Advocates scored a significant number of marijuana reform victories in state legislatures in 2021, but they’re hopeful they can get even more accomplished in the new year.
In states across the country, activists are already in the process of qualifying cannabis legalization and other drug policy reform measures for November 2022 ballots as lawmakers separately work to advance reform bills.
“I am optimistic 2022 will break the record for the most cannabis legalization laws enacted in a single year—a record that was set just last year,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment. “Several states also appear poised to enact compassionate medical cannabis laws.”
And the reform movement is poised to make gains beyond just cannabis this year, with several proposals to legalize or decriminalize psychedelics and other drugs also gaining momentum.
Here’s a rundown of which states are most likely to enact broad cannabis or psychedelics reform in 2022:
There are three campaigns working to give voters a say in whether Arkansas should legalize marijuana in 2022.
The most recent one to throw their hat in the ring was Arkansans for Marijuana Reform, which filed their reform initiative with the state in November.
Also last year, a former Arkansas lawmaker announced a campaign that also intends to put cannabis legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot. Eddie Armstrong, a Democrat who previously served as minority leader in the state House of Representatives before leaving office in 2019, is chairing the newly formed advocacy group Responsible Growth Arkansas.
A separate group of activists with Arkansas True Grass is already in the signature gathering process for a 2022 ballot initiative that would create a system of regulated sales for adults 21 and older, allowing them to purchase up to four ounces of cannabis and grow up to 12 plants for personal use.
Both True Grass and Arkansans for Marijuana Reform attempted to place marijuana legalization initiatives on the 2020 ballot, but both campaigns were derailed by the coronavirus pandemic and failed to collect enough signatures by the deadline.
There are two potential routes to legalizing psychedelics possession in California: a legislative approach being spearheaded by Sen. Scott Wiener (D) and a ballot campaign to place the issue of psilocybin legalization before voters in November.
The senator put a pause on that proposal last year after it cleared the Senate and started to advance through the Assembly, and he’s used the extra time to build up support for the reform and ensure that it’s something that could pass the full legislature.
Wiener recently told Marijuana Moment that he feels there’s a “50/50” chance that his psychedelics reform bill will advance this session.
Meanwhile, California activists are separately pursuing psychedelics reform at the ballot, with Decriminalize California collecting signatures for a 2022 initiative to legalize psilocybin mushrooms in the state.
Colorado voters could have the chance next year to vote on legalizing possession and personal cultivation of psychedelics, and creating a system of licensed businesses to produce psilocybin, DMT, ibogaine and mescaline for supervised use at “healing centers.”
A national advocacy group recently filed two separate psychedelics reform initiatives for Colorado’s 2022 ballot, both of which are titled the Natural Medicine Healing Act.
The first would legalize the possession, cultivation and an array of entheogenic substances, as well as establish a regulatory model for psychedelics therapy. The other is a similar, but somewhat more dialed-back proposal that would initially legalize psilocybin and psilocin alone for personal adult use while also allowing for their sale and administration in a therapeutic setting.
This filing comes more than two years after Denver became the first city in the U.S. to decriminalize psilocybin mushrooms. Various activists, including those involved in the 2019 campaign, have signaled interest in building upon the reform.
A legislative effort to legalize marijuana for adult use in Delaware died for the 2021 session following disagreements among lawmakers over social equity funding. But that effort could be revived in the new year, with national advocates listing the state as a top target to enact legalization next.
Gov. John Carney (D) is another obstacle, however, calling legalization a “bad idea” last year as the reform push was underway. He’s also declined to say what he would do if legislators put a marijuana commerce bill on his desk.
A Hawaii bill to legalize recreational marijuana that cleared the Senate last year is still alive for the 2022 session, and it’s possible that the legislature will move to take it up again.
House Judiciary and Hawaiian Affairs Committee Chairman Mark Nakashima (D) is largely responsible for the bill not being enacted last year, as he said he thinks the state should focus on improving its existing medical cannabis system before advancing adult-use legalization and declined to take action on the Senate-approved proposal. Gov. David Ige (D), who has also opposed certain cannabis reforms in the past, is another potential obstacle to passage.
But, because legalization has already cleared one full chamber of the legislature, the state is one to watch in 2022.
In Idaho, activists with one campaign are moving forward with plans to put medical cannabis legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot, while another set of advocates have decided to suspend a campaign to legalize possession due to complications resulting from the coronavirus pandemic.
While the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act (PAMDA) was cleared by Idaho officials for signature gathering in July, campaign spokesperson Russ Belville of Legalize the Idaho Way, Inc. told Marijuana Moment that “navigating a ballot initiative through a second wave of COVID has been trying, especially [for] a new type of marijuana initiative that simply depenalizes import of legal out-of-state purchases.”
