With the results of last month’s midterm elections—which marijuana basically won—ten states have now legalized cannabis for adults, while 33 allow medical use. Those victories at the ballot box capped a year in which the fight to reform prohibitionist cannabis policies advanced significantly at the state, federal and international levels.
The tally of states that allow the use of marijuana is poised to jump in a big way again in 2019, largely because a slew of pro-legalization candidates for governor also won at the ballot box on Election Day—giving cannabis reform bills a huge boost toward being signed into law sooner rather than later.
“2019 could be a banner year for legalization via state legislatures,” Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, said in an email. “Several states across multiple regions of the country are strongly considering ending prohibition and regulating marijuana for adult use. A growing number of state lawmakers and governors are either getting behind these efforts or coming to the realization that they cannot hold them up much longer. The steady growth of public support we’ve been seeing around the country will likely translate into some major state-level victories for marijuana policy reform.”
Here are the states that are most likely to legalize marijuana next year, in alphabetical order:
Gov.-elect Ned Lamont (D) said during his campaign that marijuana legalization is “an idea whose time has come.” He followed that up after his win on Election Day by pledging during a transition press conference that moving on the issue will be one of his “priorities” in 2019.
Meanwhile, the state Senate president, who sponsored a legalization bill last year that didn’t move under unsupportive—but outgoing— incumbent Gov. Dannel Malloy (D), says that passing a bill next year is “a significant revenue item” for the state.
Even the House Republican deputy minority leader, who opposes legalization, says he “would think it would pass” when it is brought to a vote on the floor. “Many of those opposed to legalization have left the Legislature.”
Incoming Gov. J.B. Pritzker (D) made support for legalizing marijuana a centerpiece of his campaign, beginning in the primary race against fellow Democrats. At one point he even held a press conference outside of a medical cannabis dispensary.
Shortly after Election Day, Pritzker confirmed that he wants to pursue legalization “nearly right away” when the new legislature convenes.
And the state House speaker, who until now has been noncommittal on ending cannabis prohibition, says he’s on board with the incoming governor’s marijuana plans.
A study from the Illinois Economic Policy Institute and the University of Illinois determined last month that legalizing marijuana would create 24,000 jobs, generate more than $500 million in tax revenue and infuse roughly $1 billion into the state economy overall by 2020.
Incoming Gov. Tim Walz (D), who is taking over for an outgoing Democratic governor who opposes legalization, has pledged 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.”
He has also championed marijuana issues as a member of the U.S. House and demonstrated that he knows how to advance reform by authoring the first-ever standalone cannabis bill to pass a congressional committee.
Walz’s efforts to legalize will get a boost from the newly elected Democratic House majority, though Republicans control the Senate by one seat. Still, the election of a pro-legalization governor puts Minnesota on the list of states to watch to end prohibition in 2019.
The Granite State is one place that could legalize marijuana in 2019 even in light of strong gubernatorial opposition.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R), despite signing a bill to decriminalize cannabis possession into law in 2017, says he’s so unwilling to go further that he will veto any legalization legislation “regardless of what the language looks like.”
But now, after Democrats took control of both chambers of the state legislature in the midterm elections, the incoming House speaker said he believes that there is enough support from lawmakers to potentially override an expected Sununu marijuana veto.
That’s a bold statement, especially coming from a lawmaker who himself twice voted against cannabis legalization bills, and it indicates how quickly the politics of marijuana continue to evolve in more and more states.
Garden State Gov. Phil Murphy (D), who was elected in 2017, campaigned on supporting marijuana legalization. Since being inaugurated earlier this year, he has continued to push for an end to prohibition.
Although the governor and lawmakers have quibbled over details such as tax rates and regulatory structures, progress is already being made toward getting a bill to Murphy’s desk. Senate and Assembly committees approved marijuana legalization legislation last month, demonstrating that momentum exists to pick up the issue in the new year, when the governor and legislative leaders will continue to negotiate the finer points of exactly how to end prohibition.
The prospects for legalizing marijuana in New Mexico got a lot better with the election of Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) as the state’s next governor.
During a debate she said legalization will bring “hundreds of millions of dollars to New Mexico’s economy.” She has also supported cannabis reform measures as a member of Congress.
