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Here Are The Biggest Marijuana Reform Victories Of 2022, From Legalization To Workplace Protections

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Marijuana reform in 2022 ran the gamut, with three new states legalizing cannabis for adult use and an ideologically diverse mix of other states advancing policy changes that touch on everything from expungements to workplace protections for consumers.

A new report published by NORML on Monday puts the year into context, highlighting just how active advocates and lawmakers were as they’ve bucked the status quo of prohibition and sought out new policy that builds on the ever-expanding cannabis reform movement.

As of the year’s end, 21 states have now legalized recreational marijuana, and the vast majority of states have some form of medical access.

“Voters and lawmakers took significant steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those tens millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in a press release.

While most headlines focus on legalization—and there were some reform setbacks such as the defeat of three ballot measures in traditionally conservative states—advocates are also ending the year having achieved a number of important, albeit less widely publicized, victories.

NORML’s report places the ballot and legislative developments into eight categories: legalization, expungement, medical marijuana, workplace drug testing, equity, juveniles, industry and miscellaneous.

Here are some of the key highlights: 

Legalization

Three states legalized marijuana for adult use this year: Maryland, Missouri and Rhode Island. The first two were approved by voters through ballot initiatives, while Rhode Island’s legislature passed the state’s reform that was signed into law by Gov. Dan McKee (D). (Recreational sales started in the Ocean State at the beginning of the month.)

There were, however, a number of states where legalization advanced through state legislatures, and where activists had sought to pass the reform on the ballot, but were not successful this year.

Expungement

Legislatures in California, Colorado and Illinois each approved bills dealing with cannabis expungements or record sealing.

In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) signed legislation in September mandating that the courts process record sealing and other forms of relief for people with eligible cannabis convictions on their records in a specific timeframe.

Colorado’s governor similarly enacted a bill to streamline expungements, while Illinois’s governor signed a measure in June to make it so courts cannot deny petitions to expunge or seal records based on a positive drug test for marijuana.

Medical Marijuana

Nearly a dozen states advanced medical cannabis reform this year, including Mississippi, where medical marijuana legalization was signed into law in February.

California expanded its medical cannabis program with a new law that prevents localities from blocking delivery services in their areas, which is meant to help close the access gap for patients.

Kentucky created a Center for Cannabis Research at the University of Kentucky to facilitate studies into the benefits and risks of marijuana. Meanwhile, Louisiana, meanwhile, expanded its program by allowing nurses to issue medical cannabis recommendation and let out-of-state patients with certain qualifying conditions access its dispensaries.

In Washington, D.C., the mayor signed legislation to increase the possession limit for patients while also allowing adults 21 and older, as well as non-residents, to self-certify as medical marijuana patients. That effectively circumvents a congressional rider that’s blocked the District from implementing a system of regulated adult-use cannabis commerce.

Medical cannabis reforms were also enacted this year in Maine, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and Virginia.

Workplace Drug Testing

A topic that received considerable attention in state legislatures this year concerns workplace drug testing policy, and three states plus D.C. enacted reform legislation to that end.

A California law, for example, prohibits most employers from discriminating against workers based on drug tests that show the presence of THC metabolites. Medical marijuana employment protections were also implemented in Louisiana and D.C. this year.

In Utah, the governor signed legislation that “limits state employers from taking punitive actions against employees who consume cannabis products at home in compliance with the state’s medical marijuana access law,” NORML said.

Equity

Maine removed provisions of its cannabis law that previously restricted industry participation by people with prior drug offenses on their records.

Massachusetts, meanwhile, enacted a law creating a “Cannabis Social Equity Trust Fund” that’s meant to promote marijuana market participation by people who’ve been disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs.

Juveniles

Another California law that went into effect this year mandates that social workers must treat marijuana use by parents the same as it does for alcohol in its child welfare investigations.

Industry

California’s governor signed a bill in September that revised the marijuana tax structure in a way that’s designed to remove barriers to entering the regulated industry while undercutting the illicit market. Another bill signed into law allows the governor to enter into interstate cannabis commerce agreements with other states, pending a federal policy change.

Maine enacted a law allowing marijuana deliveries for the adult-use market.

Miscellaneous

An executive order from Colorado Gov. Jared Polis (D) says that “those with prior in-state or out-of-state marijuana-related convictions will no longer be denied professional licensure in Colorado.”

Under a law enacted this year, police in Louisiana are no longer able to use to odor of marijuana alone as the justification to conduct a search of a person’s home without a warrant.

Maine approved legislation that gives localities the opportunity to receive financial reimbursements for the costs of licensing marijuana businesses and regulating the market.

“Polling continues to show that marijuana reform is popular among voters, regardless of political party,” NORML’s Armentano said. “As more lawmakers recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability, we anticipate future legislative gains in 2023 and beyond.”

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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.

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