States that have already legalized medical and/or adult-use cannabis have taken two avenues: legislative action or voter-approved ballot measures.

Specifically, the first eight states to legalize adult-use cannabis did so through citizen-led petitions that put a question, measure or amendment before their voters on Election Day. Washington, D.C., was also in that boat via Initiative 71 in November 2014.

It wasn’t until January 2018 that Vermont became the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis through a legislature, which became official when Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed House Bill 511 (Act 86) into law.

Since then, five more states have legalized adult-use cannabis through their legislatures (Illinois, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York and Virginia) and four more have legalized adult-use cannabis though the election process (Michigan, Arizona, Montana and New Jersey).

Many more states have legalized medical programs, with Mississippi becoming the 37th state to do so without imposing strict restrictions, such as low-THC limits. And Mississippi has ridden both avenues to legalization: The voters passed an initiative in the November 2020 election, the state’s Supreme Court overturned it in May 2021, and state lawmakers passed legislation with bicameral veto-proof majorities in January 2022.

As the green reform wave continues to spread, nine states are amidst campaign efforts to put legalization or reform proposals before their voters in the November 2022 election.

Here, we break down 20-plus citizen-led efforts in those nine states—Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma and South Dakota—including the signature-gathering benchmarks they must hit to appear on the ballot, and what the proposals would mean if they’re ultimately approved by voters.

Arkansas (adult use/decriminalization)

Arkansas voters may have their say on the Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Amendment of 2022, a proposed constitutional amendment that would open the marketplace to new businesses (with no limit to the number of licenses issued by the state) and release from prison anyone currently incarcerated for a cannabis-related offense.

Arkansas True Grass, the group behind the effort, made an earlier push for the constitutional amendment in 2020, but coronavirus safety protocols halted the effort in the spring. Now, with renewed energy two years later, the group must gather 89,151 valid signatures by July 8 to land a shot at the 2022 ballot.

A separate decriminalization amendment is also gaining traction.

Signature-gathering is ongoing across the state.

“The taxes [from cannabis sales] would all go to the general fund besides the cost of implementing the amendment, and the General Assembly would decide where that can be spent,” Briana Boling, spokesperson for Arkansas True Grass, told KUAF. “So that would be good for the state. Also, allowing more people to be in the industry would be better for the economy.”

Just last month, however, a former Arkansas state legislator filed a similar legalization measure that may compete with Arkansas True Grass’s efforts.

Filed under the aegis of Responsible Growth Arkansas, the Arkansas Adult Use Cannabis Amendment would lend an early advantage to currently licensed medical cannabis businesses, according to a report from Marijuana Moment. This new measure has already pulled in $1.75 million in funding from five licensed growers in Arkansas.

All signs point to a competitive political climate with those two organizations pleading their case to the Arkansas constituency this year.

Flipping to adult-use sales would build on the early business successes of the state’s medical cannabis market, which to date has brought in more than $500 million in gross revenue.

-Eric Sandy, digital editor

Florida (medical reform)

While Florida has had its fair share of failed legislative pushes and ballot initiatives concerning adult-use cannabis legalization, the state seems to have embraced its medical cannabis program, which has more than 669,000 registered patients as of a Jan. 28 update from the Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).

As they reconvene for the 2022 legislative session, Florida’s lawmakers are considering changes to the state’s medical cannabis program, including requiring fewer doctor visits, extending the expiration dates on patient registration cards and offering telehealth services to help patients refill their prescriptions.

In addition, two medical cannabis-related ballot initiatives backed by Peaceful Minds for Medical Marijuana, a political action committee, may appear on the state’s ballot this November. The group had to collect 891,589 signatures by a Feb. 1 deadline, and election officials then have 30 days to verify the signatures.

The Florida Medical Marijuana for Mental Health Disorders Initiative would amend Amendment 2, the state’s 2016 voter-approved medical cannabis legalization initiative, to add nine mental health disorders to Florida’s list of qualifying conditions: bipolar disorder, opioid use disorder, panic disorder, anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, insomnia disorder, alcohol use disorder, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD).

