As governments in states like New York and New Jersey weigh marijuana legalization, four states gave voters the power to decide the issue on Tuesday.
Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize adult-use marijuana and voters in Utah and Missouri voted to legalize medical marijuana.
North Dakota’s ballot initiative to legalize adult-use marijuana failed by a nearly 20 percent margin, which surprised state Rep. Rick Becker (R–Bismarck) who supported the measure.
“I thought there was going to be a very, very close vote,” Becker said Wednesday morning.
When medical marijuana was on North Dakota’s ballot two years ago, it brought out a lot of young voters, he said. Republicans who lean toward a libertarian school of thought and prioritize small government often support marijuana legalization, he said.
“Any activity in which there’s no victim should not be illegal,” Becker said.
The measure on Tuesday’s ballot, however, was broad and vague, which allowed opponents to capitalize on “reefer madness” type fears, he said.
“In North Dakota, the general sense was that we don’t want to restrict other people’s freedoms, but the fear factor became so large,” he said. “Nationally, I think that’s probably pretty much the same.”
In recent months, Manhasset residents have come up against a cannabis company, MedMen, that wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary on Northern Boulevard, and the issue has reached the North Hempstead Town Board, which wants to enact zoning regulations.
While the dispensary’s outspoken opponents focus on its proximity to institutions like schools and places of worship as well as nearby homes, they are also wary of what state legalization of marijuana would mean for Manhasset if it had a dispensary on a main street.
“Manhasset has a drinking problem,” Richard Bentley, president of Council of Greater Manhasset Civic Associations, told MedMen representatives at an October meeting. “Manhasset has an opioid problem. We have sons, daughters, cousins, friends who have died from the opioid addiction crisis that we’re in. The fear is, why are we now bringing in yet a new concern?”
Before Tuesday’s election, recreational marijuana was legal in nine states and Washington, D.C., while medical use was legal in 30 states.
New York legalized medical marijuana in 2014 when Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was re-elected Tuesday, signed the Compassionate Care Act.
In July, the New York state Department of Health published a report concluding that legalizing recreational marijuana would have more positive impacts than negative and in August, Cuomo announced that he had formed a working group for developing a bill on the matter.
As medical and recreational marijuana legalization gradually sweeps through the country, Becker said it is inevitable that states that have not yet done so will legalize the drug.
“Prohibition was a miserable experiment and failure for alcohol, and I think the same thing in another decade or so will be said about marijuana,” he said.