NPR Report: A mixed bag for cannabis legalization efforts in five states

It was a mixed night for cannabis advocates as measures to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana passed in Maryland and Missouri but were soundly rejected in reliably red Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The two wins mean 21 states, D.C. and two U.S. territories have now legalized cannabis for recreational use. Sixteen states and two territories have legalized marijuana for medical use.

Missouri will now create a statewide licensing program to grow and sell marijuana. The Maryland vote allows state lawmakers to set up the parameters of the state’s recreational cannabis industry. Both measures will establish procedures to expunge records for those charged with non-violent, low-level pot possession.

But the results in Arkansas and the Dakotas are a clear disappointment for the legalization movement. Arkansas was aiming to become the first state in the Deep South to legalize recreational pot. The measure lost with 56% voting against. Proponents had hoped for legalization breakthroughs in the Dakotas after multiple fits and starts in recent years. South Dakota voters approved legalization in 2020, only to have it thrown out by the state Supreme Court. North Dakota voters in 2016 passed a measure allowing medical marijuana use in the state.

“It just goes to show that in the Deep South people tend to want things a certain way and that was proven on election night,” Eddie Armstrong with the pro-legalization group Responsible Growth Arkansas tells NPR. “It’s unfortunate that politics got in the way of a citizen’s effort to really bring forth brighter futures and opportunities for Arkansas.”


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