The state’s House speaker said that if a legalization bill were to make it to the floor, “it would probably pass.”
Even a Republican senator who is personally opposed to legalization now publicly admits that it is likely on the way soon, saying, “I don’t want recreational marijuana, but I understand the political reality that it is here.”
A year ago few observers thought that the Empire State would be one of the next states to legalize. But in that time, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) flipped from calling marijuana a “gateway drug” to saying it’s time to “legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana once and for all.” He also created a task force whose sole goal is to draft legal cannabis legislation for lawmakers to consider in 2019, and directed the Health Department to study legalization, with the resulting report concluding that the “positive effects” of ending cannabis prohibition “outweigh the potential negative impacts.”
And Cuomo, who says that ending cannabis prohibition is one of his top priorities for 2019, isn’t the only prominent elected official to evolve on marijuana this year. Three days after the governor endorsed legalization, so did onetime opponent Bill de Blasio, the Democratic mayor of New York City.
The push to make marijuana legal in New York got another huge boost on Election Day, when Democrats took control of the state Senate, where Republicans had long stymied cannabis reform efforts.
While Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has been cautious about legalization over the years, her rhetoric has shifted recently, even going so far as to suggest that the state might be effectively peer pressured into ending cannabis prohibition by neighboring states that are moving ahead.
“I’m not sure at this point it is practical to say we’re not going to legalize and regulate,” she said.
House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello (D), who has similarly been reluctant about legalization, is also now pointing to other states as a reason to more seriously consider changing Rhode Island’s laws.
“I am mindful that Massachusetts has legalized it, I believe Connecticut is going to legalize it,” he said. “I think we’re probably going to end up with more social costs without the revenues and that would probably be the worst situation of all.”
Meanwhile, the Republican House minority leader is all-in on legalization.
While Vermont lawmakers in 2018 already legalized the possession and home cultivation of small amounts of marijuana, the law does not allow any form of commercial production and sales, leaving the state without any recreational cannabis tax revenue or mechanism to regulate its trade.
Advocates believe the Democratic-led legislature is likely to send a bill adding legal cannabis commerce to the desk of Gov. Phil Scott (R) in 2019. While Scott signed the less ambitious legislation into law this year, he did so only reluctantly, and has expressed concerns about going further until the state has a better system in place to detect impaired driving. That said, the state Senate has already approved legal marijuana sales legislation in past sessions, and the House appears more open to doing so now that possession is legal—setting up a potential showdown over the issue between lawmakers and the governor in the coming months. It remains to be seen whether Scott would veto a broad legalization bill or whether lawmakers would be able to muster enough support to override him if he does so.
Still, with the regional dynamic heavily shifting in favor of legalization in the Northeast, Vermont is a key state to watch when it comes to cannabis in 2019.
Other Cannabis Moves To Watch
The above covers the states that seem poised to fully legalize marijuana in 2019. But there are others that seem potentially ready to do so via ballot initiatives in 2020 or that could pass other cannabis-related legislation in the upcoming new year.
In Kansas, for example, Gov.-elect Laura Kelly (D) supports legalizing medical cannabis, setting the state up to join its neighbors, Missouri and Oklahoma, in allowing patients to use the drug with their doctor’s recommendation.
Incoming Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) says he wants to decriminalize marijuana and allow medical cannabis, and also supports letting voters decide on a referendum to fully legalize marijuana.
In Pennsylvania, Gov. Tom Wolf (D), who until recently said that the state is not ready for legalization, now says that he’s ready to take a serious look at the issue. He also supports moving ahead immediately with less far-reaching moves to decriminalize cannabis possession.
In Texas, recently reelected Gov. Greg Abbott (R) indicated during a debate that he is open to some form of marijuana decriminalization—something the state Republican Party officially endorsed this year. Meanwhile, advocates will also push lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis.
And advocates are making it a priority to encourage South Carolina lawmakers to legalize medical cannabis.
Looking ahead to 2020, states like Arizona, Florida, Ohio and North Dakota could consider ballot measures to fully legalize marijuana, while Mississippi, Nebraska and South Dakota could see medical cannabis questions go before voters during that year’s high-turnout presidential election.
