HIGH TIMES’ 2018 Marijuana Election Guide
2016 was a watershed election year that doubled the number of legalized marijuana states and brought medical marijuana to three more. Since then, increasing majorities support legalization, West Virginia passed medical marijuana, and Vermont and Canada have legalized marijuana.
Despite the rising national support, efforts at marijuana law reform have been stalled at the federal level (see sidebar). That leaves it, as usual, up to the states to be the “laboratories of democracy” by passing their own marijuana reforms. Here are the statewide votes to be watching for this election night.
This election year we’ve already added the 30th medical marijuana state. Voters in the June 26th Oklahoma primary gave a resounding “yes” to State Question 788, despite a last-minute barrage of nearly a half-million dollars in scaremongering ads from the opposition.
Under Oklahoma’s initiative, there is no qualifying conditions list for a medical marijuana card. Like California, the responsibility of recommending cannabis is up to the doctor’s determination. Patients can possess up to three ounces of flower and eight more ounces at home. Home grow of up to six mature and six immature plants is allowed. A system of commercial production, processing, testing, and retail will exist, taxed at seven percent, plus state sales tax. Patients are protected from discrimination in employment, housing, education, and parental rights. The initiative even set punishment of possession of 1.5 ounces without a card to a misdemeanor fine of $400, if one can demonstrate a medical need.
The only downside to Oklahoma’s new law is that it is statutory, not a constitutional amendment. As such, it is subject to alteration by the state legislature. Most Oklahoma politicians are not fond of marijuana, so you can bet there will be some changes made to the program in the next legislative session.
This election year started with a whimper when we failed to add the 30 th medical marijuana state in the nation. Voters in the June 26 th primary gave thumbs down to State Question 788. Polls weeks prior to the election showed majority support for SQ 788, but voters were apparently heavily influenced by a barrage of nearly a half-million dollars in scaremongering ads from the opposition in the two weeks leading to the election. They painted Oklahoma’s medical marijuana law as too liberal for Oklahoma, slandering it as a ruse to legalize recreational marijuana like California’s pioneering Compassionate Use Act of 1996. As it turned out, Oklahoma’s initiative was a case of overreach. There was no statutory list of conditions for any adult 18 and older to qualify for a medical marijuana card. Opposition ads warned that any college freshman could just fake a headache and then be legally allowed to grow 12 pounds of weed in their dorm rooms. Faith leaders hammered home the message that “SQ 788 is not medical” and repeatedly described its possession and cultivation limits as “the most liberal medical marijuana law in the nation.” US Senator James Lankford (R-OK) warned that our schools, our workplaces, and our families “would not be better if more people smoked more marijuana.”
The big prize up for grabs is Michigan. After polls close at 8pm Eastern on November 6, the 10th largest state by population is poised to become the 10th state to legalize marijuana for all adults 21 and older.
MI Legalize, the grassroots group in Michigan, was thwarted in their effort to put legalization on the 2016 ballot. This time around, the group teamed up with the Marijuana Policy Project and gathered far more signatures than necessary.
The initiative, known officially as “the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act,” grants more marijuana liberty than most legal states. Adults 21 and older could possess 2.5 ounces of flower or 15 grams of concentrate. Home growing of up to 12 cannabis plants would be allowed. One could possess all the flower produced by those plants, plus an additional 10 ounces of flower at home.
But no initiative is perfect. Michigan’s initiative still allows landlords and leaseholders to ban growing cannabis and smoking marijuana. Employers will still be able to discriminate against legal cannabis consumers. Municipalities will be able to ban or limit any marijuana establishments.
Michigan will establish a regulated system of commercial marijuana that includes the welcome addition of microbusiness licensing. You could be your own marijuana dealer – legally – growing up to 150 cannabis plants, processing and packaging the harvest, and selling it directly to consumers. The larger commercial operators would be licensed as separate growers, processors, testers, distributors, and retailers.
Marijuana in Michigan will come with a 10 percent excise tax on top of the state’s 6 percent sales tax. Revenue from the marijuana taxes is estimated at $63 million annually. That money will be divided 35 percent to the school aid fund, 35 percent to repair roads and bridges, and 30 percent distributed among the cities and countries with operating marijuana businesses.
Missouri Medical Marijuana (New Approach)
There was much lamentation in 2016 when Missouri’s marijuana activists failed by just 23 signatures to get a medical marijuana proposal on the ballot. This time around, Missourians may have three choices on the ballot for legalizing medical marijuana.
New Approach Missouri is the group that was behind the 2016 effort. As of press time, they had submitted over 370,000 signatures of the 160,199 required to make the ballot. Barring an incredible turn of events, having more than twice the signatures needed usually guarantees a spot on the ballot.
Their initiative, “The Missouri Medical Marijuana and Veteran Healthcare Services Initiative,” is backed by Drug Policy Action, the campaign arm of the Drug Policy Alliance, and has raised almost a million dollars. It is a constitutional amendment that legalizes medical marijuana by establishing a qualifying condition list like most states. Also, in reaction to the opioid overdose crisis, the initiative also allows for medical marijuana as an opioid replacement.
