Marijuana Moves Inland, Potentially Forcing Federal Hand

By FOCUS, a Leonine Company


As more and more states prepare for the move into the retail marijuana market, including our neighbor to the north, Canada, two ballot initiatives in the Midwest could be the vanguard of the legalization movement’s march inward, away from left-leaning and coastal areas and into more traditionally conservative areas of the country. Michigan Proposal 1 and North Dakota Measure 3 are both on the ballot in their respective states this November, and both would fully legalize recreational use of marijuana. The overall outcome of this November’s elections could significantly shift momentum in the movement to legalize marijuana at both the state and federal levels. This is despite Attorney General Jeff Sessions’, whose future in the administration itself is tenuous, strong opposition to such a policy.


To date, marijuana is currently legal in nine states and the District of Columbia, while it is decriminalized in another nine. Twenty-two states currently allow for medical use. These numbers are all likely to increase following the elections and could set up a major policy showdown in the U.S. Congress, as medical and recreational legalization movements continue their creep into the Midwest and other traditionally red-states.


Michigan Proposal 1 would legalize recreational use and possession of marijuana for persons 21 years of age and older and would enact a tax on statewide marijuana sales. Polls on the issue have shown the “yes” campaign consistently ahead of the “no” campaign; Michigan may well be the first midwestern state to legalize recreational marijuana, following the failure of an Ohio legalization initiative last year.


North Dakota Measure 3 would similarly legalize recreational use for persons 21 years of age and older, however it would not establish a taxation regime as the Michigan proposal would. Uniquely among such initiatives, Measure 3 would also create an automatic expungement process for individuals with convictions for marijuana offenses. Polls have been sparse and have shown mixed results, though both polls conducted so far have shown a significant number of undecided voters. This initiative is likely a toss-up.


In total, marijuana is on the ballot in four states in November – all red states, while an initiative to legalize medical marijuana previously passed in deep-red Oklahoma in June, though numerous lawsuits on the issue are pending. State Senate Majority Leader Greg Treat, R-Edmond, has said that the Senate will not undo the will of voters, but retains the authority to amend any regulations promulgated pursuant to the initiative. Further medical marijuana initiatives are on the ballot in Missouri and Utah. Polling in Missouri is unavailable, while Utahns appear to overwhelmingly support the proposal.


The crux of any debate on marijuana legalization always centers on the inconsistencies between state and federal policies – widely legal at the state level, decidedly illegal but sometimes tolerated at the federal level. These longstanding dynamics could change drastically in the coming months, however. Should Democrats take control of the House in January following the midterm elections, a coalition for federal action could be cobbled together between House Democrats, Senate Republicans in pro-legalization states, and the Trump Administration, as the president has previously expressed support for initiatives that would relax federal restrictions. Such a move could also be politically advantageous for the president heading into the 2020 election season, bringing in a traditionally Democratic and Libertarian constituency under his wing. Legalization in Michigan and North Dakota would certainly add credence to this theory. Governing agrees that the measures carry a strong nationwide significance, “It wouldn’t just shock the country. It’d turn the world upside down and affect federal change.”