Marijuana legalization approved in Maryland, Missouri

Maryland voters approved by an overwhelming margin a state constitutional amendment to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.
A demonstrator waves a flag with marijuana leaves depicted on it during a protest calling for the legalization of marijuana, outside of the White House on April 2, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

Voters in Maryland and Missouri approved state constitutional amendments to legalize recreational marijuana for adults.

The Maryland amendment was approved overwhelmingly, with the margin 66%-34% as of early Wednesday morning. Missouri’s was approved by a narrower 53%-47% margin.

Marijuana legalization was on the ballot in five states Tuesday. Arkansas, North Dakota and South Dakota voters rejected it.

Heading into Tuesday’s elections, voters and lawmakers had approved adult pot use in 19 states. Seven of those legalized it through legislation. Medical use is legal in 37 states.

Ten years after Colorado became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana sales through a ballot measure, cannabis advocates are confident they can build grassroots support for legalization initiatives even in deeply red states. That is nearly all the terrain that is left.

Ballot initiatives are an option for legalizing recreational marijuana in just seven other states, all of which lean Republican to varying degrees: Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, Ohio, Oklahoma, Utah and Wyoming. Polls typically show higher support for legal weed among Democrats than among Republicans.

Ballot initiative campaigns to legalize adult use are underway in some of those states. Oklahomans will vote on such an initiative next year. An Ohio campaign will start again if lawmakers don’t pass their own legalization bill in the next legislative session.

Campaigns could be possible even in Wyoming and Idaho, said Jared Moffat, campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit focused on legalizing cannabis. “As it becomes more viable in conservative states, we start to look at those places,” he said of legalization.

Getting a recreational pot measure passed in a red state is only half the battle, however. In recent years conservative lawmakers have sued to stop implementation of legal pot and other left-leaning measures they don’t like, passed laws to undermine ballot measures, or moved to make the initiative process more difficult.

In South Dakota, citizens voted in 2020 to legalize pot, but Gov. Kristi Noem’s (R) administration successfully sued to block the measure.

Cannabis critics are likely to sue over any measures that pass this year, even in Maryland, legal experts say. Opponents of the Arkansas and Missouri measures already unsuccessfully sued this year to try to keep those initiatives off the ballot.

“I think you’ll see each and every one [of the measures] challenged,” said Vince Sliwoski, managing partner at Harris Bricken, a firm that specializes in cannabis law. “The question is: how far do those lawsuits go, and which ones succeed?”