Is Cannabis Legalization Stalling Out Across America? – Rec Weed Fails in Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma

March 31, 2023 ·

As the winds of change blow across the United States, many states have lifted their bans on recreational cannabis. However, not every state has embraced the green wave with open arms. Despite the growing popularity of cannabis and its proven medical benefits, some states remain resistant to legalizing recreational use. Whether it’s a concern for public health, public safety, or a reluctance to break tradition, these states have chosen to swim against legalization. So, while some states are blazing a trail towards a more enlightened approach to cannabis, others remain firmly planted in the past.

Recently, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma have voted against recreational cannabis legalization demonstrating that not all US states are  welcoming cannabis legalization with open arms,


The Arkansas state legislature proposed Issue 4, which seeks to legalize cannabis for personal use by adults. This amendment would authorize licensed commercial facilities to cultivate and sell cannabis while regulating their activities. The amendment would make one ounce of cannabis for recreational use legal for adults 21 years of age and older under Arkansas state law while acknowledging that the drug is still illegal under federal law. It would also permit holders of medical marijuana cards to buy recreational cannabis without that amount adding up to how much they can buy for medicinal reasons.

However, the preliminary vote count reveals that over 56% of Arkansas voters have turned down Issue 4, which aimed to legalize cannabis. It means that the amendment would not be enacted. It’s worth noting that Arkansas voters had previously approved the use of medical marijuana in 2016.

Legalizing recreational marijuana faced opposition from the Arkansas Family Council Action Committee because it could escalate minor criminal activities and fuel substance addiction. This faction and other groups sought to garner the backing of influential political personalities such as former Vice President Mike Pence and the Governor of Arkansas, Asa Hutchinson, to thwart the proposal.

North Dakota

Measure 2 was proposed to sanction the use of cannabis for adults in North Dakota, granting those aged 21 and above the right to possess a restricted quantity of cannabis derivatives. Furthermore, the measure proposes a framework to safeguard users, impose restrictions and penalties, and define the rights of employers concerning the utilization of cannabis products.

North Dakota voters decisively rejected Measure 2, with approximately 55% opposing the legalization of cannabis, despite having 99% of the votes counted. The opposition to marijuana was apparent even in the more progressive areas of the state. The New York Times reported that Burleigh County, which comprises Bismarck, the state capital, voted against legalization by 58%.

While Cass County, where the city of Fargo is located, displayed a more favorable response, it was inadequate to counterbalance the conservative areas of the state. The ballot measure was similar to a bill that passed the North Dakota House of Representatives in 2021.

Comparable to Arkansas’ amendment, the initiative proposed the legalization of possession of one ounce of marijuana for individuals aged 21 and above, with the added provision of allowing residents to cultivate up to three plants in their homes. North Dakota voters also rejected cannabis legalization in the 2018 Midterm Elections.

South Dakota

Measure 27 is a statutory initiative in South Dakota that proposes the legalization of adult-use cannabis aged 21 and above. The measure permits South Dakotans to possess one ounce of marijuana or eight grams of marijuana concentrates and to give these amounts to other adults without compensation. Furthermore, residents of cities or counties without licensed marijuana retailers would have the right to cultivate up to three plants per individual or six plants per household.

The ballot initiative prioritizes an employer’s right to maintain drug-free workplace policies and refrains from mandating accommodation for employee marijuana use. Private property owners can disallow marijuana cultivation or consumption on their property. The proposal also subjects individuals who cultivate marijuana without ensuring its invisibility or locked status from public view to small administrative fines. Finally, it allows for penalties on adults who smoke marijuana in public areas.

With 99% of the expected vote being tallied, South Dakota voters ultimately rejected Measure 27, with almost 53% voting against legalizing the possession and usage of marijuana for those aged 21 and above, as reported by NBC. The ballot initiative should have elaborated on the state’s anticipated regulatory policies. According to Marijuana Movement, the policy did indicate that state and local governments could prohibit its use in structures that are “owned, leased, or occupied” by a government entity.

South Dakota voters had previously expressed support for the legalization of marijuana in 2020, with 54% of voters favoring the move. However, a legal challenge spearheaded by Governor Noem obstructed the reform’s progress. According to a faculty member at Northern Kentucky University, Kreit, many South Dakota residents hold Governor Noem’s views in high regard. Although Noem secured re-election significantly, she told voters she would not impede marijuana legalization again if the initiative passed. However, she was also observed encouraging individuals to vote against the ballot measure in campaign advertisements.


The legalization of recreational marijuana was also denied by Oklahoma voters after a last-minute surge of opposition from religious leaders, law enforcement officials, and prosecutors. If approved, Oklahoma would have become the 22nd state to legalize adult cannabis use, joining conservative states such as Montana and Missouri that have authorized similar measures in recent years.

The proposal faced opposition from Republican Governor Kevin Stitt and numerous GOP legislators, with almost every Republican senator taking a stand against it. The “no” campaign was spearheaded by ex-FBI agent and former Republican Governor Frank Keating, alongside Terri White, who previously headed the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services.

Expressing their contentment with the outcome, Pat McFerron, a Republican political strategist who managed the opposition campaign, remarked that the voters’ decision was a clear indication that they disapproved of the recreational undertones of the medicinal system. He believed that the election result reflected voters’ dissatisfaction with the overly recreational nature of the state’s medicinal system. McFerron also noted that the voters recognized the criminal elements associated with the system and acknowledged the need for addressing mental health concerns in the state.


The legalization of marijuana has become an increasingly contentious issue in the United States, with some states embracing it and others vehemently opposing it. The results of the recent elections in Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Oklahoma demonstrate the divide among Americans regarding cannabis reform.

While some states have taken steps toward legalization, others have maintained the status quo. Regardless of the outcome of these elections, it is clear that the conversation around marijuana reform will continue to evolve as more and more states weigh in on the issue. (Full Story)

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