Monday, October 15, 2018

Ballot initiatives in Michigan and North Dakota test whether Midwest is ready to legalize recreational marijuana

Voters in Michigan and North Dakota could be the first in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana in November, but the region is deeply divided on the topic. "Advocates will have to overcome opposition campaigns arguing that legalization will make the drug more available to children and endanger public safety if people are driving high," Graham Vyse reports for Governing.

Polls in Michigan suggest that a majority supports legalization, but polling in North Dakota has been limited and gives mixed results, Vyse reports. Fund-raising indicates that the ballot initiative is more popular in Michigan than in North Dakota. Pro-legalization groups in Michigan have raised $1.7 million, while opponents have raised only $286,062. But in North Dakota, anti-legalization groups have raised $110,000, while pro-legalization groups have raised $28,900. In America overall, 62 percent support legalizing marijuana, including 69 percent of Democrats and 45 percent of Republicans, according to the Pew Research Center.

Pro-legalization advocates view the initiatives as a matter of personal liberty and as a means to reduce criminal drug convictions and save taxpayers money. Foes of legalization worry that legalization could lead to more use, and worry about businesses marketing the drug to addicts and children, Vyse reports.

The initiatives have a few differences. Michigan's Proposal 1 would set up a licensing and taxation system, while North Dakota's Measure 3 would not. Michigan's initiative would limit how much marijuana people can keep in their house, and would allow cities and counties to prohibit or restrict pot shops. "North Dakota's ballot initiative is unique in that it would create a system for automatically expunging some previous marijuana convictions," Vyse reports. Both measures would legalize it for ages 21 and up, while penalizing younger people caught using it.

Recreational marijuana is legal in eight other states: Through referenda in Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Oregon, and by a legislative bill in Vermont.

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