Marijuana and the Mid-Terms: A new opportunity for cannabis legalization in some key Midwestern states

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The momentum for cannabis reform in the U.S., which has had landmark political success beginning in 2012, appears to be gaining speed ahead of next month’s midterm elections.

Voters in Michigan and North Dakota will be deciding on the legalization of adult-use, recreational cannabis in November while Utah and Missouri voters will look at several medical marijuana measures.

Several municipalities in Ohio, meanwhile, are considering cannabis decriminalization. And residents of at least 16 counties and two cities in Wisconsin will vote on a wide range of cannabis issues.

At the moment cannabis is legal in some form in 30 states and the District of Columbia. Nine states have also legalized recreational pot for adults.

And despite the federal government’s classification of all cannabis as illegal, a new Pew Research Center survey found that nearly two-thirds of U.S. adults support marijuana legalization. That’s double the amount that reportedly supported legalizing cannabis in 2000.

For cannabis advocates and political observers, the November elections also mark the first time in three years that Midwestern states are voting on cannabis issues. An attempt at legalization in 2015 in Ohio, which would have created commercial “marijuana monopolies” in that state, was soundly defeated.

Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State’s Moritz College of Law, said it makes sense that the cannabis legalization movement would be gaining traction now in the traditionally conservative Midwest.

“I think it’s a function of more progressive states already having moved forward through the ballot process,” he told 420 Intel. “So as activists and the moneyed interests supporting those activists - including industry players - look for new markets and new places to move forward with reform, these Midwestern states are most obvious turn.”

Berman pointed to two factors that have made cannabis legalization via voter initiatives more appealing to Midwestern voters. First, there’s the generational issue.

State lawmakers, he said, “tend to be older and still reflective of an older mindset; of ‘Just Say No to Drugs’ and fearful of what marijuana reforms could look like. Whereas the voting population is a little bit more mixed and generally less fearful of this kind of reform.”

And state legislators often struggle with the basic concepts and execution of marijuana reforms, he noted; while cannabis proponents have been able to draft their own versions of such reforms and successfully take them directly to the voters.

There’s also the growing societal acceptance of cannabis in the U.S.

"Our culture has already legalized marijuana. Now it's a question of, 'How quickly will the laws catch up?'" Matthew Schweich, deputy director at the Marijuana Policy Project and campaign director for Michigan’s Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told Associated Press.

And the issue of cannabis legalization isn’t just affecting Midwest politics. Marijuana reform has been debated in the current, high-profile Texas senate race between Republican incumbent Ted Cruz and his Democratic challenger, Beto O’Rourke.

That being said, Ohio State’s Douglas Berman dismisses some recent analysis that the growing cannabis legalization trend has made pot virtually legal across much of the country.

“De facto legalization means you feel comfortable doing it and you don’t really worry about getting in trouble for doing it,” he said. “And that’s not the reality anywhere.”

But Berman added this is the first election cycle he’s seen where there’s been this amount of open support for marijuana policy reforms.

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