Which states are most likely to introduce legal cannabis laws this year?

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Bethan Rose Jenkins, Cannabis News Writer/Editorial

It’s the start of a new year and there’s plenty of things on the horizon for cannabis connoisseurs to get excited about. So much so, that Roy Bingham co-founder and chairman of leading market research firm BDSA recently revealed to reporters that he predicts U.S. cannabis sales will top $24 billion in 2021. 

November’s sweeping approval of cannabis initiatives is sure to prompt neighboring states’ legislatures into the “green zone”. With state-level legalization indicating major bipartisan support for drug policy changes, it’s likely that Bingham’s predictions could transpire into reality.

Election Day saw the passage of adult-use cannabis initiatives in Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota, meaning that one-third of the population now lives in jurisdictions that have legalized cannabis for recreational purposes. In addition to this, 70 percent of all states have now embraced cannabis for medical use.

Let’s find out which bills are likely to pass the finish line this year.

States leaning towards recreational cannabis legalization 

  • Connecticut 

Lawmakers in Connecticut are feeling the pressure to legalize adult-use cannabis. Governor Edward Miner “Ned” Lamont Jr., along with other leading policymakers, have publicly declared the state’s need to push for cannabis reform amid neighboring New Jersey’s recent legalization. Conversely, with Democrats increasing their majority in Connecticut’s state legislature at November’s election, there’s a better chance of legalization transpiring in 2021.

“It is now legal in New Jersey, New York is coming, and it’s legal in Massachusetts,” said Rep. Matt Ritter (D). “Connecticut cannot fortify its border.” 

  • New Mexico

With neighboring Arizona approving the policy change in November, as well as the fact that bordering Mexico is anticipated to legalize by April 2021 as part of a Supreme Court mandate, New Mexico lawmakers are likely considering the prospect of a legal weed market this year.

A bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in New Mexico was approved in one Senate committee in January, but was rejected before the 2020 session’s end. Nonetheless, House Speaker Brian Egolf (D) has confirmed that the legislature will attempt to advance cannabis reform during the new session. 

Moreover, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D), highlighted the fiscal benefits that legalization could bring to the state; particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic has dented the state’s economy. 

  • New York  

Advocates have long-been pushing for New York to finally legalize recreational cannabis and it seems that their cries are finally being heard. Recently, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) pledged to launch a legal market amid fears of economic recovery post-pandemic.

“We will legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, joining 15 states that have already done so,” Cuomo tweeted on Monday, January 11. “This will raise revenue and end the failed prohibition of this product that has left so many communities of color over-policed and over-incarcerated.”

  • Rhode Island 

The governor and legislative leaders of Rhode Island have not been shy about sharing their hopes to legalize cannabis in 2021. Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) has urged Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) and Sen. Joshua Miller (D) to hash out a cannabis bill for review during the new legislative session. 

“The time has come to legalize adult cannabis use,” McCaffrey was quoted as saying back in November. “We have studied this issue extensively, and we can incorporate the practices we’ve learned from other states.” 

  • Virginia  

Back in December, Virginia’s governor revealed a budget proposal designed to lay “the groundwork to legalize [cannabis]” by providing millions of dollars worth of funding for the expungement of cannabis convictions. Additionally, the budget proposal would assist the state in implementing a commercial sales system.

Before Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced his support for adult-use legalization in November, he had previously campaigned on decriminalizing cannabis possession. He proceeded to sign a separate bill during the recently-ended session. That bill would enable people who have been fined for cannabis-related offenses to prepay their civil penalty, as opposed to showing up in court.

States with their sights set on medical cannabis legalization

  • Alabama 

The Alabama Senate’s new president Tommy Tuberville has said he is open to the subject of medical cannabis legalization. Prior to his recent successful election, numerous other efforts have been made to legalize medical cannabis in Alabama.

In 2018, a decriminalization bill was approved by a Senate committee, but soon fell flat. The following year, a medical cannabis bill was approved by the Senate, before stumbling and dying in the House. In 2020, legislation to legalize medical cannabis was approved by the Alabama Senate. However, it failed to advance in the House.

  • Kentucky 

Last year, a bill to legalize medical cannabis was approved by the Kentucky House. Unfortunately, Senate progress was hindered by the coronavirus pandemic. On the plus side, things could be about to change this year, what with Governor Andy Beshear (D) affirming his support for medical cannabis legalization. 

At the beginning of January, reports noted that Beshear was stepping up efforts for cannabis reform in Kentucky. Previously, he has urged lawmakers to consider medical cannabis legalization as a means of mitigating the effects of the opioid epidemic.

“Speaking of laws that unduly restrict us from growth and innovation, it is time to legalize medical [cannabis],” Gov. Andy Beshear (D) said during his speech at a State of the Commonwealth Address. 

A poll released in February of last year showed that nine out of 10 Kentuckyans support medical cannabis legalization.

  • South Carolina

Back in 2019, a medical cannabis bill was unanimously approved by a Senate committee, but it never progressed to a floor vote. However, a victory for medical cannabis in South Carolina could be marked on the 2021 calendar, what with lawmakers pushing hard for state-level reform.

In December, lawmakers pre-filed bills in both the House and the Senate to legalize the plant for medical purposes. Plus, with Karen O’Keefe of South Carolina’s Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) stating that legalization “is even more popular when compared to alternatives like raising taxes or slashing public services,” the forecast for legal weed looks promising.

“Many Massachusetts dispensaries’ parking lots are full of license plates from neighboring states without legalization. With states facing large-scale unemployment and deep financial pressures, it would be political malpractice not to pick this low-hanging fruit to lessen the pain,” O’Keefe says.

Conclusion

With support for cannabis legalization in the U.S. at an all-time high, it’s only a matter of time before the national map is plastered with “green” states. In addition to the aforementioned legalization predictions, it is also worth noting that Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin have shown signs that they are leaning towards adult-use cannabis legalization in 2021. 

Furthermore, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer has declared that cannabis legalization will be a top priority for the new Democratic-led Congress. Time will really tell what happens, but with the Biden campaign pushing for decriminalization, as well as the fact that Congress is now steered by Democrats, it’s clear that the landscape for legal weed is undergoing radical transformation.