“Therefore, in the interest of public safety, we’ve decided to suspend our active ballot initiative campaign for PAMDA,” he said. “However, we are continuing the concept of PAMDA in negotiations with Idaho legislators and political leaders with the goal of a bill for the next legislative session. Should our legislative efforts run aground and this pandemic eventually subside, we’ll resume a PAMDA ballot initiative campaign for 2024.”
A separate campaign, Kind Idaho, remains in the process of collecting signatures for a medical marijuana legalization initiative. A representative recently told Marijuana Moment that they have gathered about 10 percent of the required signatures to make the ballot and face an April 29 deadline to collect about 54,000 more signatures.
If things don’t work out for the campaign in 2022, activists will be looking ahead to future election cycles if the November election “doesn’t present us with the legislators necessary to move it forward through the legislative process,” Kind Idaho’s Joe Evans said.
“Mind you, we aren’t giving up the ghost on getting the initiative on the ballot this year,” he said. “It can still be done with the right combination of funding and volunteer support.”
A medical cannabis bill that passed the House last year is still alive and poised for action in the Senate in 2022.
Kansas Democratic leaders want to go further, however, and recently announced new proposals to let voters decide on legalizing medical and adult-use marijuana in the state.
“It’s time to give voters their opportunity to have their say and let the legislature know how they feel,” House Minority Leader Tom Sawyer (D) said this month. If approved in the legislature and then by voters in November, the laws would take effect in July 2023.
Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, supports medical cannabis. She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion.
A Republican-led bill to legalize medical marijuana in Kentucky landed in the state legislature this month. The measure is an update to lead sponsor Rep. Jason Nemes’s (R) past legalization efforts and includes a number of conservative-minded adjustments aimed at wining broad support among lawmakers, including leaders of his own party who control the legislative agenda.
Nemes filed a medical legalization bill in 2020 that soundly passed the House but later died in the Senate without a vote amid the early part of the coronavirus pandemic. He reintroduced the legislation for the 2021 session, but it did not advance. In recent months, Nemes has working to build support for a new, scaled-back version of the bill for 2022 and in October said he was confident it could pass if only legislative leaders have the “courage” to allow a vote on it.
Late last month, a top Maryland lawmaker pre-filed a bill to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot.
The legislation, which seeks to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot, has been designated House Bill 1, signaling that it will be prioritized.
House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D) has been working to get the legislature in a good position to advance the reform quickly, announcing the formation of a cannabis workgroup last summer and stating that lawmakers “will pass legislation early” in 2022 to refer the question of legalization to voters.
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D), meanwhile, said in July that the reform is “beyond past due” in the state— but he seemed reluctant to embrace a referendum process and instead wants to pass a bill to end cannabis prohibition sooner than next November.
There are efforts underway in Michigan to get statewide psychedelics and marijuana reform enacted this year, both legislatively and through the ballot.
Several Michigan cities have passed resolutions to decriminalize a wide range of psychedelics in the past couple years—most recently in Grand Rapids and Detroit. Building on those reforms, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Irwin (D), would amend state statute to exempt people from criminal penalties for such activities so long as they are not “receiving money or other valuable consideration for the entheogenic plant or fungus.”
As such, commercial production and sales would not be legalized under the measure. The legislation does clarify, however, that people can charge a “reasonable fee for counseling, spiritual guidance, or a related service that is provided in conjunction with the use of an entheogenic plant or fungus under the guidance and supervision of an individual providing the service.”
But the most likely route to broad reform might be through the ballot, with activists are planning to introduce a separate statewide psychedelics reform initiative that they hope to place before voters this November.
The year 2021 saw a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota move through a dozen House committees and then get approval by the full chamber, but it subsequently stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate. Lawmakers are ready to take up the reform fight again in 2022.
While the House-passed measure is still alive for 2022 in the two-year session, it’s unclear if new Senate leadership will be more amenable to advancing a policy change than prior leaders were.
Gov. Tim Walz (D), who signed legislation in May to allow patients to access smokable cannabis products, previously called on lawmakers to pursue adult-use legalization as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. In 2019 he directed state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization eventually passing.
Mississippi lawmakers are moving ahead with a proposal to legalize medical cannabis in the state, though they’ve faced some resistance about certain provisions by Gov. Tate Reeves (R).
The main objection from the governor concerns the daily purchase limits for patients, which he says are too high. He’s signaled that he would veto the bill if the purchase limit isn’t reduced, but a key state senator suggested last month that they would have the votes to override that action if it’s taken.
But Sen. Brice Wiggins (R), chairman of the Judiciary Committee Division A who is also running for a seat in Congress, says the people of Mississippi spoke loud and clear when they voted to approve a medical cannabis legalization initiative last year, and lawmakers have a duty to deliver on the reform after the state Supreme Court invalidated it for procedural reasons.