The other measure, the Florida Medical Marijuana Plants Initiative, would amend Amendment 2 to redefine “medical use” to include growing up to nine cannabis plants.

-Melissa Schiller, senior digital editor

Idaho (medical/adult use)

One of the last states without a medical cannabis program, Idaho has some of the strictest cannabis laws and penalties in the U.S. Possessing any amount of cannabis in the state could result in one year of incarceration and a $1,000 fine, while possessing 3 ounces or more is a felony charge punishable by up to five years imprisonment and a $10,000 fine.

All the while, millions of dollars from Idaho’s most populated city, Boise, are funneled across the state line into nearby Ontario, Ore., where adult-use cannabis is legal. But with a rainy day fund topping $600 million in 2020, the most since its 1984 creation, Idaho lawmakers haven’t had much of an incentive to collect possible tax revenue that could be generated from a regulated program of their own.

That could all change under a pair of citizen-led initiatives aiming to land measures on the November 2022 ballot in the Gem State.

Sponsored by Kind Idaho, the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act (IMMA) aims to legalize the possession of up to 4 ounces of cannabis for medical purposes, as well as the home cultivation of up to six plants for qualifying patients. Kind Idaho attempted to qualify an identical initiative for the 2020 ballot but suspended its signature-gathering effort due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In August 2021, Kind Idaho chairwoman Jackee Winters told Cannabis Business Times “It’s time for Idaho to grow up. There are people here who suffer, and we’re behind the times.”

At that time, Winters said a skeleton crew of volunteers had collected roughly 5,000 of the 64,945 valid signatures needed by a May 1, 2022, deadline.

Also needing to hit that signature benchmark to land on the ballot is a campaign for the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act (PAMDA), a limited adult-use cannabis initiative sponsored by The Idaho Way. The campaign aims to legalize the possession, use and transfer of up to 3 ounces of cannabis by those 21 and older.

Under PAMDA, cannabis must be purchased out of state, transported in sealed containers directly to one’s private property and can only be used on that private property with permission of the owner.

While the two campaigns are well under way, cannabis reform efforts in the state face opposition from the Idaho Legislature and Republican Gov. Brad Little, who told Idaho Press shortly after taking office that if Idahoans wanted legal cannabis, “They elected the wrong guy as governor.”

In April 2021, Little signed legislation making it more difficult to get initiatives or referendums on the ballot “in what is widely seen as an attempt to stop a medical marijuana initiative and other left-leaning causes in the conservative state,” The Associated Press reported.

The law would have required 6% of registered voters in all 35 Idaho congressional districts sign petitions, rather than in 18 districts, in order to qualify initiatives for the ballot. But a unanimous Idaho Supreme Court overturned the restrictive initiative law in August, ruling it unconstitutional.

-Tony Lange, associate editor

Missouri (medical reform/adult use)

While Missouri is still finding its medical cannabis footing, with the first full year of retail sales taking off in 2021, the “Show-Me State” could already have adult-use cannabis reform on its way by the end of 2022.

And the competition is fierce: There are three citizen-led initiatives cleared for circulation that aim to legalize cannabis for personal or adult use through November 2022 ballot measures. All three efforts are spearheaded by different sponsors and offer varying approaches to possible reform. 

In addition, a constitutional amendment to revise the state’s medical cannabis program, which was approved via Amendment 2 by 66% of voters in the November 2018 election, is also amidst a campaign effort to gather the 160,199 valid signatures needed by a May 8 deadline to appear on the November ballot.

The medical cannabis initiative aims to amend the current program by allowing qualifying patients to grow up 50 square feet of plants for personal use; possess up to a one-year supply; decrease the cost of a patient ID card from $100 to $25; and have up to three primary caregivers per patient, limiting those caregivers to no more than 10 patients.

Among the three initiatives focused on adult and personal use, a campaign sponsored by Cannabis Patient Network aims to amend the Missouri Constitution to: legalize the possession, consumption, cultivation and sale of cannabis for personal or medical use, regardless of age; legally allow driving under the influence of cannabis; release all individuals from incarceration, parole and probation from any conviction for a nonviolent cannabis-related crime; and prohibit taxation on medical cannabis, among other provisions, according to the Missouri Secretary of State’s website.