“In state after state, lawmakers are coming out of the woodwork in favor of legalization,” Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said. “Be it on the grounds of criminal justice reform, community-police relations, racial justice, tax revenue or that they just see the writing on the wall, the political evolutions are accelerating at a tremendous rate.”
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.
Pennsylvania Senators Release Details On Marijuana Legalization Bill
Details of a soon-to-be introduced bill that would legalize marijuana in Pennsylvania were released on Monday.
The legislation, which is being sponsored by Sens. Daylin Leach (D) and Sharif Street (D), places an emphasis on not only legalizing cannabis for adult use but also implementing a variety of social equity and small business-focused provisions, according to an outline of the proposal.
Under the heading “Innovation,” the document details how the state’s medical cannabis seed-to-sale tracking system would be eliminated, home delivery and public consumption sites would be permitted and universities would be allowed to grow and process cannabis as part of classes on the marijuana industry.
Home cultivation of up to six cannabis plants per household would also be allowed.
While the tax rate for retail marijuana sales is not specified in the outline, and the formal legislative language has not yet been filed, the goal will be to set a rate that “balances the need to undermine any illegal market and the needs to both pay for regulation of the industry and invest in those harmed by prohibition.” Most of the revenue from those taxes will go toward funding public education programs.
“We’ve had a cruel, irrational and expensive policy on cannabis for more than 80 years,” Leach said in a press release. “Prohibition has destroyed countless lives and has cost our taxpayers millions of dollars. It’s time we walk into the bright sunshine of enlightenment and stop arresting our kids and funding violent drug cartels.”
“This will be a tough battle, but so was passing medical marijuana. We did that, and we will do this. The stakes are too high for us to fail.”
It's official. After months of work, Senator Street and I have dropped our Adult-Use Cannabis co-sponsorship memo. If you'd like to see what's in it, you can look here. Now, we need everyone's help getting it passed! #CannabisCommunity #CannabisNews https://t.co/D5m5uJjGFK
— Daylin Leach (@daylinleach) March 18, 2019
On the business side of things, there wouldn’t be a cap on the number of marijuana business licenses that could be approved. Micro licenses for cannabis cultivation would be available in a three-tier system, which is meant to help people from communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the drug war participate in the legal industry.
According to a cosponsorship memo, the legislation would create a “statewide cannabis business incubator that provides free training to Pennsylvanians who want to learn how to start and run a cannabis business.” People who’ve been harmed by prohibition and complete the incubator program would also have access to state grants and low-interest capital loans.
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Restorative Justice must be a part of any effort to legalize the use of cannabis anywhere. An end to the prohibition of cannabis in Pennsylvania is overdue. The economic imperatives for our commonwealth are too great as is our moral mandate to correct the damage that disparate enforcement of our Marijuana Laws has done throughout numerous communities in Philadelphia and across the commonwealth. Join me in passing Senate Bill 350. Visit www.senatorsharifstreet.com/sb350 to learn more about this historic legislation. #Letsgrowpa #legalizepa
“An end to the prohibition of cannabis is overdue,” Street said. “It is time for us to join the emerging cannabis economy with the legalization of the Adult Use of Cannabis in PA., which should not be a crime when responsibly used by adults nor mandate medical oversight.”
“The economic imperatives are too great. We also have a moral mandate to correct the damage that disparate enforcement of our Marijuana Laws has done and is still doing to communities across the commonwealth.”
An end to the prohibition of cannabis in PA is overdue, the economic imperatives equal the moral mandate to correct damage that disparate enforcement of Marijuana laws has done throughout numerous communities.
Visit https://t.co/vYCHYGmIXK #legalizepa #letsgrowpa #CannabisNews pic.twitter.com/ClzHBen5Ou
— Sen. Sharif Street (@SenSharifStreet) March 18, 2019
A separate bill to legalize marijuana in the state was introduced in the House last month. It currently has 27 cosponsors. It remains to be seen whether such legislation has enough support to pass in either Republican-controlled chamber of the legislature.
That said, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) recently shifted from saying the state is not ready for legalization to arguing that “it is time for Pennsylvania to take a serious and honest look at recreational marijuana.”
