Five states just voted on legalizing recreational marijuana. These are the results

Elsewhere, natural psychedelic drugs were on the ballot

By Troy Farah

Science & Health Editor

Published November 9, 2022 2:25PM (EST)

Small cannabis leaf on USA flag (Getty Images/Olena Ruban)
Small cannabis leaf on USA flag (Getty Images/Olena Ruban)

Whether Democrat, Republican or independent, legalizing cannabis is a popular topic among voters. According to an October 2022 poll from Monmouth University, more than two-thirds (68%) of Americans support legalizing marijuana, including 76% of Democrats, 52% of Republicans and 73% of independents. Many see the drug as being less dangerous than alcohol or tobacco.

Prior to this year's elections, medical marijuana had been legalized in 39 states and the District of Columbia, while adult-use of cannabis had been legalized in D.C. and 19 states. Multiple U.S. colonies, such as Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, had also passed progressive cannabis laws.

What's the difference between medical- and adult-use marijuana? Medical marijuana generally requires a doctor's evaluation, which can be somewhat expensive and only covers certain conditions like cancer or HIV. Products sold in medical marijuana markets are generally more geared toward the health benefits of cannabis, with strains higher in CBD than THC, the two main drugs in marijuana. Adult-use markets don't require such scrutiny, and products with higher THC content, for a more "recreational" experience, are generally more widely available.

This election cycle, five states voted on adult-use cannabis legalization: Arkansas, Maryland, Missouri, North Dakota and South Dakota. Colorado also voted on a ballot initiative that would legalize possession of some psychedelic drugs and also allow psilocybin "healing centers" to open, somewhat like a "magic" mushrooms law Oregon voters passed in 2020 that is due to roll out next year.

Overall, this midterm cycle was a big opportunity for advocates of drug policy reform. Here's how the states fared on Election Day:

Arkansas: Issue 4

Results: FAIL — 44.20% YES / 55.80% NO

In 2016, Arkansas became the first Bible Belt state to approve medical marijuana after 53% of voters approved Amendment 98. This year, Arkansans could have voted to expand marijuana access with Issue 4 but decided against doing so. The measure attracted strong criticism from local Republicans like Sen. Tom Cotton, who described the proposed law as bringing "California's drug laws" to Arkansas.

The law would have permitted adults 21 and over to purchase and possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis from licensed dispensaries. To meet demand, the law would have doubled the number of dispensary licenses, while the 40 or so existing medical cannabis dispensaries would be permitted to serve adult consumers starting on March 8, 2023. It would not have allowed home cultivation.

Maryland: Question 4

Results: PASS — 65.53% YES / 34.47% NO

The Old Line State was the first to report cannabis-related election results, with nearly two-thirds of voters delivering a strong "yes" vote. It has now become the 20th state to legalize adult-use cannabis. With strong polling going back several months, Maryland was generally considered the most likely to pass out of the five states voting on cannabis this election cycle, according to Marijuana Moment. In 2013, Maryland legalized medicinal marijuana and decriminalized possession of 10 grams of marijuana or less a year later.

"Maryland voters were loud and clear in their support for legalizing the responsible adult-use of cannabis," Maryland NORML Executive Director Losia Nyankale said in a statement. (NORML is the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.) "Question 4 activates long overdue changes to Maryland's judicial, social and economic climates. This is an important first step in the right direction."

The text of the ballot initiative was pretty straightforward, simply asking voters: "Do you favor the legalization of the use of cannabis by an individual who is at least 21 years of age on or after July 1, 2023, in the State of Maryland?" Sales won't begin until next summer, but in the meantime, the bill will temporarily expand decriminalization from Jan. 1 to June 30, 2023, with possession of up to 1.5 ounces punishable with a civil fine of around $100, for example.

Missouri: Amendment 3

Results: PASS — 53.34% YES / 46.66% NO

In 2014, Missourians voted to decriminalize the possession of 10 grams or less of cannabis, with a medical cannabis law established in 2018, passing with 65.5% support. This year, voters decided YES on Amendment 3, which legalizes adult-use cannabis for adults 21 and older. They can possess and purchase up to 3 ounces of cannabis flower and cultivate up to six mature cannabis plants after obtaining a noncommercial cultivation registration card.

