Two more US states approve marijuana
On November 8, voters in the US states of Maryland and Missouri passed referendums to legalise recreational marijuana.
In Maryland the vote was almost 2 to 1, with 65% in favour. From July 2023, adults over the age of 21 will be able to buy and possess up to 1.5 ounces (42g) of cannabis, grow up to two plants for personal use and gift cannabis without remuneration. The legislation also removes criminal penalties for possession of up to 2.5 ounces (70g).
Olivia Naugle, a senior policy analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project, says the vote “will finally end the failed era of cannabis prohibition and take a more just and equitable approach towards cannabis policy. It will save thousands of Marylanders from arrest and further criminalisation for cannabis possession, and it will begin to repair the decades of harm cannabis prohibition has caused, disproportionately in communities of colour, by expunging records and reinvesting back into those communities.”
Ahead of the vote, Maryland activists launched a statewide campaign led by former NFL player Eugene Monroe, to urge voters to pass the reform. “For decades, the unequally enforced criminalisation of cannabis in Maryland inflicted damage upon Black and Brown communities. Cannabis legalisation will create good-paying jobs, open up doors for small business owners, and generate new tax revenue for our state.”
Past convictions will also be automatically expunged, and people currently serving time for such offences will be eligible for resentencing. The legislation makes it so people with convictions for possession with intent to distribute can petition the courts for expungement three years after serving time.
Maryland legalised medical cannabis in 2012.
Earlier this year, the governor separately allowed a bill to create a state fund to provide “cost-free” access to psychedelics such as psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans suffering post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and traumatic brain injury to take effect without his signature.
In Missouri, the vote was closer, with just over 53% in favour. The legislation is more generous. Adults over 21 will be able to buy and possess up to three ounces (56g) of cannabis and can grow up to six flowering marijuana plants, six immature plants and six clones if they get a registration card.
There will be a 6% tax on recreational cannabis sales, which will be used to automatically expunge records for people with certain non-violent marijuana offences. The remaining revenue will go toward veterans’ healthcare, substance misuse treatment and the state’s public defender system.
Regulators will be required to issue at least 144 microbusiness licences through a lottery, with priority given to low-income applicants and people who have been disproportionately affected by drug criminalisation. Existing medical marijuana dispensaries will also be first in line to begin serving adult consumers with dual licenses. A seed-to-sale tracking system will be established for the marijuana market.
Meanwhile, medical marijuana cards will be valid for three years at a time, instead of one. And caregivers will be able to serve double the number of patients.
“This is truly a historic occasion,” says Dan Viets, Missouri NORML coordinator. “This means that the great majority of the 20,000 people who have been arrested year after year in Missouri will no longer be subject to criminal prosecution for victimless marijuana law violations.”
In celebrating the result, John Payne, Campaign Director, Legal Missouri 2022, noted, “Missourians took a huge step forward by becoming the 20th state to legalise marijuana for adult use. Missouri also made history by being the first state in the nation to automatically expunge past, nonviolent marijuana offences by a vote of the people. This enormous step forward for criminal justice reform will result in hundreds of thousands of Missourians having their records cleared, at no cost to them, for an activity that is now legal.”
Maryland and Missouri now join the growing ranks of states that have ended prohibition and opted for a system of regulated cannabis commerce.
ABOVE Celebrating victory in Missouri