In the meantime, Lieutenant Gov. John Fetterman (D), who is vocally supportive of legalization and was endorsed by NORML in his election bid last year, is in the process of visiting all of the state’s 67 counties as part of a listening tour that’s meant to collect public input on marijuana reform.
.@JohnFetterman wants to know what every Pennsylvanian thinks about legalizing recreational marijuana. That's why he's going on a listening tour to all 67 PA counties. Stay tuned for dates and details on how to submit your thoughts. pic.twitter.com/buqOwi4B2F
— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) January 24, 2019
“Cannabis prohibition was built on lies and racism and has resulted in literally hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians suffering criminal convictions merely because they chose a plant instead of an alcoholic beverage,” Pittsburgh NORML executive director Patrick Nightingale said in the press release. “Adult-use reform will save almost 20,000 Pennsylvanians from arrest and prosecution annually. Reform will also help affected Pennsylvanians expunge cannabis-related offenses from their record.”
“We are confident that an open and honest conversation about the risks and rewards of adult-use reform will help those critical of legalization to understand that it can be done responsibly and in a manner that protects our youth and our motorists,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Trump Budget Proposes Loosening DC Marijuana Legalization Restrictions
A budget request released by the White House on Monday proposes scaling back restrictive language that has prevented the city of Washington, D.C. from spending its own money to legalize and regulate the sale of recreational marijuana.
While District of Columbia voters approved a ballot measure in 2014 that makes it legal to possess and grow small amounts of cannabis, there is no mechanism by which consumers can legally buy marijuana in the nation’s capital (outside of medical cannabis dispensaries that only serve registered patients). That’s because although D.C. councilmembers and Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) would like to add in a legal sales component, longstanding congressional appropriations riders have blocked them from doing so.
In 2017, Congress tightened up the ban even further, taking away a potential loophole that city leaders had considered using to support a commercial legalization system.
But President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2020 budget request asks Congress to revert to an earlier, less-restrictive version of the language that leaves the workaround on the table as an option.
The relevant section of the new document reads:
“SEC. 809. (a) None of the Federal funds contained in this Act may be used to enact or carry out any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative.
“(b) None of the funds contained in this Act may be used to enact any law, rule, or regulation to legalize or otherwise reduce penalties associated with the possession, use, or distribution of any schedule I substance under the Controlled Substances Act (21 U.S.C. 801 et seq.) or any tetrahydrocannabinols derivative for recreational purposes.”
Two years ago, Congress changed that second subsection to instead bar use of funds “available for obligation or expenditure by the District of Columbia government under any authority” to lower penalties for cannabis.
The reason that matters is because under the “none of the funds contained in this Act” version, the city would still be able to use separate contingency reserve funds to pay for legalization even while monies contained in the annual appropriations legislation would be restricted.
It’s unclear if White House officials consciously made the change to the earlier, less-restrictive version or if staffers inadvertently did so by simply copying and pasting language from prior budgets. Trump’s FY19 request made the same proposed change, but Congress, through a series of continuing resolutions and omnibus appropriations legislation, has extended the more expansive “under any authority” language through at least this September.
The House and Senate Appropriations Committees will soon begin crafting their own spending bills for FY20, and legalization advocates expect that the new House Democratic majority will propose removing all restrictions on D.C.’s ability to spend its own money on cannabis policy changes and implementation.
Trump’s new budget request also proposes cutting funding for the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy—commonly referred to as the drug czar’s office—by more than 93 percent by moving its key projects, the High Intensity Drug Trafficking Areas and Drug-Free Communities programs, to the Department of Justice and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, respectively.
Trump’s FY2019 request made a similar request, but it was rejected by Congress.
The president’s new budget document also proposes continuing a congressionally approved provision that prevents the federal government from interfering with state industrial hemp research programs:
“SEC. 711. None of the funds made available by this Act or any other Act may be used—
“(1) in contravention of section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014 (7 U.S.C. 5940); or
“(2) to prohibit the transportation, processing, sale, or use of industrial hemp that is grown or cultivated in accordance with subsection section 7606 of the Agricultural Act of 2014, within or outside the State in which the industrial hemp is grown or cultivated.”
