The number of states with legal marijuana is expected to jump significantly in 2019, and a slew of already-filed bills offers a look at what those new legal cannabis systems might look like.
While marijuana legalization legislation has already been introduced in at least 17 states—including several traditionally conservative ones—there are 10 that seem to hold the most promise of passage at this point.
Here’s a look at the states that are most likely to send legal cannabis bills to their governors’ desks this year, in alphabetical order:
In Connecticut, several House and Senate proposals seek to fully legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older and also establish a commercial market. The Senate version was introduced on Thursday by Martin Looney (D), the chamber’s president, who also sponsored a legalization bill last year. More than a quarter of the House jointly filed a bill to legalize earlier this month. A third legalization proposal puts a focus on social justice by establishing a “cannabis equity policy through open legalization of cannabis” and includes provisions such as diversity requirements and justice reinvestment.
Importantly, newly sworn-in Gov. Ned Lamont (D) has called legalization one of his “priorities.”
Hawaii Senate President Ron Kouchi (D) said that debating marijuana legalization will be a top priority for the state legislature this year. Seven legalization bills have been filed so far, and the chances of passing something in the Democratic-majority chambers are solid. The Senate Judiciary Committee is set to hold a hearing on one of the proposals on Thursday. That said, past attempts to approve cannabis reform bills in Hawaii have consistently stalled or failed, and Gov. David Ige (D) remains concerned about conflicting state and federal laws.
Illinois seems to be in an especially good position to legalize this year. At the beginning of this month, Sen. Heather Steans (D) filed a placeholder bill establish a tax-and-regulate marijuana system, but full details of her plan are so far scarce. Separate House legislation to end cannabis prohibition was introduced on Friday and has a focus on social equity, mandating that at least half of cultivation and retail facilities be located in “communities disproportionately harmed by the war on drugs.”
What’s clear, though, is that Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) is ready and eager to sign some kind of legalization legislation—a policy he campaigned on.
Fifteen House members in Minnesota jointly filed a legalization bill last week. The legislation would amend the state constitution to allow for the possession, consumption, manufacturing and sale of cannabis and cannabis products for adults 21 and older.
Gov. Tim Walz (D) has promised to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
New Hampshire lawmakers are moving forward with plans to fully legalize marijuana in the Granite State despite the fact that Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has threatened to veto such legislation. House Speaker Steve Shurtleff (D) believes that, with Democrats now in control of both chambers, they have to votes to override a veto. So far, two bills have been introduced to legalize and establish a retail sales system.
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 450 cannabis bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.
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In New Jersey, eight bills have been filed to legalize marijuana, including ones that would involve expungements for past cannabis-related convictions. Legalization legislation was approved in committees late last year, but was never brought to a floor vote in either chamber. Advocates are hopeful that a bill will be taken up soon, but some concerns remain as to whether Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who campaigned on legalization, will sign legislation that doesn’t include a high tax rate for cannabis sales.
That said, the governor recently said he believes “we can make progress on this.”
On Thursday, a bill to legalize marijuana and establish a commercial sales system was filed in New Mexico, sponsored by Reps. Moe Maestas (D) and Javier Martinez (D). Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) is supportive of legalization and said a legal market will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.”
There are four pieces of legalization legislation on the table in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has pledged to enact a commercial cannabis system after previously calling marijuana a “gateway drug.” The Assembly version of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act has 28 sponsors, while the companion bill in the Senate has 12.
Last week, Cuomo unveiled details of a legalization proposal of his own that he hopes will make it through the legislature as part of his annual budget. He’s proposing a 20 percent state tax and 2 percent county tax on marijuana transfers from wholesalers to retailers and said legalization “will create the good union jobs that we need.”
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) was initially reluctant to embrace marijuana legalization but, in light of legalization efforts underway in neighboring states, she’s recently proposed ending cannabis prohibition herself. Her proposal, included in a budget request, would allow adults 21 and older to possess and purchase marijuana from a licensed retailer.
However, under the governor’s plan, cannabis could be sold commercially by licensed retailers but not grown at home for personal use. She also wants to ban high-THC products including concentrates.
Half of the Senate in Vermont, including the chamber’s president, has already signed onto a bill that would allow for commercial marijuana sales. The state legalized the personal use, possession, consumption and cultivation of cannabis last year, but there’s currently no option for people to legally buy marijuana. That said, Gov. Phil Scott (R) has said that he’d be reluctant to sign a commercial legalization bill until technology was developed to detect active impairment from cannabis on the roads.
