Marijuana legalization advocates came into 2019 expecting it to be a huge year for cannabis, and lawmakers around the country are not disappointing them so far.
This month alone, bills to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults have advanced through key committees in at least four states.
Three separate New Mexico House and Senate committees have approved two different legal marijuana bills in recent weeks. One proposal that would create a legal system of licensed private businesses to sell cannabis to adults cleared both the House Health and Human Services and Judiciary Committees. A separate Senate bill that would legalize marijuana but allow it to be sold only in state-run stores was approved by the chamber’s Public Affairs Committee.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) supports legalization and has said she would sign a bill into law as long as it contained adequate protections for public health and safety.
In New Hampshire, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee acted last week to advance a marijuana legalization bill. A floor vote before the full House of Representatives is scheduled for Wednesday.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) said he would veto any cannabis legalization bill that reaches his desk, but the House speaker believes he has enough votes in his chamber, and perhaps in the Senate as well, to override any veto.
In Hawaii, the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously voted to approve a cannabis legalization bill on February 7. Although floor action hasn’t yet been scheduled, the body’s president said in a speech at the start of the legislative session that considering ending marijuana prohibition would be a priority for 2019.
Gov. David Ige (D) isn’t especially supportive of marijuana law reform, however, so advocates aren’t sure that he would sign a full legalization bill if one reaches his desk. That said, lawmakers are also advancing more modest legislation to simply decriminalize possession of small amounts of cannabis, and supporters are more hopeful the governor would be on board with that reform.
And in Vermont, where lawmakers legalized low-level possession and home cultivation of cannabis last year, the Senate Judiciary, Finance and Appropriations Committees all voted this month to approve a bill to add in a system of legal marijuana sales. A floor vote in the full Senate, which has on several occasions in past sessions already approved similar bills, is expected on Thursday.
Gov. Phil Scott (R), who signed Vermont’s existing noncommercial legalization policy into law, says he is reluctant to go further until the state has better technology to detect impaired driving. But with such strong support in the legislature—where half of the Senate and more than a third of the House have proactively signed on as cosponsors of the bills—a veto override is not out of the question, nor is the notion that Scott could feel sufficient pressure to let the measure go into law without vetoing it in the first place.
While it may end up being the case that not all of these marijuana bills make it to the governors’ desks in their respective states—and might not even be signed into law if they arrive there—the fact that legalization legislation is advancing at all is a sign of cannabis’s ascendance into mainstream American politics.
According to Marijuana Moment’s legislative tracker, state and federal lawmakers are currently considering more than 750 cannabis-related bills for 2019 sessions.
Aside from the far-reaching full legalization proposals, that also includes a number of incremental reforms and tweaks to existing legal marijuana laws, such as bills to allow veterinarians to recommend medical cannabis for animals, expand gun and child custody rights for consumers, mandate that insurance programs cover medical marijuana and authorize social consumption areas and delivery services, for example.
The momentum on the state level comes as cannabis reform seems to be picking up speed in Congress as well.
This month, House Financial Services subcommittee held a hearing on draft legislation to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services, a key concern for the industry as well as policymakers who understand that forcing cannabis providers to operate on a cash-only basis poses risks to public safety.
The financial services legislation, which could clear the congressional panel within the next several weeks, is part of a step-by-step plan that Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) laid out in what he called a “blueprint” for how Congress can end federal marijuana prohibition in 2019.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are even actively embracing cannabis culture, with Blumenauer filing the appropriately numbered H.R. 420 to regulate marijuana like alcohol and Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) introducing his own cannabis legalization bill, S. 420.
It is likely that continued reform wins at the state level will further embolden federal lawmakers to continue working to chip away at national prohibition, and that a sense of increased momentum in Congress will in turn make local policymakers more comfortable with changing laws in their jurisdictions.
The legalization movement is scoring big victories internationally as well, with, for example, the World Health Organization recommending that marijuana be rescheduled under international treaties and the European Parliament passing a resolution calling for medical cannabis access, both this month.