Those who wish to perpetuate the failed public policy of cannabis criminalization have lost the hearts and minds of the American public. And they know it.
With public support for marijuana policy reform reaching super-majority status in recent years, prohibitionists and other political opponents have largely abandoned efforts to try and influence public opinion. Rather, they are now relying on gamesmanship to prevent voters from weighing in on the issue.
In some cases, they are even willing to overturn the will of the electorate to get their way.
Last year in Mississippi and South Dakota, reform opponents successfully litigated to nullify election results for a pair of successful marijuana legalization measures from 2020, canceling the votes cast by 73 percent and 54 percent of their electorates, respectively.
In Nebraska, members of the state Supreme Court struck down a proposed medical cannabis access initiative months after it had been approved by the secretary of state’s office in 2020. Polling in the state showed that 77 percent of Nebraskans backed the initiative, but they never got the chance to show their support at the polls.
Opponents are engaging in similar tactics this election cycle. In Arkansas, they are seeking to invalidate voters’ pending decision on a statewide proposal to legalize marijuana possession and retail sales. Although the measure will appear on the November ballot, it is now up to justices on the state Supreme Court to determine if the votes will ever be counted.
In a filing before the court, opponents of the measure have cynically called upon judges to “protect the interests and rights of [the minority of] Arkansans who oppose the legalization of recreational marijuana.” (Statewide polling from earlier this year identified majority support for legalization among Arkansas voters.)
In Missouri, representatives of a leading prohibitionist organization have joined legal efforts to try and disqualify a citizens’ initiative legalizing marijuana use by adults and providing legal relief for those with prior low-level convictions. Earlier this month, Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft formally placed their initiative on the November ballot.
But now opponents contend that election officials miscounted the signatures required to get the question on the ballot. This claim appears to rest solely on initial media reports speculating that advocates risked falling short in one or two districts, which campaign proponents vociferously denied. A statewide survey, published earlier this month, finds that 62 percent of registered voters in Missouri back legalization.
Finally, in Oklahoma, election officials engaged in extensive delays prior to verifying that advocates had gathered enough signatures to qualify an adult-use legalization measure for the November ballot. Now officials are claiming that because of their own delays, there may not be time to formally certify the measure ahead of the coming election.
In a healthy democracy, those with competing visions on public policy would vie for voters’ support and abide by their voting decisions. But apparently those who oppose marijuana policy reform would rather take voters out of the equation altogether.
Whatever you think about cannabis legalization, these cynical and antidemocratic tactics ought to be a cause of deep concern.
Paul Armentano is the Deputy Director of NORML (the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and co-author of the book Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? This op-ed was distributed by OtherWords.org.