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2023 Cannabis Ballot Measures

2023 election season nears with new cannabis ballot measures
Written by Sarah Friedman

We’re getting close to 2023 election season and that means new cannabis ballot measures. One state up this year.

In 2022, five different states offered residents a voter ballot for cannabis legalization. This year, it looks like it’ll only be one, but there are already plenty laying in wait for 2024. Which states have cannabis ballot measures in 2023, and what should we expect?

2023 cannabis ballot measures

2022 was a busy year for cannabis ballot measures. Five states offered them to voters, which was originally supposed to be six. Oklahoma was slated to put it to the public as well, but the measure didn’t make it onto the ballot. Legal challenges to the text delayed everything to the point that it missed the deadline. It was not, however, stopped. We’ll get to that a bit later.

The five states that did offer cannabis ballot measure were: Missouri, Maryland, Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota. The first two passed their measures, while the latter three did not. As a side note, South Dakota actually did pass a ballot measure in 2020. This was followed by Governor Kristi Noem conspiring with local law enforcement to take it away, complete with help from a judge she appointed. That it didn’t pass at a later date, when it did pass earlier; is very strange as sentiment towards cannabis only progresses in the US. A possible indication of further tampering by Noem.

While several states line up for next year; only Ohio will offer its voters a cannabis legalization measure during the 2023 elections. And it wasn’t easy to get it. Ohio is yet another example of tampering with a system, by the government itself. After a legal battle, the measure is now approved officially for this year’s ballot.

Which states will have cannabis ballot measures in 2023
Which states will have cannabis ballot measures in 2023

Ohio and the fight for a cannabis ballot measure

It could be argued that the issues Ohio experienced in getting its ballot measure approved, are standard and run-of-the-mill problems, not related to attempted sabotage. But we see this all the time now, and it looks way more like government efforts to thwart legalization efforts. This time around, the government had to settle with the activist group leading the charge. The state should have voted on the measure last year.

The group behind this, is the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, or CTRMLA. The organization first handed in signatures in 2022. The signatures were valid, on-time, and done according to collection rules. The state’s response was to do nothing. The collection triggered a special review session, and gave the state the chance to institute its own policy; but it didn’t. It stood there like a deer in headlights. The CTRMLA tried to have the ballot legally forced into the election via a lawsuit with the state.

CTRMLA didn’t succeed in 2022, but it seemingly did win its case, or at least, it got the government to settle. Although I suppose if the goal was to hold the whole thing off, the government got its way for a year. According to the case stipulations, the state could not require the group to re-collect the signatures it already collected.

The group did go on to collect more signatures and turned them in, at two different times. In summer 2023, after the second submission, the state said the group was short by 679. So the group went out and collected over 6,000 more, bringing the total to several thousand more than necessary. This time the government could not find another excuse. On August 16th, it was announced that the ballot would go before voters.

Said Tom Haren, the spokesperson for CTRMLA, “We are grateful to the thousands of Ohioans who helped us get to this point and are excited to bring our proposal to regulate marijuana like alcohol before Ohio voters this coming Election Day.”

Ohio legislators did offer a recreational legalization bill in May of 2023; but it never advanced. It appears Ohio wanted desperately to keep this choice from tax-paying voters, but is so against a legalization, that it couldn’t come up with its own policy. Legislators generally find it preferable to pass their own legislation, than to deal with a law passed by voter ballot which they didn’t write; and which is much more difficult to amend. I expect the state is hoping the measure fails, or already has some argument against a future win.

Ohio will have a cannabis ballot for recreational use
Ohio will have a cannabis ballot for recreational use

Other 2023 ballot measures

Ballot measures are often associated with general elections; so we see them for the most part, during regular elections. But a ballot measure is simply a measure that the population gets to vote on; and isn’t actually relevant to the time of year its given. Technically, ballot measures can be conducted at any time.

So, lets go back for a moment to Oklahoma. Earlier this year, Oklahoma residents were able to vote on the ballot measure they were supposed to have last election. Oklahoma is the one-out-of-six that didn’t get its ballot measure into the election last year. This was reportedly due to legal challenges, which blocked it from entry onto the ballot.

Later that year on October 18th, Oklahoma’s Governor Kevin Stitt made an order that the measure be on the March 7th ballot in 2023. This was done quietly, and received very little attention. Maybe ballot measures held during the election garner more fuss. Or maybe it’s just that its Oklahoma, which is only home to a few million people. Regardless, on March 7th, Oklahoma’s government did stand by its promise to get the vote to voters, with Question 820. Unfortunately, it didn’t pass.

Question 820, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, received the greatest disapproval of any state ballot measure thus far. According to Ballotpedia, 61.67% voted no, which amounted to 349,284 votes. On the yes side, there were only 217,078 votes, which represented 38.33% of the voting public. This keeps Oklahoma as an illegal state for recreational use.

2024 ballot measures

As far as next year, there are already eight different voter ballot measures concerning some aspect of cannabis legalization. It’s probably a good time to remind, that putting together a ballot measure is a huge amount of work; and in some places, very much fought off by governments. They must be formulated carefully, and then promoted; and this can take years of time.

For 2024 elections, Nebraska is showing up as the biggest player. Three of the eight measures currently logged, have to do with this state. This includes, a recreational vote, and two different medical bills: the Medical Marijuana Legalization Initiative, and the Medical Marijuana Regulation Initiative. I cannot say why the latter two are separate, as they are similar. This situation is reminiscent of South Dakota, which legalized both medical and recreational cannabis via ballot in the 2020 elections. In that case, both ballots were voted in; but the recreational legalization was subsequently taken away.

Florida's ballot measure will be in 2024
Florida’s ballot measure will be in 2024

Florida is also already up twice in 2024; one measure is for a recreational legalization, and the other is the Medical Marijuana Cultivation Initiative. As a showing of how much big cannabis companies want the recreational legalization to go through; Florida’s campaign is financially led by Trulieve. Trulieve is the biggest weed company in Florida, and one of the biggest ones across the US. The company has filtered tens of millions into this campaign, including $25 million in seed funding.

Also already up for 2024 are the following: Oregon with a Unionization of Cannabis Workers Initiative, Idaho with a Medical Marijuana Initiative, and Missouri with a Marijuana Consumption and Regulation Amendment. Of course, we’re still in 2023, and its quite possible that this list will expand by the time we get to those elections. Even if no more are added on, it’ll be a way more happening year, than this year.

Conclusion

The 2023 election season is way less interesting than the previous year in terms of cannabis ballot measures. However, it seems this less happening year, will be followed by way more going on in 2024.

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About the author

Sarah Friedman

I look stuff up and and write stuff down, in order to make sense of the world around. And I travel a lot too.

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