Meanwhile, an adult-use cannabis initiative sponsored by Legal Missouri 2022 would amend the Missouri Constitution to: legalize cannabis for those 21 and older; allow individuals convicted of nonviolent cannabis-related offenses to petition to be released from incarcerations and/or have their records expunged; establish a lottery to award licenses, distributed equally to congressional districts; require a registration card for personal cultivation; and impose a 6% tax on cannabis sales, among other provisions.

And another adult-use cannabis initiative, sponsored by Fair Access Missouri, would amend the Missouri Constitution to: legalize cannabis for those 21 and older; authorize commercial facilities where cannabis can be consumed; allow unlimited licenses to be issued; impose a 7.5% tax on cannabis sales; and dedicate one-third of the revenue to legal assistance for drug-related expungement, as well as other drug-related programs; one-third of revenue to small businesses owned by individuals in a historically marginalized population, as well as training programs; and one-third of revenue for public infrastructure and improvements, among other provisions.

While the three initiatives take varying approaches to legalization, all three offer avenues for expungement.

-Tony Lange, associate editor

Nebraska (medical/adult use)

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana met the signature requirement in 2020 to place a medical cannabis legalization measure on the state’s ballot, but the group’s victory was short-lived after the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down the measure before Election Day, ruling that the initiative violated the single-subject rule outlined in the state constitution.

The group has since fine-tuned language for a new initiative that it hopes to qualify for the 2022 election. The Nebraska Medical Marijuana Initiative seeks to amend the Nebraska Constitution to legalize the use of cannabis for medical purposes.

Also in the signature-gathering phase is the Nebraska Medical Marijuana Regulation Initiative, which would enact the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Regulation Act, a state statute to legalize the possession, manufacture, distribution, delivery and dispensing of cannabis and cannabis products for medical purposes.

The Nebraska Medical Marijuana Program Initiative is another competing medical cannabis legalization initiative that would enact the Nebraska Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act. This statute would legalize the use of up to 5 ounces of cannabis for medical use.

A fourth initiative, a constitutional amendment called the Nebraska Marijuana Legalization Initiative, has been filed by Bill Hawkins of the Nebraska Hemp Company to legalize cannabis for adult use.

The state statutes require 85,628 signatures, while constitutional amendments require 122,274. The deadline is July 7.

-Melissa Schiller, senior digital editor

North Dakota (adult use)

A citizen-led petition to legalize adult-use cannabis and allow home grows won’t be making its way to North Dakota voters in the November 2022 election.

Organizers of the petition, sponsored by a 25-person committee, failed to turn in at least 31,164 valid signatures—roughly 4% of South Dakota’s population—to the secretary of state by their Jan. 22 deadline, or within one year of when their initiative was approved for circulation.

Sponsoring committee member Dustin Peyer, of Driscoll, told the Bismarck Tribune the group gathered roughly 19,500 signatures in its one-year time limit.

“We grew support across the state through a network of small businesses,” he said. “The biggest obstacle is those who are pushing the hardest are disabled, parents, business owners, or have generally a lot going on in their life.”

While each initiative has its own signature deadline of one year after approval for circulation in North Dakota, the final deadline to submit signatures regardless of a petition’s approval date is July 11, 2022 (120 days before the election).

The failed measure sought to add a section to the North Dakota Constitution to legalize cannabis use for residents 21 and older, and to allow for the possession, cultivation, processing and transportation of up to 12 cannabis plants for personal use. It also sought to ban its public use and to authorize the state Legislature to enact laws to license and regulate the commercial sale of cannabis.

While the signature-gathering effort came up short, Peyer told the Tribune that his group’s supporters already are forming committees to propose two future ballot measures. The first is related to quality and accessibility of medical cannabis, which voters approved via Measure 5 with a 63.7% majority in the November 2016 election. And the latter is related to another adult-use initiative, he said.

