By: Kimberly DelMonico, OCBMAGONLINE contributor
The 2018 elections were some of the most highly anticipated midterm elections in modern political history. Voter turnout broke records. Importantly, the Republicans expanded their control of the U.S. Senate, while the Democrats took control of the U.S. House of representatives. Out of the 50 states, Democrats control 18 legislatures, while Republicans control 31. Only Minnesota has a divided legislature.
What did the elections mean for cannabis? Let’s take a look at the results in the states where cannabis-related laws were on the ballot.
In Ohio, Issue 1 on the ballot was the Drug and Criminal Justice Policies Initiative as an initiated constitutional amendment. The measure was defeated. The vote was defeated by a vote of 1,532,741 to 840,612 or 64.57% to 35.42%.
A “yes” vote supported a constitutional amendment to make offenses related to drug possession and use no more than misdemeanors; prohibit courts from ordering persons on probation for felonies to be sent to prison for non-criminal probation violations; create a sentence credits program for inmates’ participation in rehabilitative, work, or educational programs; and
require the state to spend savings due to a reduction of inmates, resulting from Issue 1, on drug treatment, crime victim, and rehabilitation programs. A no vote opposed this constitutional amendment.
The measure was intended to reduce the number of people in state prisons for low-level, nonviolent crimes, such as drug possession and non-criminal probation violations. Issue 1 would have made possession, obtainment, and use of drugs a misdemeanor, with sentences not exceeding probation for a first or second offense.
Issue 1 would not have changed the classification of drug-related felonies, such as the sale, distribution, or trafficking of drugs. The initiative would have also allowed individuals serving convictions higher than a misdemeanor for possession, obtainment, and use of drugs to petition the court for re-sentencing.
Missouri voted approved at least one of three medical marijuana measures that appeared on the state’s ballot. Amendment 2, a constitutional amendment to allow medical cannabis, passed by a margin of 66 percent to 34 percent.
Under the new law, patients who have approval from their physicians will receive identification cards from the state. These cards will allow patients and their registered caregivers to grow up to six marijuana plants and purchase at least four ounces of cannabis from a licensed dispensary on a monthly basis.
Missouri does not specify which medical conditions qualify for medical marijuana – doctors are able to recommend it as treatment for any condition that they see fit.
The state will issue licenses for marijuana cultivation, testing, and dispensaries and will impose a four percent retail tax on medical cannabis sales. Revenue from medical cannabis has been earmarked for services for military veterans.
In Michigan, Proposal 1 was approved by voters by a 56% to 44% margin, which legalizes marijuana for adult recreational use. Marijuana use will become legal ten days after election results are certified, which should be by early December.
Marijuana likely won’t be available for sale commercially until early 2020, because the state must create regulations and issue the appropriate licenses to growers and distributors.
Under the new law, people who are 21 and older can possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis on their person or up to 10 ounces in their home. People can grow up to 12 plants in their own home for personal use.
The new law does not legalize public consumption, driving under the influence, or commercial sales until businesses have been licensed by the state. However, adults will no longer be arrested for possession and use of cannabis.
In Utah, voters approved Proposition 2, which legalizes medical marijuana in the state. The new law allows patient to obtain medical marijuana cards from a doctor if they have a qualified condition such as HIV/AIDS, cancer, chronic pain, or multiple sclerosis. Doctors cannot recommend a medical marijuana card for more than 20% of their patients. The law prohibits smoking marijuana, but allows vaping, edibles, or other means of consuming cannabis.
The initiative sets up a system for state officials to license and regulate medical marijuana businesses. Patients are allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use if they live more than 100 miles from a licensed dispensary.
In North Dakota, voters rejected the state’s initiative for medical marijuana. Measure 3 would have fully legalized recreational marijuana and expunged many marijuana-related criminal records. The measure did not create a system to tax and regulate marijuana sales – instead, it allowed residents to grow unlimited amounts of marijuana and sell it tax-free. The measure also would have repealed any state laws addressing marijuana.
In California, Los Angeles voters voted 57.81% to 42.19% against Measure B, which would have allowed Los Angeles to more forward with exploring the creation of a city-run public bank. The public bank would have been a benefit to the cannabis industry, which currently cannot use banks.
Cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, which makes it nearly impossible for national banks to do business with companies in the cannabis industry because they risk criminal prosecution for money laundering and aiding and abetting a federal crime. The federal government requires banks to file suspicious activity reports for every transaction involving a cannabis company. This makes it harder and less profitable for banks to do businesses with cannabis companies.
In Wisconsin, 16 counties had questions about legalization or decriminalization on their ballots. These questions were advisory and non-binding. Voters in at least 14 counties approved of the marijuana reform policies. The results in the two other counties are still being tallied.
Following the election, a total of ten states have legalized cannabis: Washington, Oregon, Nevada, California, Alaska, Colorado, Michigan, Vermont, Maine, and Massachusetts. Medical marijuana is now legal in 33 states.
“Momentum is gaining for change in Congress to allow states to determine their own marijuana policies,” says Morgan Fox, media relations director at the National Cannabis Industry Association. “Two thirds of the country wants marijuana to be legal, and politicians are ignoring that at their peril.”