But it does not contain a current rider that protects state medical cannabis laws from Justice Department interference. Trump’s previous annual budget also did not include it. President Obama, following the measure’s initial enactment in 2014, requested its deletion in his subsequent budgets, but Congress has continued to extend it through at least the current fiscal year.
Photo courtesy of YouTube/The White House.
Cory Booker Appears To Call Out Kamala Harris’s Marijuana Jokes
Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) explained why marijuana legalization is no laughing matter on Sunday and seemed to take a dig at Sen. Kamala Harris (D-CA) over the way she lightheartedly admitted to smoking cannabis in college.
During a campaign stop in Iowa, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate was asked where marijuana fits in his criminal justice agenda. Booker emphasized that “a lot of people have a very different perspective on marijuana than I do.”
His next comment appeared to be a veiled criticism of Harris, a rival presidential candidate, who spoke about her personal experience with cannabis and relatively newfound support for legalization on a radio program last month.
“We have presidential candidates and congresspeople and senators that now talk about their marijuana use almost as if it’s funny,” he said. “But meanwhile, in 2017, we had more arrests for marijuana possession in this country than all the violent crime arrests combined.”
While Booker didn’t call Harris out by name, her recent admission—which was followed by a light back-and-forth about what kind of music she listened to when smoking—garnered dozens of headlines and also some backlash (including from her own father). “Half my family is from Jamaica,” she said at the time, laughing. “Are you kidding me?”
Watch Booker’s marijuana comments, about 37:40 into the video below:
(Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) also recently talked about his cannabis experience, but the conversation wasn’t as humorous in comparison and received significantly less media coverage.)
Booker’s jab may offer a window into future Democratic presidential debates, with support for legalization increasingly being seen as the bare minimum requirement on the issue and candidates competing to address its implementation more thoughtfully.
It could also be an early sign that Harris’s record as a prosecutor who oversaw the sentencing of people for nonviolent drug offenses is a vulnerability that Booker and other candidates may seek to exploit before the Democratic electorate, which overwhelmingly supports legalizing marijuana.
Harris’s giggle-filled admission of her past cannabis consumption in the February radio interview wasn’t the first time she treated the marijuana issue as a laughing matter.
In 2014, she dismissively laughed off a reporter’s question about legalization instead of providing a substantive response on her position.
Harris also made an attempt at a cannabis joke in a January appearance on Stephen Colbert’s show, saying that the reason she looks so happy on the cover of her book is “not because I smoked a joint or anything, even though we legalized.”
In his comments on Sunday, Booker spoke about marijuana for several minutes, noting the racially disproportionate arrest rate for cannabis possession and the long-term consequences of having a non-violent drug conviction on a person’s record.
“In Newark, I’m sorry, the margins for error for my kids to experiment with drugs, like people often do, that margin is not there,” he said. “And then one kid gets one charge for possession of marijuana for doing things that two of the last three presidents admitted to doing, and what happens to their lives?”
There are tens of thousands of “collateral consequences” of drug arrests and convictions, he said, ranging from ineligibility for public housing to lost employment opportunities.
“So I’m all for legalizing marijuana. I have the premiere bill in the Senate to do it,” Booker said. “But you know what my bill says? It doesn’t say just that we should deregulate marijuana on the federal level, we should make it legal and let the states do what they want. But it doesn’t stop there, because do not talk to me about legalizing marijuana unless in the same breath you talk to me about expunging the records of the millions of people that are suffering with not being able to find a job.”
“And then on top of that, people who are in prison should be able to petition their way out under the new laws. And more than that, all of this tax revenue that we’re going to get from marijuana should be reinvested in those communities that have been disproportionately targeted by the war on drugs—for education, for drug treatment, for job training programs.”
Booker also talked about an issue that his legislation doesn’t directly address: equity in the marijuana industry. He said he gets “very upset about” about the fact that communities historically targeted by the war on drugs are largely left out of opportunities to participate in the increasingly legal cannabis economy.
“We need to start talking about what I call restorative justice in our system and make sure that when we look at our laws, we create commonsense laws because right now we are spending billions of dollars in this drug war, with this money that could go to infrastructure, it could go to education, it could go to so many more positive things than warehousing human potential in the country that is the leading nation for incarceration when we should be the leading nation for education,” he said.
Photo courtesy of Facebook/ABC News.