The Future of Cannabis Legalization in America

In January 2021, Connecticut became the 18th state to legalize recreational cannabis use. With nearly the entire Northeast now composed of legal states, who will follow in Connecticut’s footsteps? Many state legislatures are hesitant to adopt these laws, however many recognize the benefits of legalization such as generating jobs, tax revenue, and keeping marijuana in a controlled setting. MJBiz CEO Chris Walsh predicts that retail sales of marijuana will double by 2025 — going from around $20 billion to $45.9 billion.gavel surrounded by cash and marijuana

Today, about 62% of US states allow marijuana to be used recreationally or have decriminalized it. This number is expected to steadily increase, especially with the 2022 election season coming up. With an overwhelming number of Americans supporting the cause to legalize recreational and medical marijuana, we expect to see many states introducing ballots to legalize in the near future.

Here is the current legislation that is happening in the following states where the fight to legalize cannabis is more prevalent than ever:

These states have allowed marijuana to be used for medical purposes and are looking to expand on minimum possession laws and even reform legislation surrounding punishments on marijuana charges.

 

Minnesota

Although the Republican-led state senate in Minnesota would most likely oppose the complete legalization of marijuana, Governor Tim Waltz (D) publicly supports the initiative to legalize marijuana, recognizing the need to control cannabis in order to keep usage safer. During a debriefing discussing the budget, he said, “I would still like legislators to take a look at recreational cannabis, not just because of the revenue sources that dwarf sports betting, but because of the equity issue and, quite honestly, the racial impact of our cannabis laws”.

The Minnesota House of Representatives introduced the HF600 bill, which passed along party lines. This bill allows adults over the age of 21 to possess up to two ounces in public, establishes licenses such as “cannabis cultivator”, “cannabis retailer”, “cannabis wholesaler” and more. Additionally, HF600 allows for the automatic expungement of marijuana convictions for low-level crimes. What is special about this bill is that it’s passed nine separate committee votes, which provides strong evidence on just how many citizens and delegates support this bill. 

Clashes between the two parties in power necessitate a 2022 ballot initiative. The bill will most likely pass through the Democrat-majority House of Representatives but will face complications once it gets to the mostly-Republican Senate.

Florida

Florida legislatures are still weary of legalizing cannabis for recreational use , but are introducing bills in order to continue expanding access to medical cannabis. Many of Florida’s political leaders are made up of individuals who outspokenly oppose legalization of cannabis, however few state senators, such as Senator Jeff Brandes (R), have sponsored bills on the topic of complete legal use.

Local initiatives within the state are striving to put bills like these on the ballot in hopes that some can make it to the senate floor. Make it Legal Florida is an advocacy group that is collecting signatures to put recreational marijuana on a bill for the upcoming election season. Currently, Florida has over a dozen bills looking to be debated on in 2022 — most are on the topics of criminal justice reform, making medical marijuana more accessible, and legalizing recreational use. A businessman putting weed plant in a piggy bank.

With the potential to reach nearly $448 million in tax revenue from marijuana alone, it’s hard to deny that recreational cannabis in Florida will jumpstart the state’s economy and ultimately lead to laws that may solve more pressing issues such as homelessness, education, and more.  

Pennsylvania

Recently, Governor Tom Wolf (D) changed his position on the legality of marijuana and now supports recreational use – although he faces a challenge to work with his colleagues who are unsure about the safety of recreational marijuana. 

Even though Pennsylvania’s government is split on the issue, a historical bipartisan bill was proposed by Senator Dan Laughlin (R) and Sharif Street (D) to legalize cannabis for adult-use. They have supported the initiative, saying that regulation can prevent adolescents and young adults from getting cannabis without knowing where the product came from. Regulation means that there are strict rules cannabis cultivators and dispensaries must follow, which ensures the safety of the consumer. 

This also supports the economy of the state and allows them to give back to underserved areas. Marijuana legalization would also abolish the unequal marijuana laws that disproportionately affect Black and Hispanic Americans. The industry will expect to add thousands of jobs and generate up to a billion dollars worth of tax revenue.

Hawaii

Hawaii’s government is made up of mostly-Democrat legislators who are advocates for cannabis legalization. However, complete recreational legalization is unlikely under Governor Ige (D), who has consistently opposed ending marijuana prohibition since taking office. He has vetoed bills in recent years that propose marijuana legalization. Ige ends his term in the 2022 elections, in which locals will have a chance to elect an official who will support this issue. Having a different governor and a Democrat-majority government will ensure future legislation has an efficient pathway towards legalization.

