The Progression of Cannabis Legalization
States opting to legalize cannabis have increased exponentially in the last decade. The election year of 2020 saw marijuana legalization measures passed in Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota. Organizations such as NORML and the Marijuana Policy Project have played a vital role in advocating for cannabis policy reform.
The cannabis industry has come a long way in the last twenty years. Before 2000, marijuana was still widely scrutinized and looked at as the dreaded “gateway drug”. As we head into 2021, the popular opinion continues to shift to favor cannabis legalization in some way, medical and/or recreational.
“Legalization has proven to be a winning issue, and we expect to see continued progress for state-level marijuana reforms this year,”Violet Cavendish, Communications Manager of MPP. Quote from Cannabis Business Times
States That Have Already Legalized Cannabis in 2021
At the start of April, New Mexico Governor Lujan Grisham met with members of the House and Senate to sign two marijuana legalization measures.
House Bill 2 allows adults 21 and older to purchase up to two ounces of marijuana and/or up to 16 grams of cannabis extract from licensed retailers. Adults may also grow a maximum of six plants in their own homes. Retail sales are expected to begin in April 2022.
Senate Bill 2 states those with past cannabis convictions that now fall under legal jurisdiction will have those criminal offenses removed from their record.
“This is a significant victory for New Mexico. Workers will benefit from the opportunity to build careers in this new economy.”Governor Lujan Grisham
At approximately the same time New Mexico passed its new marijuana legislation, New York was doing the same. On March 31st, Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act. The MRTA legalizes the production, distribution, and use of marijuana.
The guidelines state adults can possess up to three ounces of marijuana flower and/or up to 24 grams of marijuana concentrates. Marijuana will also be removed from New York’s Controlled Substances Act and regulation will be the responsibility of the Liquor Authority of New York State.
A week after both New Mexico and New York signed cannabis legalization bills into law, Virginia passed expedited legislation measures that take effect on July 1st, 2021. The Virginia legislature voted to approve amendments to Senate Bill 1406 | House Bill 2312, legalizing the personal use, possession, and cultivation of marijuana.
Under the new law, adults 21 and over may possess up to an ounce of marijuana beginning July 1st of this year, as opposed to 2024. The move is a result of Governor Ralph Northam’s wish not to further penalize citizens for something that is soon to be legal in the state.
States Looking to Legalize Recreational Cannabis
Just like many other states, Connecticut has been attempting to pass adult-use cannabis legislation for years but to no avail. Incoming Speaker of the House Matt Ritter stated the state has a “50-50 chance” of passing marijuana legalization measures.
The most recent bill presented to implement legalization measures is HB 6377, which expunges previous cannabis convictions, decriminalizes marijuana possession, and allows for home cultivation.
Maryland has been a medical marijuana state since 2012 and decriminalized cannabis in 2014. Since then, progression to adult-use legalization measures has stalled. Now that Virginia has passed legalization measures, pressure has begun to grow on Maryland politicians.
HB 32 would legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis for adults 21 and older, and also allow for record expungement and release for individuals previously arrested or incarcerated.
Hawaii’s reluctancy to legalize adult-use cannabis primarily rests on Governor David Ige. Much of his worry stems from the thought of federal intervention.
“I’d have to look at it. I do have concerns. Marijuana is still a Schedule I substance, which is highly regulated by the federal government”Governor David Ige. Quote from NORML
The state Senate recently passed two legislation measures. Senate Bill 767 would allow adults 21 and over to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana while being allowed to grow up to six plants at home. The bill would essentially regulate a legal, commercial cannabis market in the state.
The second measure, Senate Bill 758, would increase the allowed amount of cannabis possession from three grams to thirty grams. Also, with the increased possession limit would be the expungement of cannabis convictions.
The year 2021 is proving to be the closest the state of Minnesota has come towards legalizing cannabis. Measures to legalize cannabis have often been stalled by the Republican-controlled Senate. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler is spearheading legalization efforts, pushing social equity as a priority within the industry.
Minnesota’s proposed legalization bill, HF 600, would allow adults to possess 1.5 ounces of flower and expunge past marijuana convictions for low-level offenders. The bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate as Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka is strongly opposed to legalizing cannabis.
Florida has had a tough year already in its cannabis industry. One of several states looking to impose THC caps, the bill’s sponsor Ray Rodrigues states THC levels that are greater than ten percent cause more harm than good.
“The things it’s supposed to be helping, the two most common recommendations are pain and PTSD. Studies have been done that show when you get to THC levels greater than ten percent, you don’t make pain better, you make pain worse,”Senator Ray Rodrigues. Quoted in WCJB
Two bills have been presented that would legalize cannabis for adult use. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith proposed HB 343, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and over. Senator Jeff Brandes’ bill, SB 710 would revise Florida’s sale of cannabis to apply only to purchases by qualified patients or caregivers. The legislation also allows adults to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis or products containing up to two grams of THC. Smoking cannabis would remain illegal.
The Florida Supreme court blocked the state’s cannabis legalization ballot initiative on April 22nd, claiming the initiative is misleading toward voters.
Pennsylvania finds itself in a unique position as the only state with cannabis legalization authored by a Republican. Senator Daniel Laughlin, a Republican, and Democrat Senator Sharif Street. The pair claim regulation would improve public safety, the economy, and ending disproportionate enforcement of marijuana laws.