Lawmakers have already made several concessions to the governor as they’ve continued negotiations on legislation to replace the voter-approved ballot measure, and advocates hoped everything would be resolved in time for Reeves to convene a special session to pass it this year, as he suggested he’d do. But as the goal post continued to be pushed back, it became clear that legislators would need to tackle the reform in the 2022 session.
House and Senate leaders announced in September that they had come to an agreement on the reform, yet the governor came back with several objections, forcing legislators to go back and make some compromises. Even after they did that, Reeves held firm on what leadership says are “unreasonable demands.”
The Senate has already approved the new bill, just days into the new session, and now it heads to the House.
There are currently two separate campaigns working to get legalization initiatives on the Missouri’s 2022 ballot, in addition to legislative proposals to enact the reform.
Legal Missouri 2022 kicked off its campaign last month, with plans to deploy hundreds of signature gatherers at major cities throughout the state.
“We are pushing full steam ahead with both paid and volunteer signature collection efforts and look forward to Missourians voting on adult use legalization this fall,” campaign manager John Payne told Marijuana Moment. He added they’ve hired a signature gathering firm that they worked
Payne previously worked with the group New Approach Missouri to successfully get a medical cannabis initiative passed by voters in 2018.
A separate campaign, Fair Access Missouri, is separately exploring multiple citizen initiatives with the hopes of getting at least one on the ballot this year. Three of the four would create a system of legalized cannabis sales for adults 21 and older, while another would simply amend the state’s existing medical marijuana program.
Meanwhile, Rep. Shamed Dogan (R) recently filed a joint resolution to place a constitutional amendment on marijuana legalization on the 2022 ballot. He introduced a similar proposal last year, but it did not advance.
There are some advocates who want to see the legislature take the lead on establishing a regulated marijuana market, but others remain skeptical that will actually happen in the state’s GOP-controlled House and Senate.
Nebraska activists are fed up with the GOP-controlled legislature blocking efforts to enact marijuana reform, and so they’re making another push to put medical cannabis legalization on the 2022 ballot.
Advocates unveiled the language of a pair of initiatives that, together, would protect qualified patients from legal consequences for cannabis and regulate businesses that produce, distribute and sell marijuana products to those patients.
Each of the ballot measures will need 87,000 signatures of support from registered voters by July to qualify for the 2022 ballot.
“We are confident we will get the signatures to qualify for the ballot because we have successfully done this before, during a pandemic,” Sen. Anna Wishart (D) told Marijuana Moment, referring to a 2020 campaign when Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana qualified its prior cannabis measure for the ballot—only to be thwarted by the state Supreme Court.
“We collected close to 200,000 signatures in 2020, well over the necessary 122,000, only to be kicked off the ballot by the Supreme Court in a 5-2 decision,” she said. “We learned from the Supreme Court challenge and brought language this time that we believe will withstand any opposition.”
Wishart said that polling conducted two years ago showed that more than 70 percent of voters across political lines back the policy change.
“I know how strongly this is supported because I drove across the state to collect signatures in 2020 to some of the most rural areas of the country and I was met with support,” the senator said. “I collected signatures of cowboys and cowgirls, for example, at a cattle sale.”
“What this will mean for the state is that Nebraskans will be treated like patients and no longer like criminals,” she said. “This is an issue about medical freedom and human dignity and it is long overdue that we join the rest of the country in legalizing medical cannabis.”
New Hampshire’s House of Representatives kicked off the 2022 session by approving a bill to legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and older. It now heads to the Senate, where cannabis reforms have had a tougher time advancing in the past.
But there are other pending proposals from lawmakers to enact broad legalization, including three to place constitutional amendments on the ballot for voters to decide on the reform in November.
It would take a supermajority 60 percent vote in both chambers to advance any of the proposed constitutional amendments. But while that may be a tall task in the GOP-controlled legislature, if they’re successful, it would enable lawmakers to avoid a likely veto on statutory reform legislation from anti-legalization Gov. Chris Sununu (R).
Should legislators approve placing a constitutional amendment to legalize cannabis on the ballot, 67 percent of voters would then have to vote in favor for it to be enacted. Recent polling indicates that residents are ready for the reform, with three in four New Hampshirites favoring legalization.
A proposal to legalize medical cannabis in North Carolina advanced through three Senate committees last year, and advocates are optimistic that the reform could be taken up again in the new year.
Under the proposal, patients would be allowed to access cannabis if they have a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Patients could possess up to one and a half ounces of marijuana, but home cultivation would not be permitted.
North Carolina’s House majority whip said last month that he’s in favor of the reform but has not done a vote count to see how much support it has in his chamber.
A majority of North Carolina adults support legalizing marijuana for recreational use—and three in four say it should be legal for medical purposes—according to a poll released last year.
Marijuana legalization could come to North Dakota either through an act of the legislature or the ballot this year.
The state House approved a reform bill to put legalization on the ballot in 2022 last year, but the full Senate rejected it.
Meanwhile, advocates with two separate campaigns are pushing for separate legalization referendums.
