Sunday, November 6, 2022

State and local government referendums on legalizing marijuana

 As he plied the streets of Killeen in his silver Volvo SUV on a recent Sunday, Louie Minor recalled his time as a deputy constable whose duties included arresting marijuana users, reported Stateline.  

Minor, a 43-year-old Iraq war veteran, wanted to reach as many voters as possible in a mission that might have seemed improbable during his career in law enforcement. At each stop, Minor handed out a light-blue card emblazoned with a cannabis leaf and the message, “Decriminalize Marijuana Possession.”

In next week’s midterm elections, voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota will consider statewide initiatives that would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults. Nineteen states and the District of Columbia already have legalized recreational marijuana. Medical cannabis is legal in nearly 40 states, plus the District of Columbia. 

Marijuana-related measures also will be on the ballot in dozens of municipalities in six other states, including Texas, another indication of how the nation’s attitudes toward marijuana are quickly evolving.

Four of the six states — Colorado, Michigan, Montana and Rhode Island — already have legalized recreational marijuana. Local voters in those states will consider whether to expand availability or, in a few cases, reduce it by overturning or curtailing previously approved types of marijuana sales, according to a compilation of upcoming ballot initiatives by The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, commonly known as NORML. 

In Ohio and Texas, the question on some local ballots will be whether to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the drug.

In Ohio, which has legalized medical marijuana, seven communities will vote to eliminate penalties for misdemeanor possession of cannabis. A poll released in early October by Spectrum News in partnership with Siena College Research Institute showed that 60% of likely voters in Ohio supported legalizing adult use of cannabis while 37% opposed it. 

Killeen, which sits adjacent to the sprawling Fort Hood U.S. Army base, is one of five Texas cities where voters are being asked to bar local police from making arrests or issuing citations for misdemeanor possession of marijuana.

Ultimately, proponents hope to persuade Texas lawmakers to legalize marijuana statewide. But Texas prosecutors, police departments and municipal governments already have scaled back enforcement: According to a review conducted for Stateline by the Texas Office of Court Administration, misdemeanor marijuana convictions dropped from 25,671 in fiscal 2018 to 7,531 in fiscal 2022.

The Texas initiatives in Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen and San Marcos are the result of months of petition drives and coalition-building by Ground Game Texas, which former Democratic congressional nominees Mike Siegel and Julie Oliver founded in the spring of 2021 to build strength for progressive Democrats. Republicans have dominated state politics in Texas for more than two decades.

Ground Game’s first test on marijuana enforcement was in the capital city of Austin, and it succeeded overwhelmingly. In May, voters in the nation’s 11th most populous city, a liberal enclave in a largely red state, chose to decriminalize marijuana possession (and ban no-knock warrants) by 86% to 14%.

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