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FILE – (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

The year 2023 could be when a budding weed industry makes further progress in the Midwest, with talks of upcoming ballot measures and initiatives to legalize marijuana in three Midwestern states.

As of this year, 21 states and Washington D.C. have now legalized recreational use, and 31 states no longer prosecute someone for possessing small amounts of the drug. Public support for weed is on the rise; 90% of U.S. adults agree that marijuana should be legal for at least medical use, a 2021 Pew Research Center survey shows. 

On a federal level, President Joe Biden has continued to grant clemency for people with marijuana or other federal drug convictions on their records since issuing a mass marijuana pardon last October. He has also directed his administration to review marijuana’s federal classification as a dangerous “Schedule 1” drug.

Recreational marijuana legalization was a hot-ticket item on five states’ ballots during last November’s midterm election, though voters only said yes in two of them: Maryland and Missouri. Legalization went into effect for adults over 21 in Maryland last month and will get instated in Missouri on July 1. Rhode Island also legalized recreational use last year, and Alabama, Mississippi and Kentucky are all launching legal medical marijuana programs this year.

Eleven more states could put recreational use to vote in 2023, including three in the Midwest: Minnesota, Ohio and Wisconsin.

After a bill to legalize weed passed in the House but stalled in the majority-GOP state Senate in 2021, Minnesota is gearing up to reintroduce the legislation in 2023. 

Gov. Tim Walz (D) expressed optimism about efforts to reintroduce the bill as the new legislative session begins, with Democrats now in control of each chamber. He told David Weigel last month that he expects the state to legalize marijuana “by May,” though House Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) told Fox 9 that it “may well happen in the next two-year period.”

Leading activists are full speed ahead, forming a “MN is Ready” coalition chairmaned by outgoing House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D).  Their objective, Winkler told Minnesota Public Radio, is to foster a legal marijuana marketplace that favors Minnesota businesses with an emphasis on helping minorities who’ve been disproportionately hurt by laws banning marijuana.

The revised bill would allow adults over 21 years of age to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants of their own, four of which could be mature. Medical use has been legal in the state since 2014, and THC products derived from hemp became legal last year. 

Marijuana’s popularity is on the rise among Minnesota voters, according to a survey conducted by the House of Representatives at the State Fair last year, with 61% of responders expressing their support for recreational use.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) formally resubmitted an activist-led marijuana legalization petition to the state legislature last Wednesday, kicking off the four-month window for Ohio lawmakers to consider the reform. 

Lawmakers declined to act when presented with the same initiative last year and the campaign Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) worked strenuously to collect enough signatures to get the legalization initiative on November’s ballot, eventually failing due to a dispute about whether the petition was turned in on time.

If the state legislature doesn’t move on the issue by May, CTRMLA said they will attempt to collect another round of 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to successfully get the issue on the ballot this November. A slim majority of Ohio voters support marijuana legalization, according to a 2022 survey from Emerson College.

Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a major criminal justice reform bill last month that removes marijuana paraphernalia convictions from criminal records, and clears a path for people to have convictions for cannabis possession up to 200 grams sealed and expunged.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers told Wisconsin Public Radio he’d reintroduce a plan to legalize recreational and medical marijuana as part of the state’s budget this year after GOP lawmakers voted it down twice before. This follows a campaign pledge to do so from September.

Evers reaffirmed his commitment to advancing marijuana reform in his inaugural address on Tuesday, making it a priority for his second term for the state to have a “meaningful conversation about treating marijuana much like we do alcohol.”

But even if the Republican majority in the state legislature isn’t fully on board with recreational use yet, Evers said he feels they’d at least approve medical marijuana, calling it a “starting point” toward full legalization in a Fox 11 interview. 

The governor has issued hundreds of pardons to people convicted of nonviolent marijuana or other drug offenses. The State Public Defender also recommended decriminalizing cannabis possession in this year’s state agency budget requests. Currently, first-time offenders of marijuana possession can be punished with up to $1,000 in fines and/or six months in prison. 

Just under two-thirds (64%) of Wisconsin voters support legalizing marijuana, according to a 2022 Marquette Law School poll.

The eight other states making efforts toward putting the question up for a vote in 2023 are Hawaii, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee and Wyoming.

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