New Approach’s initiative bucks the recent trend of no-smoking, no-home-grow medical marijuana laws by allowing patients and their caregivers to cultivate up to six mature cannabis plants and specifically allowing smoking of marijuana. Patients and their caregivers can possess up to a 60-day supply of medicine or a 90-day supply if they are growing their own, so long as it stays at the grow site.
Under the New Approach initiative, patient and caregiver cards would cost only $25. Patient cards from other medical marijuana states would be respected. Possessing a patient card will not disqualify the patient from receiving organ transplants.
A commercial system for medical marijuana production and sales will also be established, with patients limited to purchasing up to 4 ounces in a 30-day period. Medicine at these dispensaries will be taxed at 4 percent (plus state and local sales tax), with the proceeds benefiting a newly-created Veterans Health and Care Fund. New Approach even opens the door for potential public consumption spaces for patients.
Missouri Medical Marijuana (Find the Cures)
New Approach Missouri faces the prospect of potentially winning enough votes to pass but being blocked from taking effect. There is another constitutional amendment likely to be on the ballot proposed by a group called Find the Cures, which has submitted over 300,000 signatures. Whichever constitutional amendment has the greater number of votes would become law.
Find the Cures’ initiative is officially the “Missouri Medical Marijuana and Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute Initiative.” It is backed by one man, Brad Bradshaw, an attorney and physician who has sunk almost $1.5 million into the campaign.
Bradshaw’s initiative also has a qualifying condition list, but it lacks the opioid replacement condition that New Approach offers. Smoking cannabis flower is expressly allowed by Find the Cures, but unlike New Approach, no home grow by patients and their caregivers is allowed.
Getting a $100 patient card under Find the Cures’ proposal also may be more difficult than under New Approach’s. If Bradshaw’s proposal becomes law, a physician could only write one medical cannabis recommendation for every three drug prescriptions they write. Doctors would also be limited to earning only 25 percent of their income from recommending cannabis, which would hamper the establishment of specialty medical marijuana clinics.
The newly-created Biomedical Research and Drug Development Institute would control all aspects of the commercial medical marijuana system. Marijuana would be sold with a $9.25-per-ounce flower excise tax, a $2.75-per-ounce trim excise tax, plus a 15 percent tax on the price at the point of sale, with all the proceeds going to the Institute.
Find the Cures’ commercial aspects dictate fewer licenses, higher fees, smaller canopy limits, no outdoor cultivation, and triple the residency requirement for licensure (3 years) compared to New Approach, as well as a smaller (3 ounces every 30 days) purchase limits for patients and no public consumption spaces.
Missouri Medical Marijuana (Missourians for Patient Care)
Further complicating the vote in Missouri is the existence of a third initiative from a group called Missourians for Patient Care. This initiative is a statutory measure, not a constitutional amendment. The only way it can become law is if it gets a majority vote and both New Approach and Find the Cures fail to get 50 percent of the vote.
Patient Care is like New Approach in allowing marijuana smoking, marijuana as an opioid replacement, and possession of a 60-day supply of medicine. However, Patient Care is like Find the Cures in prohibiting home grow and offering fewer commercial licenses.
Patient Care does provide the lowest tax rate for commercial marijuana at just 2 percent, and the lowest fees for commercial licenses. Licensing would be handled by the Division of Alcohol & Tobacco and growers and dispensers would be vertically integrated, required to grow 70 percent of all product sold.
Missouri’s polls close at 7pm Central, so around the same time we learn if Michigan is the 10th legal marijuana state, we’ll learn if – and how – Missouri becomes the
30 th 31st medical marijuana state.
Utah Medical Marijuana
It will be two hours later at 8pm Mountain when the polls in Utah close. Voters there will be deciding on a statutory initiative called the Utah Medical Cannabis Act.
Utah’s medical marijuana would ban home grow until after 2021. After that, a patient living greater than 100 miles from a dispensary could grow 6 plants. Those dispensaries would be limited to just 1 per 150,000 county residents. Purchases from those dispensaries would be limited to 2 ounces of flower or 10 grams of THC within cannabis products every 14 days.
There would be a qualifying condition list like most states, but with the addition of opiate replacement. Most physicians would only be able to write recommendations for 1-out-of-5 of their patients. And despite allowing possession of cannabis flower, patients would be forbidden from smoking it.
But Utah’s initiative does protect patients by forbidding local bans of marijuana licensees and discrimination in organ transplants and housing.
Now Smoke the Vote!
It will be exciting for cannabis consumers to vote in Michigan, Missouri, and Utah this year. But no matter where you live, this election matters. Candidates from city council to governor will have an impact on the future of marijuana reform. Political control of congress could determine whether federal reform proceeds or continues to be roadblocked. NORML.org and MPP.org are great resources to learn about the issues and candidates that will impact marijuana policy for years to come. Do your homework and make sure you register and vote on November 6!