannabis sales in Missouri, a day none-too-soon, according to operators interviewed last summer, who decried overproduction and crashing prices for the state’s relatively small medical market.
[Read the Missouri referendum language]
“Without [passage], we are all going to struggle,” said Mitch Meyers last summer, Chair of BeLeaf Medical, and an owner experienced with Colorado and Illinois markets.
Brennan England, an opponent to the measure and the Missouri Director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana says he’s now focusing on structuring city-level laws across the state to ensure diversity measures in the measure are taken advantage of.
“Preparing people for what we can get out of this, is all we got. And I made a call today to the [St. Louis] mayor to work on the language at the city,” England said Thursday. “There’s no room for me to pout here. There’s no time for that. I have to engage and make the most out of the situation.”
But now with passage, happy days are here for existing Missouri operators, says Greenlight Cannabis’ Mueller, who also operates cultivation and dispensaries in Missouri, as well as Arkansas.
“It will be an easy doubling of workforce. We should see on the cultivation side of the business, adding probably 150-175 new jobs for us. From a revenue standpoint..we think we’ll see 2.5 times revenue,” said Mueller.
Mueller also counts passage of adult use legalization as a business lifesaver, as prices in Missouri have been scraping the bottom.
“There’s been a bottoming out, you can get $25 for an eighth here in Missouri,” said Mueller, which translates to about $3,200 a pound at retail.
Future looking brighter for Pennsylvania adult use
While a majority of political observers across the country were watching legal weed proponent John Fetterman’s successful bid for one of Pennsylvania’s two U.S. Senate seats, there were other election night wins for Democrats in the governor’s office and a possible reclaiming of control of the State House, all of which could have legalization implications for the Keystone State.
“I think a lot of us in Pennsylvania are really surprised that the balance of power in the State House is up for grabs,” said Meredith Buetter, executive director of the Pennsylvania Cannabis Coalition. “I think a lot of folks really expected the Republicans to come back with similar numbers to what they have had the last couple of years. Either way, I think the margins are narrow, and that’s good for the cannabis issue.”
Democrat Josh Shapiro handily won in his bid for the open governor’s office, with 56% against Republican Douglas Mastriano’s 41%. Shapiro’s predecessor, lame duck governor Tom Wolf, is a fellow Democrat, so this was not a flipped seat, but Shapiro did repeatedly speak in favor of legalizing adult use cannabis while on the campaign trail, as did Fetterman.
“I think anytime you have a statewide candidate talking about cannabis, it’s going to elevate the conversation,” said Buetter, noting that one of the factors driving cannabis as a talking point was disagreement among parties. “It’s more interesting to talk about it when the candidates don’t agree. So I certainly do think that it brought some attention to it. I will say, I wish it had brought more attention to it.”
The state Senate will remain under Republican control, there is also a chance that a legalization bill becomes more viable in the State House next session. As of publication, the state has yet to officially call every state representative race, but it does appear that the Democrats could have flipped enough seats to retake the House.
With more influence from Democrats on state policy and Maryland voting to become Pennsylvania’s third border state with legal adult use cannabis, the topic is likely to be a prominent one for the state legislature next session.
“Now that we’re surrounded on three sides by states that have opted to legalize, I think it’s time for the legislature to catch up with their constituents and get smart on cannabis policy that can work for the Commonwealth,” said Buetter.
North Dakota’s big loss
After turning down an adult use legalization measure in 2018 by 59-41%, this year’s North Dakota adult use legalization measure failed 55-44%, with a 23,000 vote margin. Although two of the state’s bigger cities, Fargo and Grand Forks, voted in favor of the measure, they were thin majorities – while the state’s conservative rural areas broadly voted against the measure.
South Dakota’s failed redo
South Dakota failed a kind of redo Tuesday, as recreational cannabis legalization was part of a broader measure passed by 54% in 2020, but that measure was struck down by the state Supreme Court as non-germane, since it contained more than more issue in the measure. This time, given the chance to vote just on adult use legalization, voters opposed it 53-47%.
Proponents of the measure outspent opponents, with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws raising at least $492,647 and opponent group Protecting South Dakota Kids raised at least $427,186 by election day.