Everybody Loves Weed, Midterms Suggest

During a bitterly divided election, red states and blue states both embraced cannabis measures.
A cannabis leaf imposed on a map of the US.
Photo illustration by author.

A lot was at stake in the 2018 midterm election, including weed. Though the issue of legalization didn't dominate campaigns to the extent that healthcare, immigration, and flat-out racism did, cannabis continued to crawl toward full legalization. Even though 58 percent of Americans support legal cannabis, it's still prohibited on a federal level. A lack of action from Congress has led individual states to gradually phase out prohibition, and that trend continued on Tuesday.


Marijuana legalization was on the ballot in four states—voters in Michigan and North Dakota were faced with measures that would allow recreational legalization, while Utah and Missouri decided on medical marijuana. Beyond those big-ticket items, there were a handful of races that could play a role in the future of weed. In Texas, anti-weed Republican Congressman Pete Sessions, who helped block pro-cannabis measures, lost his seat to Democrat Colin Allred. Meanwhile, pro-legalization candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and incumbent Earl Blumenauer of Oregon won easily, cementing the Democrats as by far the more pro-weed party.

Here's a breakdown of how cannabis did last night:


In Michigan, voters chose to legalize recreational marijuana via Proposition 18-1, which makes “marijuana legal for adults who are age 21 or older, and allow for flower, concentrates or cannabis-infused edibles.” It passed with over 55 percent of the vote.

North Dakota

Recreational marijuana was also on the ballot in North Dakota, though it did not pass. Although this might seem like a blow for cannabis legalization advocates, it's no surprise that 59.5 percent of North Dakotans voted against it. Per USA Today, Measure 3 would have been one of “the nation's most permissive recreational marijuana laws.” It would have allowed adults “to grow, consume and possess as much pot as they want, without government oversight.” That sounds a little too chill.


Medical marijuana was on the ballot in Utah, and surprisingly for the majority-Mormon state, the measure passed by over 6 points. Proposition 2 grants people with wide-ranging health issues permission to use cannabis in many forms to treat their conditions. They can also grow their own plants for personal medicinal use.


In Missouri, medical cannabis was on the ballot in the form of three separate provisions: Amendment 2, Amendment 3 and Proposition C. The measure that got the most votes, Amendment 2, will go into effect.

Each proposition outlined a different way to tax medicinal marijuana and designates different beneficiaries of the tax money—Amendment 2 was the only proposition that would allow people to grow medicinal marijuana at home for personal use. Cannabis will be subject to a 4 percent sales tax, and the proceeds will fund social services for veterans.


"Passage of Amendment 2 creates a robust statewide system for production and sale of medical cannabis,” Justin Strekal, the political director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said in a press release. “Of the three proposals on the ballot, we believed that Amendment 2 was the clear choice for voters, and the voters agreed.”


Five towns in Ohio voted in favor of marijuana decriminalization, including Dayton, Ohio's sixth-biggest city. The proposition on each ballot was phrased slightly differently, but in the towns of Fremont, Oregon, Norwood, and Windham, citizens voted to lower "the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by state law." The village of Garrettsville, population 2,312, was the only place in Ohio that rejected such a measure.


While weed wasn't on the ballot in Connecticut, it was an issue in their governor's race, with Democrat Ned Lamont, who won by 1.7 points, supporting legalization. “It is another source of revenue for the state," Lamont said in a gubernatorial debate. “All of our neighbors have legalized marijuana. We [can] do this carefully [and] regulate it.”


Tim Walz, the Democrat who won the Minnesota gubernatorial race against Republican Jeff Johnson, is an outspoken advocate of cannabis legalization, whereas Johnson supports marijuana prohibition. Like a lot of advocates, Walz framed the issue as not just a way to raise money for the state, but a method to roll back unjust convictions. "I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes," Walz wrote on Twitter in August.


In Illinois, the incumbent one-term Republican governor, Bruce Rauner, was defeated by Democrat J.B. Pritzker, a billionaire heir to the Hyatt hotel fortune. Rauner said he was “very much opposed” to legal cannabis, while Pritzker's campaign told the Chicago Tribune, “J.B. knows we can legalize marijuana in a safe way that will benefit communities across Illinois and he is ready to do that as governor."

New Mexico

Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham won the New Mexico governor race and will succeed two-term Republican governor Susana Martinez, "an unyielding opponent of legalization," per the Las Cruces Sun-News, who had pledged to veto any legalization. During Grisham's campaign, she said, "I am committed to working with the Legislature to move towards legalizing recreational cannabis in a way that improves public safety,

Sign up for our newsletter to get the best of VICE delivered to your inbox daily.

Follow Eve Peyser on Twitter and Instagram.