Originally published Dec. 6, 2019
Editor's note: Our updated list of state legalization efforts can be found here, although, even since publication of that article, the Nebraska Supreme Court has struck down that state's medical cannabis initiative.
While many states pondered adult-use cannabis legalization in 2019, only Illinois found success with its Cannabis Regulation and Tax Act (CRTA), which passed the state legislature and earned the governor’s approval this past summer. With 2020 rapidly approaching, many states with failed 2019 legalization efforts may try again, while others have announced plans to put forth their first attempts at policy reform.
Here, we’ve rounded up the states to watch in 2020.
After a ballot initiative failed by a razor-thin 3-percent margin in 2016, Arizona appears ready to try again with a new proposal for the 2020 ballot.
The new initiative, called the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, was filed with the state in August and is backed by the Arizona Dispensaries Association, according to a Phoenix New Times report. The proposal legalizes cannabis for adults 21 and older and allows home cultivation of up to six plants per adult, with a maximum of 12 plants per home.
Supporters need to gather at least 237,645 signatures by July 2, 2020 in order to qualify the measure for the 2020 ballot. As of Jan. 17, the group counted more than 150,000 signatures.
In September, a new cannabis industry group (the Arizona Cannabis Chamber of Commerce) announced its opposition to the Smart and Safe Arizona Act, and plans to work with the state legislature to bring a competing proposal to the 2020 ballot, the Phoenix New Times reported.
The Drug Policy Education Group was working with Arkansans for Cannabis Reform in submitting a proposed constitutional amendment in July that would allow Arkansas’ licensed medical cannabis dispensaries to sell to an adult-use market. Two more groups are also collecting signatures for competing constitutional amendments, according to The Motley Fool.
As of late January, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform had gathered around 10,000 of the required 90,000 signatures needed for a spot on the ballot. The Marijuana Policy Project endorsed the group's work, but it not extensively funding advocacy efforts here this year.
New Jersey lawmakers introduced a resolution in November that would kick the issue of adult-use legalization over to voters in the 2020 election. Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on legalization and lawmakers fought this year to pass an adult-use legalization bill, but efforts stalled in the Senate over the summer.
Advocacy groups submitted petitions to qualify two cannabis policy reform ballot initiatives for the 2020 election—one that would legalize medical cannabis, and another that would legalize adult-use.
The adult-use effort is supported by South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, which submitted over 50,000 signatures in early November for a constitutional ballot initiative that would legalize, regulate and tax cannabis for adults 21 and older. The proposal would also call on the legislature to enact laws to regulate the cultivation, processing and sale of hemp in the state.
The South Dakota Secretary of State officially certified the group's adult-use legalization initiative for the 2020 ballot.
Two Democratic state senators introduced a sprawling adult-use legalization bill in October that focuses on small business development and social equity (S.B. 350). The legislation followed Gov. Tom Wolf’s late-September press conference where he urged the legislature to take up policy reform. Presently, the bill lacks sufficient Republican support to make any real progress.
Rep. David Delloso also took a stab at adult-use legislation in early October, when he introduced a legalization bill that would distribute products to adults 21 and older through state-run retailers.
Wolf was also part of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit in October, where the two joined governors from New Jersey and Connecticut to discuss a regional approach to cannabis policy reform. Political pressure from any possible legalization measures in New York or New Jersey (see those states' entries on this page) could have a significant impact here.
Competing legalization measures have been filed with the Montana Secretary of State.
New Approach Montana filed two initiatives on Jan. 13. "One proposal would legalize marijuana, establish a regulating authority and allocate tax revenues, and retroactively expunge convictions in criminal marijuana cases," according to The Missoulian. "The other is a constitutional amendment to establish 21 as the legal age to purchase, possess and consume marijuana."
But that's not all: MontanaCan filed a proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis and establish the state’s duties in regulating and taxing the industry. The proposal sets the legal age of consumption at 18. MontanaCan filed its initiative on Jan. 21.
