Cannabis legalization crashed against "no" votes this Election Day

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Cannabis legalization crashed against "no" votes this Election Day

Election Day has been a cause for celebration among legalization activists in the decade since voters in Washington and Colorado approved cannabis for recreational use.

From 2014 through 2020, legalization efforts appeared on ballots 14 times, with voters approving 11 of them. This year was a different story.

Cannabis legalization was on the ballot in five states this year: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Only two of those — Maryland and Missouri — approved it.

This was the second time in four years that North Dakotans have voted to reject cannabis legalization. The 2018 attempt failed, garnering just 40.5 percent of the vote. The 2022 attempt gained some ground but still reaped just 45 percent of the vote.

South Dakota voters, on the other hand, had previously approved a legalization measure in 2020, with 54.2 percent of the vote. However, a legal challenge spearheaded by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem overturned the vote on a constitutional technicality. Two years later, the pro-legalization effort garnered just 47.1 percent of the vote. Noem was once again vociferous in her opposition to legalization efforts as she campaigned both against legalization and for her own reelection, which she won.

The state where legalization efforts performed the worst was Arkansas, where only 43.7 percent of voters supported legalization. That result isn't terribly surprising, however, as the American South has largely avoided the green wave that's swept across the rest of the country. The initiative in Arkansas was just the first time that recreational cannabis has appeared on the ballot in a traditionally southern state. Many states in the South still prohibit medical marijuana, and only one — Virginia — has legalized recreational cannabis, where the legalization process moved through the Legislature rather than the ballot box.

It wasn't all bad news for proponents of legalization on Election Day, however. Initiatives were approved in Maryland and Missouri, making them the 12th and 13th states, plus D.C., to legalize recreational cannabis at the ballot box. Maryland's proposal was approved with 65.8 percent of the vote, while Missouri's passed with 53.1 percent of the vote.

Overall, the number of states that have legalized recreational cannabis now stands at 21.

Looking ahead to 2023, legalization will be on the ballot in Oklahoma and could be as well in Ohio, where a similar measure has been cleared for signature gathering. Signature gathering efforts for 2024 are also underway in Florida and Nebraska.

Region: United States