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.
Marijuana Legalization Measure Advances One Step In South Dakota
South Dakota’s attorney general filed an official explanation of a proposed ballot measure to legalize marijuana on Friday.
While separate organizations are working to get a medical cannabis-focused initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot, activists behind this measure are hoping to incorporate recreational legalization, medical marijuana reform and hemp into one package.
Adult-use legalization would be accomplished through a constitutional amendment under the initiative, which would separately require the legislature to pass legislation creating rules for medical cannabis and hemp.
South Dakota Attorney General releases explanation on proposed constitutional amendment to legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana; to require passage of laws regarding hemp as well as laws regarding marijuana for medical use. Read it here: https://t.co/k33buSKjIJ pic.twitter.com/pEG0RxbDj9
— SD Attorney General (@SDAttorneyGen) August 16, 2019
“The constitutional amendment legalizes the possession, use, transport, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana paraphernalia by people age 21 and older. Individuals may possess or distribute one ounce or less of marijuana,” Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) wrote. “Marijuana plants and marijuana produced from those plants may also be possessed under certain conditions.”
The South Dakota Department of Revenue would be responsible for issuing licenses for cannabis cultivators, manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers. Individual jurisdictions would be able to opt out of allowing such facilities in their areas.
“The Department must enact rules to implement and enforce this amendment,” the explanation states. “The amendment requires the Legislature to pass laws regarding medical use of marijuana. The amendment does not legalize hemp; it requires the Legislature to pass laws regulating the cultivation, processing, and sale of hemp.”
The initiative calls for a 15 percent excise tax on marijuana sales. That revenue would be used to fund the Department of Revenue’s implementation and regulation of the legal cannabis system, with remaining tax dollars going toward public education and the state general fund.
Ravnsborg said that judicial clarification of the amendment “may be necessary” and notes that marijuana “remains illegal under Federal law.”
The attorney general issued a similar explanation of a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize medical cannabis earlier this month.
This latest move comes one day after advocacy organization New Approach South Dakota announced that their medical marijuana initiative was certified, enabling them to begin the signature gathering process.
Several other cannabis initiatives are in the process of being certified in the state, according to the attorney general’s website. In order to place constitutional amendments on the ballot, activists must collect 33,921 valid signatures from voters.
South Dakota is one of the last remaining states in the U.S. that has not legalized marijuana for any purposes.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.
Elizabeth Warren’s Plan For Indian Tribes Includes Marijuana Legalization
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) unveiled a plan on Friday that’s aimed at holding the federal government accountable for following through on its obligations to Native American tribes, and that includes ensuring that tribal marijuana programs are protected against federal intervention.
The plan emphasized Warren’s support for a bill she filed earlier this year that “would protect cannabis laws and policies that tribal nations adopted for themselves.”
The 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, who has faced criticism over claims of Native American heritage, pointed to federal reports showing that tribal programs generally have not received adequate funding and said it is imperative that legislation be enacted to “provide resources for housing, education, health care, self-determination, and public safety” for those communities.
To that end, Warren is planning to introduce a bill called the “Honoring Promises to Native Nations Act” alongside Rep. Deb Haaland (D-NM), co-chair of the Congressional Native American Caucus. Before filing, however, the lawmakers are soliciting input on how best to draft the legislation, and are accepting written testimony until September 30.
While the proposed legislation itself doesn’t currently include marijuana-specific provisions, a press release and blog post on the topic address the senator’s sponsorship of the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act, which would allow tribal communities and states to set their own cannabis policies without Justice Department interference.
In order to provide economic opportunities to Native people, that “requires streamlining and removing unnecessary administrative barriers that impede economic growth on Tribal lands, respecting tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses, and promoting forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new and emerging economic opportunities.”
“For example, while not every tribe is interested in the economic opportunities associated with changing laws around marijuana, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important opportunity for economic development,” Warren’s campaign blog post states.
“I support full marijuana legalization, and have also introduced and worked on a bipartisan basis to advance the STATES Act, a proposal that would at a minimum safeguard the ability of states, territories, and Tribal Nations, to make their own marijuana policies,” she wrote.
.@RepDebHaaland & I invite feedback about this proposal & look forward to working closely with tribal nations & citizens, experts, & other stakeholders to advance legislation in Congress that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples. https://t.co/qc1fkBGb3I
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) August 16, 2019
A separate press release on Warren’s Senate website also touts her support for the STATES Act, saying she “worked hard to ensure” that it included tribal protections.
“It’s beyond time to make good on America’s responsibilities to Native peoples, and that is why I’m working with Congresswoman Haaland to draft legislation that will ensure the federal government lives up to its obligations and will empower tribal governments to address the needs of their citizens,” Warren said of the overall tribal plan. “We look forward to working closely with tribal nations to advance legislation that honors the United States’ promises to Native peoples.”
In an email blast to her campaign list, Warren included “a set of additional ideas to uphold the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations with Tribal Nations and to empower Native communities,” which includes her marijuana proposal:
“New economic opportunities: We also need to respect tribal jurisdiction over tribal businesses and promote forward-looking efforts to ensure full access to new economic opportunities. For example, a number of Tribal Nations view cannabis as an important economic opportunity. I support full marijuana legalization and have advanced the STATES Act, a proposal that would safeguard the ability of Tribal Nations to make their own marijuana policies.”
There’s increased interest in ensuring that Native populations receive the same benefits and protections as states as it concerns cannabis legislation.
In June, the House passed a spending bill that included a rider stipulating that Native American marijuana programs couldn’t be infringed upon by the Justice Department. And a GOP representative filed a bill in March that would provide similar protections.
FBI Seeks Tips On Marijuana Industry Corruption
The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is actively seeking tips on public corruption related to the marijuana industry, it announced on Thursday.
“States require licenses to grow and sell the drug—opening the possibility for public officials to become susceptible to bribes in exchange for those licenses,” FBI Public Affairs Specialist Mollie Halpern said on a short podcast the bureau released. “The corruption is more prevalent in western states where the licensing is decentralized—meaning the level of corruption can span from the highest to the lowest level of public officials.”
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)