- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Voters approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana Tuesday in Michigan, Missouri and Utah, increasing the total number of states to pass laws permitting the plant for recreational and medicinal purposes to 10 and 33, respectively.

Democratic victories in several gubernatorial and U.S. House races stand to affect existing and pending marijuana rules as well, giving legalization advocates cause to laud the results of Tuesday’s midterms as proof of a “green wave” of cannabis reform happening throughout the country.

A measure legalizing recreational marijuana within Michigan passed by a margin of about 56-44, making the Great Lakes State the first in the Midwest and 10th nationwide to defy federal prohibition by authorizing non-medical use among adults. The bill will allow adults to possess and grow small amounts of marijuana and paves the way for retail pot shops to eventually operate.

Medical marijuana measures succeeded in both Missouri and Utah, meanwhile, effectively shrinking the number of states without laws permitting the plant to 17.

Voters considered a total of four statewide marijuana proposals during Tuesday’s midterms, including a recreational bill rejected in North Dakota by a margin of roughly 60-40.

Marijuana is illegal under U.S. law, though the Obama administration advised federal prosecutors against pursuing related cases in states that have legalized the plant for either medicinal or recreational purposes. President Trump’s administration rescinded that policy in Jan. 2018, however, raising uncertainties about marijuana’s future legal status within states with both existing and pending medical and recreational laws.

A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on the outcome of Tuesday’s midterms as it relates to marijuana legalization.

Legalization advocates were noticeably pleased, meanwhile, and praised the outcome as indicative of a larger trend.

“Overall, the results last night are confirmation that cannabis legalization throughout the U.S. will continue despite its conflict with federal law,” said Peter Murphy, a Philadelphia-based marijuana attorney who said the results exemplified a “green wave” of reform.

David Ehrlich, co-founder of Zodaka, a payment processing service that caters toward the cannabis industry, called the outcome “great news for the legalization movement.

“Despite the fact that their leadership hasn’t firmly supported action on ending prohibition, many in the Democratic party have been vocal about their support for legalization,” Mr. Ehrlich said. “I anticipate that cannabis legalization bills could start hitting the House floor by next year.”

Indeed, Democrats in Congress including the presumed future House speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, previously said lawmakers should restore the Obama-era marijuana protections eliminated by the Trump administration, and that federal reform could be in the cards if Republicans lose control of the House as a result of Tuesday’s races.

Federal legislation aside, Democrats stand to also possibly assist efforts to further loosen marijuana regulations in D.C., where previous efforts to legalize taxed and regulated retail sales were rejected by the Republican-controlled House on account of the District’s laws being subject to congressional approval.

Democrats additionally gained at least seven governor seats, meanwhile, likely helping any future statewide efforts there to legalize marijuana for recreational or medical purposes.

Legalization opponents hardly declared defeat, however, and cited the failed North Dakota measure as evidence of their successful efforts to lobby against the state’s proposed recreational law.

“Legalization is far from inevitable,” said Kevin Sabet, president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action, an anti-legalization group. “The results of the election in North Dakota are a huge win for public health, safety and frankly, common sense,” he said in a statement.

Over 60 percent of Americans support federal marijuana legalization, according to polling conducted in 2017 and 2018 by Gallup and Quinnipiac University, respectively.

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