Tuesday was a new high for marijuana legalization advocates.
Michigan voted to approve a ballot measure, making it the first state in the Midwest to approve recreational usage for adults, joining nine other states and the District of Columbia. Additionally, Missouri and Utah approved medicinal marijuana measures, becoming the 32nd and 33rd respective states to do so. North Dakota’s ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana failed, however.
Every single state that has legalized recreational marijuana has first legalized it in a medical capacity. In this sense, medical marijuana ballot measures can be seen as the “gateway” to recreational ones.
Alison Holcomb, the primary drafter of Washington State’s recreational marijuana initiative, tells TIME that’s for good reason.
“Politically, it makes a lot of sense for states to first work with marijuana in the medical context,” she said. “That gives people in the states time to get more comfortable with it.”
It also makes sense logistically, she said.
Legalizing medical marijuana gives states and state agencies, such as departments of health and agriculture, opportunities to fine tune their systems before it becomes available to a much broader group of people. “Creating a smaller, more constrained medical system gives them time to learn about marijuana and to get comfortable with how they can regulate it,” Holcomb said.
And while it gives agencies the ability to work on regulating the substance, it also gives constituents time to get comfortable with what has historically frightened some.
“The unknown always carries a healthy amount of fear,” Holcomb said. “And in this case, fear of the unknown has been stoked to a great degree by a long history of our federal government refusing to allow research into cannabis to provide accurate scientific information into what it does, and what the real risks of it may be.”
Marijuana ballot measures have the additional effect of bringing people to the polls who might not otherwise show up, according to Sam D’Arcangelo, director of the Cannabis Voter Project.
It’s been a key issue for candidates in a few crucial midterm elections. Jared Polis, who was declared the winner of Colorado’s gubernatorial race, was outspoken about his support for its legalization before Colorado voted for it. Along with a few other legislators, Polis founded the Congressional Cannabis Caucus.
Democrat J.B. Pritzker also included legalizing marijuana as part of his platform for Illinois’ gubernatorial election. Pritzker defeated Republican incumbent Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, who opposed recreational legalization.
While pundits and politicians are hoping for red waves or blue waves, advocates for the legalization of marijuana are hoping a “green wave” sweeps the remainder of the country. But it won’t happen overnight, D’Arcangelo said.
“These things kind of happen on a regional basis. After Colorado and Washington legalized, you started to see a bunch of states fall like dominoes on the West Coast,” he said. Now that Michigan has joined the pack, other states in the Midwest may soon follow.
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