Marijuana Is on the Ballot, but Are Advocates Ensuring Voters Are Informed?

If voters are to decide the fate of marijuana legalization, voters must know the truth about marijuana, and they must be informed about the short and long-term effects of the drug.


Every election cycle, cannabis is on the ballot in one form or another. Most recently, voters in Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota, and South Dakota had the opportunity to vote on ballot proposals related to the drug. “Yes” votes would legalize recreational cannabis in their state, and “No” votes would uphold the status quo, i.e., keeping recreational cannabis use illegal.

The following sections outline how each state voted and why advocates of cannabis legalization must ensure an electorate is fully educated on cannabis before voting.1

How Each State Voted

Arkansas flag


Arkansas voters had the chance to consider a proposal on their ballot this past November called ‘Issue 4.’ If passed, the law would have allowed adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis. The law would not have allowed Arkansas residents to grow marijuana at home, nor would it have expunged criminal records for marijuana convictions. The measure would have implemented a 10% sales tax on marijuana, with all funds going towards law enforcement, operations at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, and drug court programs authorized by the Arkansas Drug Court Act. This ballot proposal failed.

Maryland flag


Maryland voters had a proposal on their ballot, too, called ‘Question 4.’ If passed, the proposal would allow Maryland adults to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis or two marijuana plants, beginning July 1, 2023. The amendment also allowed for the expungement of records for people arrested for marijuana possession, and the amendment had a provision for people serving time for simple possession to have their sentences reconsidered. Finally, the ballot proposal had a section outlining the establishment of a cannabis business assistance fund for small businesses (as well as minority- and women-owned businesses) entering the cannabis industry. This ballot proposal passed.

Missouri flag


Missouri voters went to the polls in November 2022 and were met with ‘Amendment 3,’ that state’s recreational cannabis ballot proposal. The proposal sought to remove existing prohibitions on recreational cannabis use. It would allow Missouri adults to purchase and possess up to three ounces of cannabis and it would allow them to grow up to six flowering plants at home. Further, the proposal outlined a provision that, if passed, would create a 6% sales tax to facilitate automatic expungements for certain nonviolent marijuana offenses, veterans’ health care, substance misuse treatment, and Missouri’s public defender system. This ballot proposal passed.

Norh Dakota flag

North Dakota

North Dakota voters considered ‘Measure 2,’ which would have allowed North Dakota adults to possess up to one ounce of cannabis. That proposal would also have permitted 18 retailers and seven cultivation facilities. Further, it would have imposed a 5% excise tax and allowed individuals three cannabis plants for at-home growing. This ballot proposal failed.

South Dakota flag

South Dakota.

South Dakota voters were asked to consider ‘Measure 27,’ which would have legalized adult possession of up to one ounce of marijuana. Under Measure 27, adult residents would have also been able to grow up to three marijuana plants at home, provided they did not live in a jurisdiction where a licensed marijuana retail store was operating. This ballot proposal failed.

Cannabis Use Can Result In Harm, but Legalization Advocates Won’t Always Inform Voters of That

Marijuana use is increasing for all age groups and both sexes. As this is happening, the public perception of marijuana risks and attendant harm is gradually declining. Increasingly, young Americans today do not consider marijuana use as ‘risky behavior.’

Yet even as it is the most commonly used illegal substance in the United States, marijuana poses certain risks and potential long-term harm to people who experiment with it. Marijuana is especially dangerous for youths and young adults, and the marijuana of today is far more potent than it was in previous generations. Approximately one in ten people who use marijuana will become addicted to it, and one in six if they start using it before age 18.2

Some of the risks of using marijuana include the following:

  • Marijuana can cause permanent IQ loss. Some experts estimate chronic users can lose as much as eight IQ points, with the risk increasing the younger the person is when they start using cannabis. Further, there is no indication that lost IQ points return after quitting marijuana.
  • While a direct cause-and-effect relationship has not yet been proven, marijuana has been linked to depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and psychotic episodes.
  • Marijuana use dramatically affects a person’s timing, movement, coordination, reflexes, and response time, all of which can harm athletic performance and regular motor function.
  • People who drive under the influence of marijuana can suffer from slower reaction time, lane weaving, decreased coordination, and difficulty reacting to what other drivers are doing on the road.
  • Research shows that people who use marijuana are more likely to have relationship problems, they may suffer poor educational outcomes, have lower career achievement, and they may experience reduced satisfaction with life.

The above is by no means a complete list, but it points to a few of the critical harms that come from marijuana use. And it is essential for voters to be informed of these harms and to understand that such harms may increase if their state legalizes cannabis.

The Importance of Educating Voters

Since democracy is a bone-deep feature of U.S. society, there’s always an argument to be made for leaving critical issues up to the American people to decide. But if advocates for marijuana legalization are going to create ballot proposals that do put the marijuana question in the hands of voters, it is of the utmost importance that voters understand what marijuana is, what its effects are, how potent marijuana is, and what social costs or health-related harms may come from legalizing the drug.

Each voter is ultimately responsible for educating themselves on the various ballot issues before them. That being said, there is a public interest in ensuring all voters who are asked to cast ballots on marijuana truly understand what they’re voting for. Advocates of marijuana decriminalization, state-level public health institutions, and policymakers should publish and promote informative materials about cannabis so voters can cast ballots based on informed decisions.

Sources Cited:

  1. CNBC. “Here’s how five states voted on the legalization of recreational marijuana.” CNBC, 2022. ↩︎

  2. SAMHSA. “Know the Risks of Marijuana.” Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2022. ↩︎