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Maryland, Missouri vote to legalize pot; Arkansas, North and South Dakota say 'no'

Voters in North and South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Maryland are to decide marijuana legalization ballot initiatives Tuesday. File Photo by lovingimages/Pixabay
Voters in North and South Dakota, Missouri, Arkansas and Maryland are to decide marijuana legalization ballot initiatives Tuesday. File Photo by lovingimages/Pixabay

Nov. 8 (UPI) -- Maryland and Missouri passed ballot measures to legalize recreational marijuana on Tuesday night, while Arkansas and North and South Dakota rejected the option to add their names to the list of more than 19 states and the District of Columbia to permit the smoking of pot.

The vote has been widely seen as a litmus test for the popularity of legal marijuana in the South and Midwest.

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President Joe Biden last month moved to pardon those convicted for some federal marijuana offenses and announced plans to review how the drug is classified under federal law.

He also urged states to consider pardons for similar offenses.

Arkansas

In Arkansas, voters downed Ballot Issue 4, which would have established a constitutional amendment allowing adults to have and use marijuana with certain restrictions but without the current requirement for a medical use card.

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Unofficial state results show early Wednesday that 56.2% of Arkansans were against the measure with only 43.7% for it, with 85% of ballots counted. CNN, NBC News and The Washington Post projected the measure had been voted down.

The proposal also would have made numerous changes to add, alter or remove parts of the medical use law, known as the Arkansas Medical Marijuana Amendment of 2016.

Had it passed, the main provision would have made the possession of one ounce of marijuana for non-medical personal use legal under Arkansas state law for adults, while recognizing the drug remains illegal under federal law. It would have permitted medical marijuana cardholders to purchase non-medical marijuana without that amount counting toward how much they can purchase for medical purposes.

Arkansas business leaders and Gov. Asa Hutchinson have come out against the measure, saying legalized marijuana would make it harder to recruit qualified, drug-free workers for industries now suffering labor shortages, such as the transportation sector.

"This measure would compound this problem making it nearly impossible to have a safe workplace," Arkansas Chamber of Commerce CEO Randy Zook told reporters last week. "The question to ask is, would we really be better off as a state if we pass this?"

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Maryland

In Maryland, voters overwhelmingly passed Ballot Question 4, allowing adults aged 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and grow two plants out of public view beginning July 1, 2023.

Proponents include many of the state's Black leaders, who cited long-standing racial disparities in the enforcement of existing marijuana laws. An American Civil Liberties Union report released in 2020 found nationwide that Black people are 3.6 times more likely than White people to be arrested for marijuana, despite similar usage rates.

Legalization could make Maryland a model in creating a new, beneficial industry, state Del. Stephanie M. Smith of Baltimore said at a rally in the city last month, The Washington Post reported.

"For us to take a stand and say that we no longer want the criminalization of cannabis, it's also an opportunity for us to create an economy around cannabis that has more jobs and is more equitable than any other state in this country," she said.

With a majority of precincts reporting, 65.5% of voters cast ballots in favor of the constitutional amendment to 34.4% against, according to unofficial state results.

Missouri

In Missouri, voters approved Amendment 3 to change the state's Constitution to remove bans on marijuana sales, consumption and manufacturing for adults over 21 years old, with some exceptions.

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Under its provisions, there will be automatic expungement of convictions for certain people who have nonviolent marijuana-related offenses on their record, while those still jailed would need to petition the courts to be released and have their records expunged.

The measure has produced divisions among those supporters over whether it would create a monopoly in the marijuana industry that favors established medical marijuana companies and leaves out would-be entrepreneurs from marginalized communities, the Kansas City Star reported.

St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones announced her opposition to the amendment last week, highlighting the divide over who would benefit most from its provisions, arguing that it would exclude minorities from the cannabis industry.

Though a close contest, 53.1% of votes cast were done so in favor of passing the amendment with 36.7% against, according to unofficial state results that show all precincts have reported.

North and South Dakota

In North Dakota, Ballot Measure 2 was struck down, with 54.9% of voters casting ballots against it to 45% in favor, according to unofficial state results.

The measure would have legalized the adult use of marijuana in the state, with those over the age of 21 able to possess a limited amount of cannabis product.

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Voters in South Dakota similarly voted down Ballot Measure 27, which would have legalized the use and possession of recreational marijuana in the state for adults. Under the measure, individuals would have been permitted to possess or distribute up to one ounce of pot.

The vote, according to state results, was 56% in favor of the measure to 44% against.

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