David Owen, chairman of Legalize ND, told Marijuana Moment that the group is “still working with stakeholders and partners to determine the best pathway forward but are confident that news will come soon.”
“We are determined to legalize recreational marijuana in North Dakota but are still exploring options for what the best path is especially given the SD Supreme Court decision,” he said, referring to a state Supreme Court ruling late last year in neighboring South Dakota that determined a voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative was invalid on procedural grounds.
Another group called the North Dakota Cannabis Caucus has separately working to put marijuana reform on the ballot.
There’s a chance the group could get enough signatures under the state’s timeline to put the reform on the June primary ballot, but Dustin Peyer, the chief petitioner, told Marijuana Moment it’s “not likely.” Instead, the probable plan is to turn in signatures by July to get on the November ballot.
Peyer said the group is “currently looking to build a new petition that will take less signatures and change the medical program directly.”
“Ultimately the constitutional right to grow cannabis on private property is our goal and this petition will continue forward,” he said. “We have a growing base of local business support that we are very grateful for. However, the current monopolized market created by a super majority of prohibitionist Republican and Democratic lawmakers alike is leading to many issues in the program.”
Activists and lawmakers in Ohio are hoping to get reform enacted in 2022.
Last month, Ohio advocates submitted to the state what they said were enough signatures for an initiative to force lawmakers to take up the issue of legalization. But the secretary of state’s office said this month that there weren’t enough valid signatures, so the campaign collected more and turned in the new submissions this week.
The measure that legislators would be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
Separately, a legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.
“It is the local [decriminalization initiatives] that have pushed the state to act,” Don Keeney of NORML Appalachia of Ohio told Marijuana Moment. “We are looking forward to adding as many local municipalities as time permits. We are gearing up for another good run at it. Solid change starts at the local grassroots level.”
There are currently two campaigns working to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot, as well as a separate initiative to rework Oklahoma’s existing medical cannabis program.
The latest campaign is being supported by the national New Approach PAC, which has been behind a number of successful state-level reform initiatives. A separate group of local activists, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, also filed initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana and remodel the state’s medical cannabis program in October.
Oklahoma activists had previously attempted to qualify a legalization measure for the 2020 ballot. They filed a petition to legalize cannabis for adult use in December 2019, but signature gathering fell short due in part to procedural delays and the coronavirus pandemic.
A deal on a marijuana legalization bill in Rhode Island appears imminent, with key lawmakers recently saying the legislation should be introduced in the coming days following months of negotiations between the House, Senate and governor’s office.
The Senate already approved legalization legislation last year.
Many issues have been resolved over the course of negotiations, but the question of who should be in charge of regulating the program—an existing agency or a newly created body—has been a sticking point.
“The House and Senate intend to soon have a draft of legislation ready, which will serve as a framework to begin a robust public hearing process,” House Speaker Joseph Sherkarchi (D) said. “We may not be the first state to legalize marijuana, but our goal is to do it in a way that is best for all of Rhode Islanders.”
South Carolina lawmakers are positioned to advance a medical marijuana legalization bill that’s being championed by Sen. Tom Davis (R).
The senator told WMBF News this month that he’s “optimistic about this bill being approved by both chambers of the legislature and sent to Governor McMaster before we adjourn in May.”
“I’ve done a pretty good canvassing of my colleagues in the state Senate,” he said. “I’m confident that I have a majority of senators in favor of this bill.”
Davis previously said that he’s received assurances from a top Senate leader that his measure will be taken up as the first order of business at the beginning of this year.
The senator said that he “had hoped it would be debated and voted on before we adjourned in May” after clearing the Senate Medical Affairs Committee in March. But that didn’t pan out after another lawmaker placed a hold on the legislation.
The senator’s legislation as filed last year would allow patients with qualifying conditions to possess and purchase up to two ounces of cannabis every two weeks.
In a setback for activists late last year, the South Dakota Supreme Court ruled that a voter-approved 2020 marijuana legalization initiative was invalid on procedural grounds. But advocates are now pursuing a two-track plan to enact the reform this year.
In the legislature, a cannabis reform bill has been formally recommended by a leadership panel for the upcoming session. Activists with South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws (SDBML) will also continue collecting signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative—though they hope to work with lawmakers to advance reform legislatively ahead of this year’s election.
A Marijuana Interim Study Committee made the formal recommendation for the legislature to take up legalization following a series of hearings. The recommendation was agreed to late last year by the legislature’s Executive Board, which is led by the House speaker and Senate president pro tempore.
Voters also approved a separate statutory medical cannabis ballot measure in 2020, and that wasn’t challenged in the courts and took effect in July.
Lawmakers and advocates in Washington, D.C. are ready and eager to proceed with legalizing marijuana sales as soon as a congressional appropriations rider is lifted.