In 2018, North Dakota voters defeated Measure 3, an initiative that would have legalized adult-use cannabis and provided automatic expungement to those with cannabis-related convictions, with 59.5% voting against it.

-Tony Lange, associate editor

Ohio (adult use)

Ohio lawmakers approved a medical cannabis program in 2016, with sales launching in early 2019, but the state has faltered on adult-use reform since voters shot down a legalization measure in 2015.

Now, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has succeeded in getting a legalization bill in front of the state Legislature. The group’s Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative would legalize the cultivation, processing, sale, purchase, possession, home growth and use of cannabis for adults 21 and older.

The coalition submitted 206,943 signatures to the secretary of state’s office Dec. 20, 2021, but on Jan. 3, the office announced that the group was short more than 13,000 valid signatures (after more than 87,000 of the signatures were rejected).

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol then submitted an additional 29,918 signatures on Jan. 13, and on Jan. 28, the secretary of state announced that the campaign had hit the necessary mark—132,877 valid signatures—to send its initiative to lawmakers.

The Ohio Legislature now has four months to act on the proposal, and if lawmakers fail to pass the bill, the coalition can collect an additional 132,877 signatures to place its initiative on the state’s November 2022 ballot.

-Melissa Schiller, senior digital editor

Oklahoma (medical reform/adult use):

Oklahoma, a state with a free-market approach to medical cannabis, may get a shot at flipping over to adult-use sales later this year.

The Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization Initiative (State Question 819), a proposed constitutional amendment supported by Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, seeks full legalization—along with a 15% excise tax on sales.

The group needs to pull in 177,958 valid signatures by June. (If enough valid signatures are provided to the state by April, the ballot measure may be eligible for the August primary election ballot.)

Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action filed that measure alongside State Question 818, which would create the State Cannabis Commission, a new agency meant to replace the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority and to regulate medical marijuana, cannabis and hemp.

There’s also the Oklahoma Marijuana Legalization and Taxation Initiative (State Question 820), a similar-but-different approach to adult-use legalization. That measure would allow state lawmakers to modify the policy around adult-use cannabis in the future (as opposed to a constitutional amendment, which can only be altered through a vote at the ballot).

This would appear to be another competitive legalization campaign, with dueling organizations articulating different versions of the future to the voters of Oklahoma.

“Our effort is the homegrown effort, and [State Question 820] is the corporate cannabis effort,” Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action Director Jed Green told The Oklahoman. “It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when we will have recreational cannabis in Oklahoma.”

“This is an effort that started several years ago but has grown,” State Question 820 campaign spokeswoman Michelle Tilley said. “We have a broad coalition of Oklahomans—small business owners, small growers, users and criminal justice reform people, as well.”

Lastly, in January, a new adult-use legalization bill materialized in the state Legislature: House Bill 3754, the Oklahoma Adult Access to Marijuana Act.

-Eric Sandy, digital editor

South Dakota (adult use)

Adult-use cannabis legalization has a tough recent history in South Dakota.

Voters approved an adult-use measure in 2020, but Gov. Kristi Noem quickly pushed a lawsuit into the courts to invalidate the victory. The South Dakota Supreme Court upheld that ruling. (Voters approved a separate medical cannabis legalization on the 2020 ballot, which has since gone into effect.)

Noem now wants South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) to pay the state’s legal fees for that trip through the judicial system—fees totaling some $142,000—rather than foist the cost onto taxpayers. 

“That will not happen,” the organization wrote on Facebook.

Rather, SDBML is moving ahead with plans to get a new adult-use legalization proposal onto the November 2022 ballot.

The deadline to collect 16,961 valid signatures to qualify a recreational cannabis legalization initiative for the November ballot is May 3. The 2022 petition drive is seen as a fail-safe measure in the event that state lawmakers do not act on adult-use legalization this year; SDBML, once enough signatures are confirmed, hopes to bring in at least the level of support that the 2020 election saw for legalization.

The state Legislature has options at its disposal right now: Senate Bill 3 and Senate Bill 25 would, if passed, tee up a taxed and regulated adult-use cannabis market.

-Eric Sandy, digital editor