Governor Tom Wolf, once against the motion of legalization, changed his position in 2019 to favor legalized cannabis. Lt. Governor John Fetterman has also been a vocal supporter of cannabis legalization in the state. The state still faces an uphill battle with the state legislature still under Republican control.
Following the legalization measures passed in South Dakota, it is natural to expect North Dakota to follow suit. However, much like South Dakota’s current legalization measure issues, North Dakota may face the same struggles. The state’s sponsored adult-use legalization bill is led by Rep. Jason Dockter, who opposes legalization himself.
“I’m not for [legalization] at all, but I understand that it’s coming, and we have to address the issue. I’m trying something different in government – we’re trying to be proactive and not be reactive.”Rep. Jason Dockter. Taken from The Dickinson Press
The state’s proposed bill, HB 1420, would allow adults 21 and over to use, possess, and transport up to one ounce of cannabis. North Dakota’s Health Council would be tasked with the licensing and regulation of cultivators and dispensaries. Due to the continuing Coronavirus pandemic, it is likely the state will not see legalization status this year.
In November 2020, Senator Roland Gutierrez pre-filed measure SB 140 which would legalize cannabis for adult use in the state. Gutierrez stated cannabis legalization would generate 30,000 jobs and over $3 billion in revenue.
The Texas House gave approval in April 2021 to expand the state’s medical cannabis program to include qualifying conditions such as chronic pain, cancer patients, and those suffering from PTSD according to the Texas Tribune. Rep. Stephanie Klick introduced HB 1535, which would authorize the Department of State Health Services to add qualifying conditions through administrative measures. Currently, only low-level THC cannabis oil is allowed with a doctor’s approval.
States Looking to Legalize Medical Cannabis
Senator Tim Melson attempted to push marijuana legislation in 2020 which passed The Senate but didn’t make it past The House. His bill would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to regulate the state.
The Alabama House of Representatives approved a Senate-passed bill on May 6th to legalize cannabis in the state. Sponsored again by Senator Tim Melson, the bill would allow people with qualifying conditions to access medical cannabis. Similar to other states, a proposal was introduced to limit THC levels to 10% but was ultimately rejected. The medical cannabis bill still needs to be approved by Governor Kay Ivey.
A medical cannabis bill was introduced in January with the backing support of the Kansas Cannabis Industry Association. Those in favor of the bill state the revenue from cannabis sales would help boost the state’s economy since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s been a long haul, a long flight. Even though it’s not everything I would want, it’s a starting place.”Lisa Sublett – Founder of Bleeding Kansas Advocates
Legalization seemed to be an unlikely event, until May 6th when The House passed a bill to establish a medical marijuana program in the state. Democrats were in favor of the bill while Republicans were split. It is unlikely the bill would become law this year, but this is a large stepping point for a state where cannabis legalization has been an uphill battle.
The state of Kentucky has been battling cannabis legalization for years and still has a couple of roadblocks ahead of them. Although the Kentucky House approved a bill to legalize medical marijuana last year, the Senate ultimately rejected the proposal.
Another roadblock the state faces is the approval of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who has been an avid opponent of cannabis legalization. Senator Steve West and Representative Jason Nemes have sponsored two separate bills, SB 92 and HB 136 which would establish a regulated medical cannabis market. According to Kentucky Health Issues Poll, nine out of ten Kentucky residents are in favor of marijuana legalization.
Nebraska’s cannabis legalization measures have been led by Senator Anna Wishart who introduced LB 474. Attempts to push the legislation were rejected in 2020 after the Nebraska Supreme Court stated the proposal violated the state’s single-subject rule.
The legislation states it would allow patients with qualifying conditions to purchase and possess up to two and a half ounces of cannabis from dispensaries who obtain a license. A campaign named Nebraskans for Medical Cannabis has been collecting signatures to propose a vote on medical cannabis in the year 2022. Governor Pete Ricketts has been a staunch opponent for cannabis legalization measures and will likely veto any bill.
Medical cannabis has been pushed for years by Senator Janice Bowling and she plans to introduce another bill this November. Bowling’s bill, SB 854 would have legalized medical cannabis for those with qualifying conditions and establish a Medical Cannabis Commission.
Senate Bill 854 was rejected on March 23rd, however, Bowling hopes the passing of cannabis legislation in Missouri will help further advocacy for legalization. Another bill, SB 118, has been introduced to create a study commission towards considering medical marijuana. According to a Middle Tennesee State University poll, 81% of Tennessee residents support allowing patients and physicians to determine the use of medical cannabis.
The Future of Cannabis Legalization
The progression of cannabis legalization has begun to exponentially grow since the 2010s. Despite numerous issues experienced by several states with implementation procedures, and legal battles at the state and federal level, the general consensus is cannabis is on its way to federal legalization.
A poll conducted by CBS News and published in early May 2021, shows 55% of surveyors wish to see cannabis legalization in their state. Those where cannabis is already legalized are 60% in favor of the policy.
The road to legalizing cannabis has been nothing short of rocky, and there is still much to be done, but with so many states looking at legalization in 2021, the possibility of federal legalization is closer than ever.