For years, the District has been prohibited from using its local tax dollars to enact the reform despite voters approving an initiative to legalize possession, personal cultivation and gifting in 2014. The U.S. House of Representatives approved a spending package that removes that rider, despite the Biden administration proposing to keep it in its own budget request, and now advocates are waiting to see whether the policy is ultimately stripped in the final bill for fiscal year 2022.
Local lawmakers held a joint hearing in November on a pair of bills to authorize the legal sale of recreational marijuana and significantly expand the existing medical cannabis program in the nation’s capital.
One bill sponsored by Chairman Phil Mendelson (D) would “require a regulatory scheme to license the cultivation, production, and retail sale of cannabis in the District.”
Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), who represents the District in Congress, said in November that she is “closer than ever” to removing the blockade on cannabis commerce in her district.
Meanwhile, Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) said in April that local officials are prepared to move forward with implementing a legal system of recreational marijuana sales in the nation’s capital just as soon as they can get over the final “hurdle” of congressional interference.
Activists are preparing to introduce a ballot initiative to broadly decriminalize drugs in 2022, similar to what neighboring Oregon voters passed in 2020.
Christina Blocker of Commit to Change WA told Marijuana Moment that the campaign is “energized by the support that we have received across the state of Washington,” adding that “2022 is the year where we will have the opportunity to end the War on Drugs and its impacts on our families, our neighbors, and our communities.”
The group was formerly known as Treatment First WA and, in 2020, attempted to qualify a decriminalization measure for that year’s state ballot. That initiative would have made unlawful possession of any drug a civil infraction, referred people found with drugs to a services assessment and funded a massive expansion of outreach and recovery programs.
When the pandemic interrupted the signature gathering effort for that measure, organizers shifted their focus to the legislature. After months of delay, a bill that was largely based on the earlier initiative was introduced but eventually died after clearing one House committee.
State lawmakers did reduce Washington’s criminal penalty for drug possession from a felony to a misdemeanor last year, but that was in response to the state Supreme Court invalidating the state’s decades-old felony law, which temporarily left no valid law on the books against simple possession.
While more progressive Democrats urged against reinstating criminal penalties of ay kind, the legislature ultimately adopted the misdemeanor charge along with plans to create a statewide suite of treatment and recovery services. The law, widely seen by advocates as a half-step toward meaningful reform, took effect in May with Gov. Jay Inslee’s (D) signature.
Separately, a pair of state lawmakers recently introduced legislation that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
Wyoming activists recently said that they’ve made solid progress in collecting signatures for a pair of ballot initiatives to decriminalize marijuana possession and legalize medical cannabis, but they didn’t get enough to make the 2022 ballot deadline and will be aiming for 2024 while simultaneously pushing the legislature to advance reform even sooner.
Weather conditions, the ongoing pandemic and late approval for their petitions by state officials made the prospect of putting legalization and decriminalization before voters this year especially challenging.
Now, in addition to continuing to collect signatures for a 2024 initiative, activists will be pushing lawmakers to file new bills that contain the language of the ballot measures.
A bill to legalize and regulate cannabis for adult use in Wyoming advanced out of a House committee in March, but it did not move further in the legislature by the end of the session.
Activists say the stage is set for an active year for drug policy reform.
While it’s unclear how many of these bills and ballot proposals will ultimately advance and become enacted, there’s a sense of optimism that the reform movement will expand rapidly in 2022. And advocates are pleased to see the range of policy reforms that are being pursued.
“As we look ahead to 2022, we have many opportunities to expand America’s access to medical cannabis and regulated cannabis markets,” Jax James, who was recently hired as NORML’s state policy director, told Marijuana Moment. “NORML is tracking hundreds of bills that have already been filed as well as ballot initiatives across the country. We look forward to another year of important reforms passing in many states.”
“No matter what state you reside in, registering to vote, engaging in the primary election, the political convention cycle and the general election are integral to further advancement,” she said.
Rhode Island Governor Includes Marijuana Legalization And Expungements In Budget Request
The governor of Rhode Island has again included a proposal to legalize marijuana as part of his annual budget plan—and this time he also added new language to provide for automatic cannabis expungements in the state.
Gov. Dan McKee (D) released his request for the 2023 fiscal year on Thursday, calling for adult-use legalization as lawmakers say they’re separately nearing a deal on enacting the reform. It appears that an outstanding disagreement between the governor and legislators concerning what body should regulate the program remains unresolved based on the new budget proposal, however.
In general, McKee’s plan would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of cannabis, though it would not provide a home grow option. Adults could also store up to five ounces of marijuana in secured storage in their primary residence.
“The governor recommends creating a strictly regulated legal market for adult-use cannabis in the state,” an executive summary states. “This proposal would create a weight-based excise tax on marijuana cultivation, an additional retail excise tax of 10 percent, and also apply sales tax to cannabis transactions.”
