From local ballots to Capitol Hill, 2024 is shaping up to see another drug policy reform push that again puts laws around marijuana and psychedelics in the spotlight as advocates work to leverage continuing momentum.
While there will be significant attention on presidential politics in the lead-up to the November election, the stage is already set to advance cannabis and psychedelics reforms, both through the ballot and in legislatures across the country.
Marijuana legalization for medical or recreational use is in play in at least a half dozen states for 2024, and activists will also be pushing to end the criminalization of etheogenic substances like psilocybin, while paving a pathway for regulated access.
At the same time, efforts to pass a bipartisan marijuana banking bill will again rear up next year, and advocates are hopeful that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) will complete its review into cannabis scheduling following a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommendation to move it to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act (CSA).
Meanwhile, the stage is set for Germany to become the largest country in Europe to legalize cannabis in 2024.
Nothing is guaranteed—but with public sentiment increasingly favoring reform and pressure building on lawmakers to act accordingly, there’s plenty of potential for a productive 2024 in the drug policy space.
Here are some of the top marijuana and psychedelics stories to follow in 2024:
States where adult-use marijuana legalization is on the table
Florida’s Supreme Court has spent months considering state Attorney General Ashley Moody’s (R) legal challenge to a 2024 marijuana legalization ballot initiative, and that will need to be resolved sooner than later.
The court has already heard oral arguments in the case, with the campaign Smart & Safe Florida defending the constitutionality of the reform measure in hopes of securing ballot placement after turning in nearly one million signatures to qualify.
Even if the court does ultimately allow the initiative to proceed to the ballot, however, it will be another question of whether the issue will prove popular enough among voters to be enacted. There’s a steep 60 percent threshold in the state to approve ballot initiatives, though recent polling has indicated that Floridians are widely supportive of the proposal—even if their governor, 2024 GOP presidential candidate Ron DeSantis, opposes it.
Marijuana legalization proposals have advanced in both chambers of the Hawaii legislature in recent sessions, including a Senate vote approving reform legislation in March 2023. But the expectation is that issue will be settled in 2024, in large part because the state attorney general recently put out her own legalization plan that her office hopes will guide the legislative debate in the months to come.
Attorney General Anne Lopez (D) unveiled the comprehensive cannabis bill in November, earning praise from supporters in the legislature and mixed reactions from advocates who want to see it revised to more aggressively address equity issues and reduce criminalization.
Her office has also defended the reform proposal against attacks from prohibitionists and members of the law enforcement community.
The separate legalization bill that advanced through the Senate is also still in play in the two-year legislative session. That one contains expungements provisions favored by advocates.
While House leaders have been less supportive of legalization than the Senate, Gov. Josh Green (D) is on board with the reform.
The Live Free or Die State has seen a number of marijuana legalization bills filed and advance over recent years, only to have them stall out amid opposition and disagreement over the best regulatory framework. Numerous pieces of legislation to end prohibition have passed the House of Representatives and then died in the Senate—but advocates are holding out hope that 2024 will be the year to get the job done, despite the failure of a cannabis commission to put forward a legislative recommendation for lawmakers to consider following several meetings.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R) came out in support of legalizing cannabis via a unique model in 2023, after determining that the policy change is inevitable. He’s endorsed a state-run system, similar to how the state handles alcohol sales, and that was one framework that the commission contemplated before issuing its non-committal report in early December.
As has been the case over multiple sessions, however, the issue is likely to resurface in 2024, and it’s possible that the governor’s support and regional dynamics will inform another robust debate that could inform passable legislation.
Beyond legalization, a number of other reform proposals have been pre-filed for the 2024 session. Among them include measures to legalize home cultivation of cannabis among medical patients and add eating disorders to the state’s list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.
Pennsylvania lawmakers are also set to take up marijuana legalization legislation in 2024, aiming to overcome legislative barriers that have blocked the reform in the divided legislature.
Gov. Josh Shapiro (D) supports legalization, renewing his call to action after neighboring Ohio enacted the policy change. And a committee in the newly Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has been holding informational hearings to consider different reform models over recent months.
The prospect of passing a marijuana bill in the GOP-controlled Senate are less certain, but a handful of GOP senators are on board, and bipartisan lawmakers have been soliciting supporters as they prepare to unveil a more modest proposal to decriminalize cannabis in the Keystone State.
A campaign to put marijuana legalization on South Dakota’s 2024 ballot has been largely relying on volunteers to collect initial signatures in recent months, but advocates are holding out hope that they will soon have enough resources to fully commit to the effort with a large-scale paid signature gathering drive in the new year.
State Attorney General Marty Jackley’s (R) office put out a final ballot explanation for the initiative in December, but South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) wants to ensure that they have enough backing before investing in a full-fledged campaign after voters rejected an earlier legalization proposal. at the ballot in 2020.
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Medical cannabis legalization could also advance in several states
Nebraska activists on once again making a push to put medical marijuana legalization on the state ballot—the third time in as many election cycles. While past efforts have been derailed by legal challenges and fundraising setbacks, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) is optimistic that it will meet the moment in 2024.
Already, the campaign says it’s collected enough signatures from more than a dozen counties, as it urges supports to contribute what they can in time and monetary donations.
In addition to collecting signatures from at least seven percent of registered voters in the state, the campaign needs valid petitions from at least five percent of voters in a minimum of 38 of the state’s 93 counties.
Volunteers have been collecting petitions since July, about two months after turning in the pair of complementary legalization initiatives to the secretary of state’s office.
