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Voters in 5 states decide whether to legalize marijuana

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) – Voters in five states will decide 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 President Joe Biden’s moves to decriminalize marijuana. Biden announced last month that he was pardoning thousands of Americans convicted of simple possession of marijuana under federal law.

Pro-marijuana advocates said Biden’s announcement could give their efforts a boost.

Recreational marijuana is legal in 19 states, and polls have shown opposition to easing legalization. All states with recreational marijuana on the ballot, except Maryland, voted for Trump in the 2020 presidential election.

Five states currently also have legal medical marijuana programs. That includes Arkansas, which in 2016 became the first Bible Belt state to legalize medical marijuana. State dispensaries opened in 2019, and more than 91,000 patients have cards to legally purchase marijuana for health problems.

Campaigns for legalization have raised about $23 million in five states, with the vast majority in Arkansas and Missouri. More than 85% of contributions in those two states come from donors associated with companies that hold medical marijuana licenses, according to an Associated Press analysis of the latest campaign finance reports.

In Arkansas, supporters are running upbeat ads touting the thousands of jobs they say the measure will create. Opponents released even more ominous videos, warning voters to “protect Arkansas from big marijuana.”

The initiative has drawn criticism from opponents of traditional legalization, as well as some medical marijuana advocates, who say the Arkansas proposal places too many restrictions and would only benefit a few dispensaries. Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, the former head of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, also opposed the measure.

Missouri’s proposal would legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older and would expunge records of past arrests and convictions for nonviolent marijuana offenses, except for sale to minors or driving under the influence. Maryland’s proposal would also make changes to the criminal code and create an automatic expungement of past marijuana possession convictions.

North Dakota’s measure would allow people over the age of 21 to legally use marijuana at home, as well as possess and grow limited amounts of cannabis. It would also establish policies to regulate retail establishments, cultivators and other types of marijuana businesses.

South Dakotans, including a sizable number of Republicans, voted to legalize marijuana possession in 2020, but that law was struck down by the state Supreme Court in part because the proposal combined medical marijuana and hemp. This year, recreational pot stands on its own as it goes before the voters.

In Colorado, where recreational marijuana has been legal for nearly a decade, voters on Tuesday approved a proposal that would allow the use of certain psychedelic substances. If approved, Colorado would become the second state to take such a step.

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