Legislators have been in talks for months to reconcile competing legalization proposals that have been brought forward by the House, Senate and governor’s office previously. Now McKee is giving fresh details about what he hopes to see out of a potential policy change.
Under his plan, 25 percent of marijuana tax revenue and licensing fees would go to the “regulatory, public health, and public safety costs associated with adult-use cannabis.” Fifteen percent would go to local governments and 60 percent would go to the state general fund.
The executive summary says that the state’s sales tax revenue would be “boosted by the proposed introduction of adult-use cannabis tax revenue in FY 2023.” The state is estimating that it will collect $1.2 million in general revenue for the 2023 fiscal year and $16.9 “with a full year of sales in FY 2024.”
The revenue projections and provisions largely reflect what the governor proposed in his last budget request, with the exception of the new expungements language. Funding a process for expedited expungements is expected to cost the state about $400,000 for fiscal year 2023, the summary says.
“Prohibiting the possession, cultivation, and sale of cannabis to adults has proven to be an ineffective policy for the State of Rhode Island,” the findings section of the legislation itself says. “In the absence of a legal, tightly regulated market, an illicit cannabis industry has thrived, undermining the public health, safety and welfare of Rhode Islanders.”
“Regional and national shifts in cannabis policy have increased access to legal cannabis and marijuana products for Rhode Islanders in other states, the sale of which benefits the residents of the providing state while providing no funds to the State of Rhode Island to address the public health, safety and welfare externalities that come with increased access to cannabis, including marijuana.”
The effective date for the proposed bill would be April 1, 2023.
Not only does the governor’s plan not allow for home grow, it also sets out a series of fines and penalties for personal cultivation of any number of plants. For example, a person who unlawfully grows one to five plants would face a penalty of $2,000 per plant and an “order requiring forfeiture and/or destruction of said plants,” according to the text of the proposed legislation.
The bill also includes language to create a Cannabis Reinvestment Task Force that would be required to study and issue recommendations on using marijuana tax revenue for “job training, small business access to capital, affordable housing, health equity, and neighborhood and community development.”
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The proposal calls for 25 marijuana retailers to be licensed each year for the first three years of implementation. Those would be awarded on a lottery basis, but at least five would be specifically given to minority-owned businesses, a category. Additional licenses would be issued in the future based on market demand.
During negotiations over recent months, a key question that’s needed to be resolved is who should be in charge of regulating the adult-use marijuana program—an existing agency or a newly created body.
McKee has again proposed having the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR) regulate the cannabis industry.
Earlier this month, lawmakers signaled that the best route to satisfy both sides would be to create a compromise approach where a state agency like DBR and a new independent cannabis commission would each play a role. The governor did not incorporate that hybrid regulatory model into his latest proposal.
House Speaker Joseph Sherkarchi (D) recently said in opening remarks at the start of the 2022 session that lawmakers have “spent months analyzing the complex issue of marijuana legalization.”
“The House and Senate intend to soon have a draft of legislation ready, which will serve as a framework to begin a robust public hearing process,” he said. “We may not be the first state to legalize marijuana, but our goal is to do it in a way that is best for all of Rhode Islanders.”
Sen. Josh Miller (D), sponsor of one legalization proposal that was approved in the Senate last year, recently told Marijuana Moment that he agreed that lawmakers “should have a bill very soon with a structure very close to” what the speaker described. Miller’s legislation had proposed creating a new cannabis commission to oversee the market.
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said in his session opening remarks this month that the bill the body passed last year “included substantial measures to rectify the wrongs associated with the decades-long policies of prohibition.”
He noted that Senate leaders have been working in recent months with the House on a deal that “maintains the core principles of our proposal.”
“Because of those efforts,” he said, “I anticipate the General Assembly will legalize cannabis this legislative session.”
The speaker previously said that he’d be open to a compromise on regulatory structure and hinted at the possibility of a hybrid model.
Another issue related to how many marijuana business licenses also appears to have gotten closer to resolution amid negotiations. Miller’s bill proposed as many as 150 cannabis shops, whereas McKee’s plan calls for 25 each year for the first three years and then gives regulators discretion to add more depending on market demand. Rep. Scott Slater’s (D) separate legalization measure recommended just 15 retailers in his House bill. Miller said at an event in October that “we’re probably down to more in the 30, 40 range” as part of a deal.
Negotiators also recently reached an agreement to place a temporary moratorium on approving additional cannabis cultivator licenses. Some have protested adding cultivators beyond the existing medical marijuana licensees because they say there’s already a sufficient supply to meet demand in the adult-use market.
Ruggerio, for his part, said in September that lawmakers are “very close” to reaching a deal on a marijuana legalization bill
“We sent legislation—which we think is a very good piece of legislation—over to the House before we left in June,” the senator said, referring to the legalization bill that his chamber approved in June. “They are working on that legislation with some of the House people at this point in time.”