Nebraska lawmakers, including campaign co-chair Sen. Anna Wishart (D), have also attempted to enact the reform legislatively, but cannabis bills have consistently stalled out in the conservative legislature.
Wishart’s medical cannabis bill received a hearing in the unicameral Judiciary Committee in February 2023, but it did not advance. She attributed the inaction to changes in committee membership. An earlier version of the measure ultimately stalled out in the GOP-controlled legislature amid a filibuster that supporters could not overcome.
A bill to legalize medical cannabis in North Carolina passed the Senate in March 2023, but it stalled out in the House due to an informal rule that prevents legislation from going to the floor without most of the majority party’s buy-in. The Republican Senate sponsor has made clear he intends to raise the issue again in the 2024 session.
House Majority Leader John Bell (R) expressed a level of disappointment that the reform didn’t advance in 2023, though he predicted it would come back to the fore again in the new year.
A GOP-led medical cannabis legalization bill did move through a South Carolina Senate committee in early 2023, but it did not advance through the full chamber ahead of a legislative crossover deadline. However, it’s still alive for the second half of the two-year legislative session in 2024—and advocates intend to see it through.
Wisconsin’s Republican Assembly speaker has pledged to introduced a limited medical cannabis bill in January, and he’s said that he’s “pretty confident” it will pass, with or without the votes of Democrats who are pushing for comprehensive reform.
While the text of the legislation hasn’t been introduced yet, Speaker Robin Vos (R) recently previewed the proposal, detailing how it will only provide for limited medical cannabis reform, allowing patients with serious conditions such as cancer, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), HIV and chronic pain to access products in pill and oil form.
Leadership has made clear that they’re only interested in establishing a restrictive medical cannabis program, and they’ve so far refused to hold a hearing on a Democratic senator’s latest adult-use marijuana legalization legislation.
DEA’s marijuana rescheduling decision
Top-of-mind for advocates and stakeholders nationwide is the question of whether DEA will follow the top federal health agency’s recommendation and move to place marijuana in Schedule III of the CSA—a policy change that would have several symbolic and practical implications.
Congressional researchers have determined that it’s “likely” DEA will abide by the HHS recommendation, though it’s not bound to do so. The timing of DEA’s review and final decision are unclear, but many observers expect that it will happen before the November 2024 election.
DEA has not indicated one way or another how it will come down on the scheduling question. However, Administrator Anne Milgram has pledged to follow the science and keep an “open mind” as he agency completes its review.
Senate to resume work on cannabis banking bill
There has been widespread frustration over the delayed U.S. Senate consideration of a bipartisan bill to safeguard banks that work with state-legal marijuana businesses. The Secure and Fair Enforcement Regulation (SAFER) Banking Act cleared the Senate Banking Committee in September 2023, but it didn’t make it to the floor despite leaderships’ repeated pledges to expeditiously advance the legislation.
In a floor speech in December, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) reaffirmed that the bill will be among the chamber’s top priorities heading into the new year, though he cautioned that it would require bipartisan collaboration and that the work “won’t be easy.”
California and Massachusetts to consider psychedelics legalization proposals
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill in 2023 to legalize psychedelics possession and promote the establishment of a regulated access framework. But he also encouraged legislators to deliver a revised, dialed-back version that focuses on therapeutic uses—and that’s exactly what the Senate sponsor said he will be doing in 2024.
Sen. Scott Wiener (D) said at a recent event that California is at an “inflection point” on psychedelics reform, and he’s confident that the amended legislation he’ll introduced with an Assembly GOP co-lead will move through the legislature and onto the governor’s desk.
Meanwhile, in Massachusetts, activists said in December that local election clerks across the state have certified that they turned in more than enough valid signatures to force legislative consideration of a psychedelics legalization initiative before potentially putting the issue on the state’s 2024 ballot.
The measure would create a regulatory framework for lawful and supervised access to psychedelics at licensed facilities. It would also legalize the possession and gifting of psychedelics such as psilocybin and ayahuasca, but it would not otherwise provide for commercial retail sales of the substances.
Separately, Massachusetts Gov. Maura Healey (D) has introduced legislation that includes provisions to create a psychedelics working group to study and make recommendations about the potential therapeutic benefits of substances like psilocybin and MDMA for military veterans.
FDA weighs MDMA as a potential prescription medication
Following extensive clinical trials, a psychedelics-focused drug development company formally asked FDA to review an application to approve MDMA as a prescription medication for the treatment of PTSD, a process that is expected to play out in 2024.
The MAPS Public Benefit Corporation announced in December that it submitted the new drug application (NDA) to FDA, requesting an expedited review given that the agency previously designated the psychedelic as a breakthrough therapy.
If the NDA is ultimately approved, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) would then need to reschedule MDMA accordingly. It would become the first psychedelic in history to be approved as a pharmaceutical, to be administered in tandem with psychotherapy and other supportive services.
Germany moves forward with national marijuana legalization
A final vote on a bill to legalize marijuana in Germany that was initially planned for December was abruptly called off amid concerns from leaders of the country’s Social Democratic Party (SPD). That means action on the landmark proposal will be postponed until 2024.
Following the bill’s final reading in the Bundestag, it will go to the Bundesrat, a separate legislative body that represents German states. Members of the Bundesrat tried to block the proposed reform in September but ultimately failed.
The legalization proposal is being spearheaded by Health Minister Karl Lauterbach, who first shared details about the revised legalization plan last April. The following month, he distributed the legislative text to cabinet officials.
Image element courtesy of Kristie Gianopulos.