Vector illustration of a red and blue ballot box with a white map of Marijuana on it.Even though legalization is not quite there yet for Hawaii, recent bills aim to diminish punishments for marijuanapossession and allow recreational possession in small amounts. Bill 767 will legalize recreational possession in certain amounts — up to an ounce. It will also legalize the ability to grow up to six plants. Bill 758 increases the minimum amount of marijuana that a person is allowed to have in order to be charged with a misdemeanor and introduces an expungement program on certain marijuana offenses from possessing three grams to an ounce of marijuana. 

Maryland

In November of 2014, Washington D.C. legalized recreational marijuana, being one of the first territories to accomplish this feat. Since then, pressure has been placed on Maryland to follow in its footsteps, but to no avail. In spite of this, the Maryland House of Representatives proposed a legalization bill  House Bill 32, which introduces the ability to legalize, tax, and regulate cannabis — but it is still in the early stages. During this legislative session, delegates are certain that the bill will get vetoed by Governor Hogan (R); however activists and supporters of the bill will continue to push to legalize marijuana in the upcoming years

Jazz Lewis, a Maryland state delegate, has argued that the bill would keep marijuana off the streets and encourage safer products and regulation surrounding the drug. It would also create thousands of jobs, and significantly help the state’s economy by generating millions of dollars in tax revenue. 

Cannabis Shop Icon DesignMaryland house speaker Adrienne Jones has announced to enact a referendum relating to the legalization measures of marijuana on the 2022 ballot. She also announced the creation of a Cannabis Workgroup to encourage a recreational marijuana program in Maryland. This marijuana policy project will address potential concerns surrounding a recreational marijuana system. For example, determining the structure and oversight to licensing legalized marijuana, discussing the impact on medical cannabis, and how to maintain equity in the ownership of cannabis dispensaries state-wide.

To summarize, increasing pressure and initiatives from marijuana activists and delegates put Maryland in a promising place for this upcoming election cycle. Further sponsorships of bills, bipartisan compromise, and petitions may slingshot Maryland to legalize marijuana within the next few years. 

Delaware

With most of the Northeastern states having legal cannabis, the urge to legalize surrounding states has never been greater. These states, including Delaware, fear that they will lose tax revenue to states in which marijuana is fully legal. 

House bill 150 was introduced in March of 2021 and is in the process of being proposed to the state senate floor. The bill aims to regulate and tax marijuana in the same manner as alcohol. It allows adults over the age of 21 to purchase and consume marijuana; they are not allowed to grow for personal use. The bill also aims to help small businesses by enacting access to programs that support small businesses owned by minorities, women, and veterans. No recent action was taken on the bill, however. The bill may be taken to a floor vote in early 2022.

Missouri

Shot of a young doctor using a digital tablet during a consultation with a senior womanThe passing of Amendment 2 in 2018 allowed state-licensed physicians to recommend marijuana use to patients with approved medical conditions. Since then, local advocates are trying to get a ballot initiative for the complete legalization of marijuana. This includes removing marijuana charges on criminal records and taxing marijuana in order to spend revenue on healthcare for veterans and other underprivileged persons. The expectation is that they are able to vote on the issue in the upcoming elections taking place in 2022. Especially in Southern states like Missouri, the stigma against legalized marijuana is still very prevalent. The controlled substances act and other local jurisdictions has made it difficult to get support, and yet voters approved the initiative to legalize medical cannabis, and the market is growing, fast.

More and more dispensaries are opening up in the Show-Me state, and it seems that the rate of people that are getting medical marijuana cards is booming. Many campaigns think it is too soon to initiate a bill to legalize marijuana, however an organization called Fair Access Missouri has taken it into their own hands to end cannabis prohibition. They argue that the medical cannabis market is mismanaged, and there needs to be a “reset” button pressed on the entire industry. Currently, they are looking to get signatures for ballots.

Takeaways

Although we may not see marijuana be federally legalized in the foreseeable future, several states have taken initiatives to make recreational cannabis on their ballot for their upcoming elections. Other notable states to look out for are Ohio, South Dakota, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Arkansas.

Cannabis culture is entering a shift in the legal states. Eventually, sales will reach a plateau, and businesses will start to cater to other forms of consumption and enjoyment, such as cannabis lounges. During the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, marijuana sales remained strong and continued to increase through the means of online ordering and delivery services. With some states recently legalizing medical or recreational marijuana, we can see those markets reach billions of dollars in annual revenue once they are launched. 

Despite regulatory hurdles and legislative struggles, the cannabis industry has made incredible progress over the past few years, and we have more to look forward to. 

 

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