Other states to watch in 2019 are Delaware, where legalization came close to passing last year but didn’t get the required supermajority support, and Wisconsin, where Gov. Tony Evers (D) recently said he supports legalization.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
White House Drug Officials Say Legal Marijuana Is Up To States
Two top federal drug officials, including the White House drug czar, recently said that marijuana legalization should be left up to states.
The comments stand out coming from the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), which has historically played a central role in defending blanket federal prohibition.
Jim Carroll, the Trump-appointed drug czar who directs the administration’s drug policies, told Fox 59 reporter Kayla Sullivan that he considers legalization a states’ right issue. He added that he’d like to see targeted education campaigns concerning cannabis use during pregnancy and underage usage as well as research into impaired driving.
Got the answer: He believes it should be left up to the state. However, he does want to educate people on the effect marijuana has on young brain development, pregnant women and wants to come up with better guidance & testing for marijuana while driving. https://t.co/eifryNJB1j
— Kayla Sullivan (@KaylaReporting) August 14, 2019
It’s a particularly notable position given that federal law stipulates that the drug czar is required to “take such actions as necessary to oppose any attempt to legalize the use of a substance” listed as Schedule I under the Controlled Substances Act, including marijuana.
Even if Carroll’s remarks arguably don’t directly violate that statute, they are significant in that he doesn’t seem to have taken the opportunity to proactively oppose state legalization efforts when asked by a reporter.
Anne Hazlett, senior advisor at ONDCP, also weighed in on cannabis legalization on Wednesday, telling CentralIllinoisProud.com that marijuana legalization is “a state decision.”
“Marijuana is an ongoing challenge that is being addressed in many of our states,” she said. “This is a state decision, and we would like to see additional research done so that these decisions being made at a state level are being made in a manor that is fully informed.”
Though the comments from Carroll and Hazlett seem to reflect an evolving understanding of the federal government’s role in imposing prohibition on the states, the ONDCP director has previously made clear he’s not enthusiastic about the burgeoning legal market.
During a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing in May, Carroll raised concerns about THC potency in marijuana products, saying “the marijuana we have today is nothing like what it was when I was a kid, when I was in high school.”
“Back then the THC, the ingredient in marijuana that makes you high, was in the teens in terms of the percentage,” he said. “Now what we’re seeing is twice that, three times that, in the plant.”
He also said that more research is needed and that the Drug Enforcement Administration as well as the Department of Health and Human Services are “working hard to make sure that we understand the impact of legalization of marijuana on the body.”
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.
New Industry-Backed Marijuana Legalization Measure Filed In Florida
Another measure to legalize marijuana has been filed in Florida—and this one is being spearheaded by a major industry stakeholder, the multi-state dispensary chain MedMen.
Make It Legal Florida—a political committee that was registered earlier this month and is chaired by Nick Hansen, MedMen’s director of government affairs in the Southeastern U.S —filed the 2020 ballot initiative on August 6.
The campaign shared language of the measure, which isn’t yet available on the Florida Department of State elections division site, with Marijuana Moment.
“Make it Legal Florida is proud to present a ballot initiative that will legalize the safe, adult use of marijuana,” Hansen said via email. “Public opinion is on our side, and the time to act is now. Florida voters on every side of the aisle overwhelmingly support this initiative and at Make it Legal Florida, we are committed to ensuring Floridians have a chance to have their voices heard.”
The proposed constitutional amendment would legalize the possession, use, transportation and retail sale of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Medical marijuana dispensaries in the state would be permitted to sell marijuana to adults. The initiative doesn’t mention a licensing system to establish separate recreational shops, though the legislature will likely enact more detailed regulations consistent with the constitutional amendment’s text should it pass.
It also requires cannabis products to be “clearly labeled and in childproof packaging” and prohibits advertisements that are targeted at those under 21.
There’s also no mention of a home cultivation option, which is something that many advocates regard as a necessary civil liberties component but that some industry players have resisted or actively opposed.
A medical cannabis industry association based in New York faced backlash from advocates earlier this year after it was reported that it sent a document to Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recommending that the state prevent consumers from growing their own marijuana at home. MedMen was among the companies listed as members of the association at the time, though a representative later told Marijuana Moment that the business supports giving adults the right to grow their own cannabis.
