In state legislatures across the country, it’s been a busy week for marijuana reform—with lawmakers in four states approving new legalization bills in committee, plus other cannabis and drug policy developments taking place in additional states.
Following the slew of state-level reform victories on Election Day, legislators have increasingly signaled that they view legalization as inevitable and are either hoping to leverage the movement’s momentum or get ahead of activists who are pushing for policy changes via the ballot.
This week proved especially active for cannabis and broader drug reform legislation. At the committee level, legalization bills advanced in Hawaii, Minnesota, New Mexico and North Dakota. Also, Washington State lawmakers approved a broad drug decriminalization measure and Wisconsin’s governor unveiled a proposal to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis.
And that’s only some of what happened.
Here’s a breakdown of this week’s marijuana legalization votes:
The Hawaii Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs approved legislation to allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It would also allow adults to grow up to three plants for personal use. The vote was 4-1.
That same panel separately passed a bill to expand the state’s decriminalization law, increasing the possession threshold from three grams to one ounce. People caught with an ounce or less would be subject to a $130 fine, without the threat of jail time. The measure cleared the committee in an unanimous 5-0 vote.
The legalization bill will advance to a joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Ways and Means committees. After that point, it would go to the full chamber floor. Meanwhile, the decriminalization legislation is moving to the Judiciary Committee.
A bill to legalize cannabis in Minnesota was approved by the House Commerce Finance and Policy Committee in a 10-7 vote. That’s the first of up to a dozen panels that are expected to take up the reform legislation in the weeks to come in advance of a floor vote.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure earlier this month. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.
The New Mexico House Health & Human Services Committee issued a do-pass recommendation for marijuana legalization bill in a 7-4 vote on Monday.
Under the approved measure, adults 21 and older would be allowed to possess “at least” two ounces of cannabis and grow up to six mature and six immature plants for personal use. It would also create a system of regulated and taxed cannabis sales.
The legislation is favored by reform advocates because, unlike the other House and Senate measures, it would specifically use tax revenue from marijuana sales to support reinvestments in communities most impacted by the war on drugs. It also stands out for including provisions to automatically expunge prior cannabis convictions.
On Wednesday, a measure to legalize cannabis for adult use narrowly cleared the North Dakota House Human Services Committee. It’s sponsored by a Republican lawmaker opposed to the policy change but who wants the legislature to dictate how a legal marijuana market would function, rather that adopt a system written by advocates via a ballot initiative.
Members approved the legislation—which would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use—in a 7-6 vote, with one abstention. It’s expected to next go to the Appropriations Committee before potentially receiving floor consideration.
And here’s what else happened this week:
While no votes have yet taken place, a group of California lawmakers filed a bill on Wednesday that would legalize possession of psychedelics such as psilocybin, LSD, MDMA and DMT. The move comes after two cities in the state—Oakland and Santa Cruz—enacted local measures to decriminalize plant- and fungi-based entheogens.
The New Jersey Senate Judiciary Committee approved a bill on Friday meant to pave the way for implementation of the state’s voter-approved marijuana legalization referendum. The panel held a hearing on Monday on an earlier draft of the proposal on Monday, which aims to resolve disagreements with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) over provisions in legalization enabling legislation related to underage people, but the chairman cancelled votes that were planned for Tuesday and Wednesday when it looked like there wasn’t enough support to pass it.
Now that it has cleared the key committee, it remains to be seen if lawmakers in the full Senate and Assembly will accept the revised proposal, or if the governor will sign it and the overall marijuana legislation when it gets to his desk.
Both chambers of the Virginia legislature have approved bills to legalize marijuana this session. Last week, each chamber approved the other chamber’s bill as modified to include its own text. This week, the House and Senate formally rejected each other’s plans, the final step toward setting up a bicameral conference committee to hammer out the differences into a single bill to send to supportive Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
The Washington House Public Safety Committee approved a bill that would remove penalties for “personal use” amounts of all illicit drugs and expand outreach and recovery services. Members advanced the legislation in a 7-6 vote on Monday.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) released a budget proposal on Tuesday that calls for legalizing both medical and recreational marijuana in the state. It would allow adults 21 and older, or qualifying patients, to purchase, possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use.
But the plan faces vocal resistance from leaders in the Republican-controlled legislature.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.