Another thing that remains to be seen is whether the negotiated legalization bill that’s ultimately produced will satisfy advocates and progressive lawmakers, some of whom have rallied behind an agenda for reform that emphasizes the need for bold social equity provisions.
While each of the competing bills contain components meant to address the harms of marijuana criminalization, the coalition led by Reclaim Rhode Island has said they’re insufficient. Advocates and supportive lawmakers have laid out specific items that they want to see incorporated such as setting aside half of cannabis business licenses for communities most impacted by prohibition.
“We can’t reverse the harm of the war on drugs, but we can start to repair it by passing automatic expungement and waiving all related fines, fees and court debt,” Rep. Karen Alzate (D), chair of the Rhode Island Legislative Black and Latino Caucus, said in September. “This bold legalization plan offers us the chance to turn a new leaf for the Ocean State, and it’s time we take it.”
Ruggerio said he does feel that the legalization bill that was approved in the Senate contained “very strong social justice provisions” and the Senate’s expedited expungements provision is “as close to automatic as practical.”
He also said in July that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed its cannabis reform measure.
A coalition of 10 civil rights and drug policy reform advocacy groups—including the Rhode Island chapters of the ACLU and NAACP—had demanded that lawmakers move ahead with enacting marijuana reform in the state before the end of 2021. But that did not pan out.
Lawmakers have noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state.
Shekarchi, meanwhile, said in July that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, the speaker said.
The House Finance Committee held a hearing on Slater’s legalization measure in June.
The governor previously told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”
“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.
The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.
Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget in 2020. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.
McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform last January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”
Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.
In late 2020, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.
Meanwhile, the governor in July signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.
The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing last year on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.
Read the text of the governor’s marijuana legalization proposal below:
Virginia Psilocybin Decriminalization Bill Enjoys Bipartisan Support In Senate Committee, But Revisions Are Forthcoming
A Virginia Senate committee on Wednesday discussed a bill to decriminalize psilocybin, with members on both sides of the aisle expressing general support for the concept—but a vote was delayed until next week to consider feedback on possible revisions to put a more specific focus on authorizing the substance for therapeutic use.
The Senate Judiciary Committee took up the legislation from Sen. Ghazala Hashmi (D), hearing testimony from advocates, military veterans and other people who have benefitted from psychedelics therapy. The legislation would make possession of psilocybin and psilocyn by adults 21 and older a civil penalty that carries a $100 fine, instead of a Class 5 felony.
Any dollars collected from psychedelics possession violations would go to the state’s Drug Offender Assessment and Treatment Fund, which supports substance misuse treatment programs and drug courts.
There was some bipartisan support for the proposal, but one Republican member suggested centering the focus on medical use, rather than broadly decriminalize the substances, to make it more passable in the newly GOP-controlled House.
Sen. Mark Peake (R) said that he felt the measure as introduced would stand a solid chance of advancing through the committee and full Senate under Democratic control, but he said, “I bet the House is not ready for that.”
He recommended changing the legislation “to make it where [psilocybin is] medically prescribed,” to follow a similar policy trajectory that the state followed for marijuana.
“The bill the way it is written, where anyone can possess it for any reason, I don’t see how that would get through the House in this session,” the senator said.
Hashmi was amenable to the suggestion and said that “we have an opportunity to continue to work on the bill, put in the safety rails that you are recommending—I think that would be a really good direction.”
In her opening remarks, the senator said that a growing number of studies are “demonstrating that psilocybin has the potential, really, to alleviate a lot of mental health issues, and especially for those folks for whom other medications are simply not working.”
“Preliminary research is showing that it also perhaps helps with substance addiction. We know that substance abuse, substance addiction, is a direct corollary to the rising use of opioid treatment,” she said. “Psilocybin might be an appropriate antidote to providing medical care service for folks with depression and PTSD in ways that are other drugs are not able to do.”
Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy 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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Notably, Senate Minority Leader Thomas Norment (R) also voiced support for the proposal. He said that while in his early career “the mantra was get tough on crime,” public opinion has shifted, as has medical research.
“Sometimes I think we have to rely upon intuition and take a change,” he said. “I listened to the testimonies today—and they’re not testimonies that I’ve heard for the first time. So I’m going to support this because I generally think it’s going to provide some relief and help individuals.”
The committee is expected to vote on an amended version of the bill next Wednesday.
There’s a separate, similar psychedelics reform proposal that’s been filed in the House. It hasn’t gone to committee yet, but it would decriminalize a wider array of substances for adults over 21, including peyote and ibogaine in addition to psilocybin and psilocyn.
At a recent virtual event organized by the reform group Decriminalize Nature Virginia, the sponsors of both bills participated as hosts, sharing their perspectives about the growing body of research indicating that psychedelics could be powerful tools to combat conditions like treatment-resistant depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
If the legislature does approve the legislation, it could face resistance from the state’s incoming Republican governor, Glenn Youngkin, who has expressed concerns about implementing a commercial marijuana market in line with what the Democratic legislature and outgoing governor approved last year.
