Voters in five states are deciding on Election Day whether to approve recreational marijuana, a move that could signal a major shift toward legalization in even the most conservative parts of the country.
The proposals are on the ballot in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota and follow moves by President Joe Biden toward decriminalizing marijuana. Biden last month announced he was pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law.
Missouri voters approved making recreational marijuana legal in the state for those 21 and older.
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Missouri’s proposal would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and expunge records of past arrests and convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, except for selling to minors or driving under the influence. Maryland’s proposal would also make changes in criminal law and create automatic expungements of past marijuana possession convictions.
Advocates of the marijuana initiatives have said Biden’s announcement may give a boost to their efforts.
Recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states, and polls have shown opposition to legalization softening. All of the states with recreational marijuana on the ballot, except for Maryland, voted for Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election.
The five states also currently have legal medical marijuana programs. That includes Arkansas, which in 2016 became the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuana. The state’s dispensaries opened in 2019, and more than 91,000 patients have cards to legally buy marijuana for medical conditions.
The legalization campaigns have raised about $23 million in the five states, with the vast majority in Arkansas and Missouri. More than 85% of contributions in those two states have come from donors associated with companies holding medical marijuana licenses, according to an Associated Press analysis of the most recent campaign finance reports.