In addition to the thousands of candidates running for federal, state, and local offices in the recent midterm election, voters in 37 states also had the option of deciding on 132 statewide ballot measures. Five of those ballot measures were related to marijuana.
The federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) with “a high potential for abuse,” “no currently accepted medical use,” and “a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug under medical supervision.” Under federal law, the possession of even a small amount of marijuana can result in fines and imprisonment. The Supreme Court, in the case of Gonzales v. Raich (2005), has ruled that the federal government has the authority to prohibit marijuana possession and use for any and all purposes.
Yet, the medical use of marijuana has been legalized in 37 states and 5 U.S. territories and its recreational use has been legalized in 19 states and 3 territories. (Of those 19 states, 12 legalized marijuana via a ballot measure.)
Make that 21 states.
Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana (2012). These were followed by Alaska and Oregon (2014); California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts (2016); Michigan and Vermont (2018); Illinois (2019); Arizona, Montana, and New Jersey (2020); Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia (2021); and Rhode Island (2022).
And now we can add the states of Missouri and Maryland.
In Missouri, Amendment 3 passed by a vote of 53-47 percent. It amends the Missouri constitution to:
- legalize the purchase, possession, consumption, use, delivery, manufacture, and sale of marijuana for personal use for adults over the age of twenty-one;
- allow individuals with certain marijuana-related offenses to petition for release from prison or parole and probation and have their records expunged; and
- enact a six percent tax on the retail price of recreational marijuana.
In Maryland, Question 4 passed by a vote of 67-33 percent. It was a legislatively referred constitutional amendment that adds a new article to the Maryland constitution authorizing individuals 21 years of age or older to use and possess marijuana and the Maryland General Assembly to “provide for the use, distribution, possession, regulation, and taxation of cannabis within the state.”
Ballot measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana failed to pass in Arkansas (Issue 4), North Dakota (Statutory Measure 2), and South Dakota (Initiated Measure 27).
Instead of asking why ballot measures to legalize marijuana passed in Missouri and Maryland, but did not pass in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota, a better question would be: Why should Americans have to vote to legalize marijuana?
Every American—rich or poor, black or white, Catholic or Protestant, gay or straight, old or young—has one thing in common: every American owns his own body. As the owner of his own body, a man has the natural right to shave his body, pierce his body, tattoo his body, exercise his body, pamper his body, abuse his body, alter his body, or put any substance into his body via his veins, nose, or mouth as long as he pays for it and accepts responsibility for his actions. “My body, my choice,” is the cry we regularly hear. Why should Americans have to vote on whether it is permissible to do with their bodies as they will?
Americans are supposed to live in “the land of the free.” America is supposed to be a “sweet land of liberty.” How many countries have a Statue of Liberty? Americans revere Patrick Henry for saying in a speech “Give me liberty or give me death.” “Live Free or Die” is the New Hampshire state motto. The Declaration of Independence says that “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are “unalienable Rights.” Liberty is something that Americans say they cherish. In a free society, individual liberty has to include the right to do anything that’s peaceful as long as one does not violate the liberty of another. Anything less is not a free society. Why should Americans have to vote on whether liberty is permissible?
It is not the job of government to keep people from harming themselves, whether by consuming a dangerous substance or engaging in a dangerous activity. A government that does so is an authoritarian, paternalistic nanny state, not a limited government essential for a free society. It is not the job of government to prevent people from, or punishing them for, getting obese, starving themselves, eating an unhealthy diet, taking risks, practicing unsafe sex, getting drunk or stoned, or overdosing on alcohol or drugs. Why should Americans have to vote on whether these actions are permissible?
And what about privacy rights and property rights? What about the free market and free enterprise? Why don’t they apply to marijuana usage and commerce?
It is so absurd that Americans have to vote to legalize marijuana. Liberty should be the default position, so long as one does not violate the personal or property rights of others in the exercise of one’s liberty. Perhaps the most disturbing thing about all of this is that many Americans—and a majority of voters in Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota—vote against liberty.