The 2022 US midterm elections proved to be a mixed bag for cannabis legalization, with Maryland and Missouri voters opting to legalize recreational uses of the drug, and the deep red”states of Arkansas, North Dakota, and South Dakota shooting down ballot measures to expand cannabis access.

Maryland voters in particular made a strong statement in favor of weed, voting 65% to 35% for a ballot measure that makes purchase and possession of up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis legal for adults, according to the Associated Press. The state legalized medical marijuana in 2013 through an amendment to the state’s constitution.

In Missouri, the vote was 53% to 47%, according to AP, and importantly, includes the right to cultivate up to six flowering plants, six immature plants, and six plants under 14 inches for personal use.

The votes raise the total number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana to 21.

Cannabis advocates celebrated the movement’s wins, but had been realistic about legalization’s challenges in the more traditionally conservative states since well before the election.

“We’re dealing with people who really are nervous about this, and they have these scary ideas of what will happen,” Rick Steves, board chair of NORML, told MERRY JANE during a phone interview just days before the Nov. 8 election. “We’ve got to acknowledge their fears.”

Legalization was roundly defeated in Arkansas by 56% against to 44% in favor, according to AP. In North Dakota, Measure 2 was struck down by 55% of voters, compared to 45% in favor. In South Dakota, 53% of voters rejected Measure 27.

According to Steves, a lot of this electoral reluctance to expand cannabis access has to do with government misinformation and costly, fear-mongering campaigns against legalization.

“Our perception about marijuana was shaped by billions of dollars of government propaganda,” said Steves. “And it’s created a society that’s needlessly frightened about this weed.”

“We need to recognize that this needs to be viable in the political world,” Steves continued. “You’ve got to just assume half of the people are afraid of this, and half of the people have serious concerns. And I think we need to respect those fears and respect those concerns, and then, thoughtfully, and in an aggressive or unscary way, share our experience.”

Steves, who identifies as an active Lutheran Christian, does not see religion as an obstacle to having civil conversations with people who are opposed to cannabis legalization.

“Yes or no on marijuana really has nothing to do with anybody’s Christian faith, unless they want to make a wedge issue and politicize something,” said Steves. “God put it here on the planet to be enjoyed, and you want to love your neighbor? Share a joint. I see no conflict that way [of framing the issue] at all.”

Despite the election’s mixed results—including the challenges presented by the predicted flip of the House of Representatives to Republican control—Steves thinks that the United States will eventually see the end of cannabis prohibition.

“It takes a while. But we are on a beautiful trajectory,” he said. “And within a few years, the federal government is going to wake up and realize that ‘Oh, okay, I get it.’”

Follow Caitlin on Instagram, and catch her Spanish-language podcast Crónica on Spotify and Mixcloud. 

Cover image via