"This is truly a historic occasion," Dan Viets, one of the co-authors of Amendment 3, a Missouri NORML coordinator and chair of the Amendment 3 Advisory Board, said in a statement. "This means that the great majority of the 20,000 people who have been arrested year after year in Missouri will no longer be subject to criminal prosecution for victimless marijuana law violations."

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Missouri is the 21st state to legalize adult-use cannabis, but this campaign attracted criticism from all sides. A legal challenge that sought to remove the question from the ballot was dismissed in September, while Rep. Cori Bush and the Missouri NAACP both expressed dissatisfaction with the bill.

North Dakota: Measure 2

Results: FAIL — 45.05% YES / 54.95% NO

Early in the evening, North Dakota's Measure 2 was trailing. It would have legalized the use and sale of marijuana by adults age 21 and older, allowing the possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana with home cultivation limited to three plants. It would also have opened retail stores, testing labs and related businesses, directing regulators to establish the industry by Oct. 1, 2023.

Ultimately, voters decided against the measure by about a 10% spread. Voters previously attempted to pass a similar cannabis legalization law in 2018, which also failed to launch. A legislative attempt in 2021 was also defeated in the state senate. However, medical marijuana was legalized in North Dakota in 2016 through Measure 5.

South Dakota: Measure 27

Results: FAIL — 47.15% YES / 52.85% NO

South Dakota may feel a little like déjà vu. That's because in 2020, the Mount Rushmore State approved both medical- and adult-use marijuana at the same time. It was a historic vote, described at the time as a "stunning rebuke" of drug laws in the state. But Gov. Kristi Noem — a Republican who just won a decisive re-election bid — did all that she could to nullify the adult-use law. While state Supreme Court eventually overturned the decision, the medical cannabis law did go through.

This time around, South Dakotans voted "no" on the initiative, which would have again legalized cannabis for adults 21 and older. Polling consistently showed residents intended to vote against the measure.

Colorado: Prop 122

Results: PASS — 52.22% YES / 47.78% NO

A decade ago, Colorado was the first state to legalize adult-use cannabis, while its capitol Denver was the first city to decriminalize psilocybin "magic" mushrooms in 2019 via a local ordinance. This year, the Centennial State faced another progressive drug policy question, essentially expanding on Denver's progress with psychedelic plants and fungi.

With Prop 122, voters decided whether or not to establish the Regulated Natural Medicine Access Program, which would open licensed healing centers to administer natural psychedelic drugs. Personal use, possession and cultivation would also be decriminalized for anyone 21 and older. The list of substances includes dimethyltryptamine (DMT), which is the main ingredient in ayahuasca; ibogaine, a psychedelic plant from Africa that can help with addiction; mescaline (excluding peyote), the trippy component of San Pedro cactus; and psilocybin and psilocin, the two main components of "magic" mushrooms.

By the end of the night Tuesday, it seemed that voters had approved Prop 122, with less than one percentage point deciding the outcome, but some outlets reported the results as too close to call. The next day, it was announced that the initiative had passed, marking more progressive drug policy in Colorado.

Local ballot initiatives across America

On a local level, Texas voters in five cities (Denton, Elgin, Harker Heights, Killeen, and San Marcos) approved cannabis decriminalization ballot initiatives. The same happened in five cities across Ohio: Corning, Kent, Laurelville, Rushville and Shawnee. And in Wisconsin, nine local cannabis reform measures were voted on and all nine were approved.

By Troy Farah

Troy Farah is a science and public health journalist whose reporting has appeared in Scientific American, STAT News, Undark, VICE, and others. He co-hosts the drug policy and science podcast Narcotica. His website is and can be found on Twitter at @filth_filler

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Cannabis Drug Policy Elections Marijuana Maryland Missouri Psychedelics