The new Florida language is “currently being reviewed by the Florida Division of Elections to ensure the petition is in the proper form and we are awaiting their approval, per the usual process,” a spokesperson told Marijuana Moment.
It’s not clear to what extent MedMen will be funding or running the campaign, but the cannabis company appears to be taking a more active role in legalization efforts this election cycle.
In Arizona, an adult-use legalization measure filed at the beginning of the month is also reportedly being backed by MedMen, as well as other existing medical cannabis companies in the state.
Make it Legal Florida will be competing against at least one other campaign that’s working to legalize cannabis in Florida. Sensible Florida, another advocacy group, announced last month that it had collected enough signatures to prompt a state Supreme Court review of the ballot language. It’s collected about 80,000 signatures so far.
To qualify for the ballot, the campaigns will have to gather a total of 766,200 valid signatures. If an effort clears that hurdle, passing a constitutional amendment requires 60 percent support from voters.
“Floridians are ready to legalize marijuana,” Ben Pollara, a political consultant who worked on 2014 and 2016 medical cannabis measures in the state, the latter of which was enacted, told Marijuana Moment. “If this measure makes it on the ballot in 2020, it is almost certain to pass.”
Personal injury attorney John Morgan, who bankrolled the state’s previous medical cannabis initiatives but only recently expressed interest in contributing to this recreational push, told The Miami Herald that Sensible Florida’s challenge will be raising millions of dollars to push their measure forward, whereas Hansen’s operation is well supported by the industry.
“Last time I did, I was the lone trombone player marching down the street,” he said of his role in medical marijuana legalization. “This will be the University of Miami marching band with trumpets and tubas and snare drums. I’ll just be one trombone player, marching with them.”
Read the full text of Make It Legal Florida’s marijuana proposal below:
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Defense Department Official Stresses CBD Ban For Military Members
A Department of Defense (DOD) official is reiterating that military service members are barred from using CBD products despite the legalization of hemp and its derivatives under the 2018 Farm Bill.
Patricia Deuster, director of the Human Performance Laboratory at the federal government-run Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, said in a call with reporters this week that the non-intoxicating compound is “completely forbidden for use by any service member in any of the services at this point of time.”
While CBD products are widely available—in grocery stores, gas stations and online—the lack of regulations for these items from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) creates uncertainty about levels of THC in the preparations. And military members who test positive for THC can be punished with an other-than-honorable discharge and the potential loss of other benefits.
“It’s a real conundrum, and it’s going to be a major issue for the military because it is available [nearly everywhere],” Deuster said, according to Military.com, which first reported her remarks. “You go into any store, and you can find gummy bears with a supplement fact panel on it.”
Though the Tuesday press call simply provided clarity on existing military CBD policy, it represents the latest example of DOD interest in preventing the use of cannabis among service members.
The Navy released a notice earlier this month stipulating that “all hemp and CBD products are strictly prohibited for use by Sailors” no matter the legal status. And the Coast Guard said its members aren’t even allowed to visit marijuana shops or use online or delivery cannabis services, according to an order released last month.
That order didn’t specify policy around hemp-derived CBD, but a Coast Guard official told Mililtary.com that if members “have a desire to use a product that may or may not fall into the definition of what’s prohibited, they should seek guidance or use caution.”
Last year, the Air Force wrote in a post that “consumption [of marijuana] is not permitted in any fashion, period.” It emphasized the need to take caution as more states legalize, with one risk factor being your “friend’s grandma’s miracle sticky buns” that “might look mighty tasty and get rave reviews at the big shindig,” but could contain THC.
In a memo released in April, the Air Force said that “Airmen are advised against using CBD products” and could face disciplinary action if they use CBD that isn’t the FDA-approved drug Epidiolex.
The Army issued a similar notice in November 2016 that stated service members may not use marijuana, hemp or hemp oil.
Though not a military branch, NASA also sent a warning to its workforce this month that the unregulated nature of CBD products means employees could inadvertently consume THC that could get them fired.
“The problem is there is no regulatory framework to ensure that the CBD products being sold meet the Farm Act,” Deuster said on the call this week. “[CBD] is everywhere. We are waiting for the FDA to do something,”
She added that service members shouldn’t “believe what [the companies] are telling you” about the benefits of CBD.
Photo by Sam Doucette on Unsplash.