New York also saw a legalization bill die in the legislature this year, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo seems willing to try again. Cuomo hosted the Regional Cannabis Regulation and Vaping Summit in October, where he and the governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Connecticut discussed a coordinated effort to legalize and regulate cannabis in their respective states.
In late January, Cuomo issued a plan (as part of his broader state budget proposal) to regulate and tax a licensed cannabis market and to encourage illicit cannabis suppliers to join the legalized space. “I’m optimistic we can get this done in 2020,” Sen. Liz Krueger, a sponsor of the Senate’s legalization legislation, told The Buffalo News.
Legalize ND released a new version of an adult-use ballot initiative in July after the group’s 2018 ballot measure was defeated. The new proposal places limits on cannabis possession, bans home grow and establishes a 10-percent excise tax on cannabis sold at dispensaries.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring announced his support for adult-use legalization in June, vowing to work with state leaders to take steps toward policy reform.
RVA Mag rounded up the recent efforts to reform Virginia's cannabis laws, beginning with decriminalization measures. “Members of the General Assembly have unsuccessfully attempted for several years to introduce measures to decriminalize the simple possession of marijuana,” Del. Steve Heretick (D-Portsmouth) told the magazine. “This year, such efforts are likely to finally find success.”
That remains to be seen. The Marijuana Policy Project continues to advocate for full legalization measures in the state.
Lawmakers are considering roughly a dozen cannabis-related bills that have been filed for New Hampshire's 2020 legislative session, including two adult-use legalization proposals.
One of the legalization bills, H.B. 1648, would allow adults to possess up to 3/4 of an ounce of cannabis for personal use and to grow up to six plants at home, but would not create a commercial adult-use cannabis market in the state. The House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee approved the legislation Jan. 28, and a full House vote is expected Feb. 6.
The New Hampshire House approved an adult-use legalization bill last year, but the Senate voted to delay the legislation after the Judiciary Committee determined that the issue requires further consideration.
Gov. Chris Sununu remains largely opposed to legalization.
Florida made our original list of 11 states, because, for a while, advocates had two active efforts to place adult-use cannabis initiatives on the 2020 ballot. Now, as of mid-January, the state has zero. But we're still holding out hope for some engaging developments in the Sunshine State.
Make It Legal Florida had gathered roughly 390,000 signed petitions as of mid-November, prompting a judicial review of the group’s constitutional amendment language. The initiative would allow the state’s licensed medical cannabis dispensaries to serve a broader adult-use market. Make It Legal Florida suspended its campaign on Jan. 13.
Regulate Florida was working to gather signatures ahead of a Feb. 1, 2020 deadline for a constitutional amendment that would broadly legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. That group also suspended its efforts.
As of now, the best-case scenario for Florida is a long look toward 2022, effectively taking it off our list of states to watch this year.
New Mexico also secured a spot on our original list due to a legalization bill that picked up momentum during the state's 30-day 2020 legislative session, before the Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately voted in mid-February to table to bill, rendering it dead for the year.
Sen. Jerry Ortiz y Pino (D-Albuquerque) introduced the legislation in January, after Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham officially added adult-use cannabis legalization to New Mexico's 2020 legislative agenda.
According to Lujan Grisham's 2020 priority list, cannabis is important: "Legalizing the use of recreational cannabis in New Mexico and establishing a regulatory framework for its use, including public safety considerations, public health safeguards, and the protection of the state’s existing medical cannabis program. Supported by 75 percent of New Mexicans in a recent poll, the legalization of recreational cannabis is projected to create 11,000 New Mexico jobs and generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue."
The bill even cleared the Senate Public Affairs Committee before being struck down in the Judiciary Committee.
Legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis advanced in the New Mexico Legislature during last year's session, as well, before also languishing in the Senate.
Lujan Grisham then appointed work group of 22 policy leaders from across New Mexico to draft recommendations for an adult-use cannabis program, and the group submitted its report to elected officials last fall.
Digital editor Eric Sandy contributed to this report.