The filing of the psychedelics bills in Virginia is just the latest example of state lawmakers following the tide of local decriminalization efforts that have played out across the country.
For example, a GOP Utah lawmaker introduced a bill on Tuesday that would set up a task force to study and make recommendations on the therapeutic potential of psychedelic drugs and possible regulations for their lawful use.
In Kansas, A lawmaker also recently filed a bill to legalize the low-level possession and cultivation of psilocybin mushrooms.
A Republican Missouri lawmaker introduced a bill last week to give residents with serious illnesses legal access to a range of psychedelic drugs like psilocybin, ibogaine and LSD through an expanded version of the state’s existing right-to-try law.
California Sen. Scott Wiener (D) told Marijuana Moment in a recent interview that his bill to legalize psychedelics possession stands a 50/50 chance of reaching the governor’s desk this year. It already cleared the full Senate and two Assembly committees during the first half of the two-year session.
In Michigan, a pair of state senators introduced a bill in September to legalize the possession, cultivation and delivery of various plant- and fungi-derived psychedelics like psilocybin and mescaline.
Washington State lawmakers also introduced legislation this month that would legalize what the bill calls “supported psilocybin experiences” by adults 21 and older.
In Vermont, a broad coalition of lawmakers representing nearly a third of the House introduced a bill to decriminalize drug possession.
New Hampshire lawmakers filed measures to decriminalize psilocybin and all drugs.
Last year, the governor of Connecticut signed legislation that includes language requiring the state to carry out a study into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms.
Similar legislation was also enacted in the Texas legislature, requiring the state to study the medical risks and benefits of psilocybin, MDMA and ketamine for military veterans in partnership with Baylor College of Medicine and a military-focused medical center.
At the congressional level, bipartisan lawmakers sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Tuesday, urging that the agency allow terminally ill patients to use psilocybin as an investigational treatment without the fear of federal prosecution.
Photo courtesy of Wikimedia/Workman.
Most Americans Predict Biden Won’t Uphold Marijuana Decriminalization Promise In 2022, Poll Finds
A new poll shows that more than half of Americans feel that President Joe Biden has made little to no progress on a key campaign pledge to decriminalize marijuana during his first year in office—and most people also aren’t betting on him doing more to advance the reform in 2022.
The survey from YouGov and The Economist asked Americans to rate the president’s performance on six campaign promises in his first year and separately say how much progress they think he will make in the new year.
Fifty-four percent said Biden has made little to no progress on cannabis decriminalization while 23 percent said they didn’t know. Just 23 percent said that he’s made some or a lot of progress on the issue.
Respondents said they felt Biden made somewhat more progress on four of the other issues—student loan forgiveness, clean energy infrastructure, raising the federal minimum wage and COVID-19 response. Only on the issue of securing bipartisan cooperation in Congress for economic relief did Biden get lower scores than for cannabis reform.
Democrats were most likely to give Biden good marks for his progress on several of these issues, but 42 percent said that he’s made little to no progress on decriminalization. In contrast, 73 percent of those who identify as Republicans said he’s done little to advance the reform, even if that cohort is less supportive of the proposal overall.
Asked separately to look ahead for expectations in 2022, pessimism abounds, with 58 percent of respondents saying they anticipate the president will make little to no progress on marijuana decriminalization despite promising it to voters ahead of the 2020 election. Twenty-six percent said they weren’t sure what to expect and only 16 percent said they believe he’ll make some or a lot of progress.
The poll also asked respondents how they personally view each of the campaign promises, and 58 percent said they support marijuana decriminalization, compared to 25 percent who are opposed.
After his first year in the White House, Americans have good reason to be skeptical about how committed Biden is to fulfilling his marijuana pledges. Beside decriminalization, he also said on the campaign trail that he’d move to reschedule cannabis and grant clemency to people with federal marijuana convictions—and none of that has happened yet.
The YouGov survey involved interviews with 1,500 Americans from January 15-18. The margin of error is ±3 percentage points.
Most Americans are pessimistic about how much progress Joe Biden will make toward six campaign promises in 2022, including:
— YouGov America (@YouGovAmerica) January 20, 2022
While experts say it may not be possible for a president to unilaterally remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act, he could encourage agencies like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Justice Department to initiate the rescheduling process.
And while the poll didn’t ask respondents about clemency for marijuana prisoners, it’s a major unfulfilled promise that’s especially frustrating to advocates considering that he could grant a mass pardon with a stroke of the pen.
Biden has received about a dozen letters from lawmakers, advocates, celebrities and people impacted by criminalization to do something about the people who remain behind federal bars over cannabis. After months of inaction, some members of Congress like Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) have even sent follow-up letters demanding a response.
Photo courtesy of Jurassic Blueberries.