Saturday November 24, 2018
By Paul Barach
The full outcome of the 2018 midterms is still being decided as votes continue being counted, but one thing is already clear – cannabis reform continues rolling across the United States. This is a much-needed win for cannabis advocates, who saw a series of progressive policy setbacks this year thanks to a now resigned anti-marijuana Attorney General and the Republican Party. And while an amendment allowing US banks to work with marijuana companies was shot down by the Senate and a bill to allow physicians working with the Department of Veterans Affairs to recommend cannabis treatment to vets in legal states died in Congress, the 2018 midterms were still a welcome swing in the other direction.
Cannabis Wins on Election Day
Even though North Dakota’s drive to legalize recreational cannabis fell short, as of November 5th, Utah, and Missouri joined the now 33 states (and Washington DC) that have legalized medical cannabis, and Michigan became the 10th state to legalize recreational marijuana (and Washington DC, which deserves statehood at this point.)
As pro-marijuana voters across these three states rejoice at their legislative victories, let’s dive into what those voters in Missouri, Utah, and Michigan can expect from all their political engagement and organization.
The first Midwestern state to legalize recreational cannabis, Michigan’s pro-marijuana voters won by an easy 56 to 44 percent margin. Although, given that medical marijuana was approved in 2008 by 63 percent, it still took a lot of focus from cannabis advocates up until the end. With a decade of medical marijuana experience already under the state’s belt, Proposal 1’s new laws are pretty standard.
Any individual over the age of 21 can now purchase, possess and partake in marijuana and other infused products, as well as grow up to 12 plants for personal consumption. Citizens of the Great Lakes State (or, traditionally and more awesomely, The Wolverine State), will be limited to possessing 10 ounces of marijuana in their homes, and anything over 2.5 ounces must be locked in a safe. New state licenses will be issued to recreational dispensaries, businesses, and producers. The new 10% tax on recreational sales will go towards schools, roads, and municipalities where the dispensaries are located. The framework for legal cannabis in Michigan still needs to be ironed out by lawmakers however. As of right now, initial predictions suggest legal cannabis sales in Michigan will begin in early 2020.
The Show Me State passed Amendment 2 by a wide margin, with voters overwhelmingly supporting medical marijuana legalization 66 to 34 percent. Under the new law, patients with physician approval will receive a medical marijuana card. There will be no specific list of qualifying disorders that doctors are forced to stick to, meaning that they can use their years of professional experience to treat their patients with cannabis as they see fit.
Once given a medical cannabis card, patients or their caregivers are allowed to grow up to 6 plants (with a separate license) and purchase up to 4 ounces of flower per month from dispensaries. A 4% sales tax will be placed on all medical marijuana sold.
Licenses for growers, producers, dispensaries, and other businesses will be issued by state legislators. The timeline for this is in flux, but by June 2019 the Missouri government expects to have a medical marijuana application form for patients finalized as well as an application for home growers, cannabis processors and other businesses. By July, they will begin accepting medical marijuana applications, and by August they will begin accepting license applications for home growers, infusers and dispensaries.
The Beehive State’s passage of Proposition 2, which legalized medical marijuana, shocked many inside and outside the state. Utah’s population is just over two-thirds Mormon and prominent public figures, from Governor Gary Herbert to The Church of Latter Day Saints (LDS), were strongly and vocally against the bill. Marijuana consumption is banned by the LDS church, along with other intoxicants such as alcohol, tobacco and coffee.
It should be noted that opioid use is currently allowed by the LDS church, which has contributed to Utah’s statewide epidemic of opioid addiction and overdoses.
Given all this headwind, Prop 2 should have been dead on arrival. However, the drive to legalize medical cannabis cannot be denied. According to an October poll, 1 in 5 respondents credited Prop 2 as their primary motivation for casting a ballot in the 2018 midterm election and the measure passed 53 to 47 percent. The new proposition allows patients with a physician-prescribed medical marijuana card to purchase up to 2 ounces of unprocessed marijuana every two weeks.
Prop 2 goes into effect on December 1st. However, despite the majority voter support, Prop 2 as it now stands may have a brief lifespan. The Governor’s office is already pushing for a special legislative session to change the language of the bill or replace it with their own Medical Cannabis Act. These changes may be as mild as raising the age requirement for a medical card from 18 to 21 and limiting the number of grow licenses, or as drastic as allowing landlords and employers to discriminate against anyone in possession of a Medical Marijuana card. Nevertheless, applications for prescription marijuana cards are expected to begin in March of 2020.
With a growing majority of states having passed medical marijuana laws, and the number of recreational states now in double digits (plus Washington DC), one can clearly see that a green wave is washing across the United States. It may be years until marijuana is federally legal, but as 2018 proves yet again, getting out to vote is the best way to keep progressive marijuana policies on the ballot, and in the state laws.
What are your thoughts on the success of cannabis reform in the 2018 midterm elections? Share your thoughts in the comments below!