2020 was a big year for the cannabis industry as four states—Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota—legalized adult-use in the general election, potentially setting the stage for more states to legalize in 2021. Voters also ushered in medical cannabis in South Dakota, marking the first-time both adult-use and medical legalization were approved in the same election, and medical cannabis in Mississippi also passed.
And, there is evidence that this momentum will influence more states to come online in 2021. Here, we look at the states most likely to legalize as we head into the New Year.
Gov. Ned Lamont renewed his legalization push at the beginning of 2020, with the introduction of a bill that would have legalized adult-use for Connecticuters 21 and older, tested for impaired drivers, and supported racial and ethnic minorities in their participation in the market.
State House Democrats have vowed to vote on legalization in 2021, according to NBC Connecticut, in part because of the growing number of nearby states with regulated adult-use markets, as well as a projected state budget deficit heading into next year.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham called for a renewed push for adult-use legalization in 2020 and even added the issue to the state’s legislative agenda. Lawmakers took notice and introduced legislation to get the job done, and the Senate Public Affairs Committee even approved the bill before the Senate Judiciary Committee ultimately voted in February to table the legislation.
As 2020 came to a close, the Albuquerque Journal reported that proponents of legalization were hopeful that 2021 could be their year, as several influential legislative opponents were defeated in the general election, improving a bill’s chances of making it through the Senate.
Rep. Javier Martinez (D-Albuquerque) has announced plans to introduce a new legalization proposal during New Mexico’s 60-day legislative session, which kicks off in January, according to the Albuquerque Journal.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo also went into 2020 with plans for cannabis legalization, and included an adult-use proposal in his state budget this past January. Before the COVID-19 pandemic reached the U.S., Cuomo announced plans to tour legal cannabis states as part of his legalization push to learn which aspects of their cannabis programs have worked and which have not.
As the pandemic raged on, though, Cuomo cut his legalization proposal from the budget, saying that there was “too much” to accomplish and “too little time” ahead of an April 1 deadline to approve the sprawling budget.
An October interview between Axel Bernabe, one of Cuomo’s advisers, and David Culver, an executive with Canopy Growth, revealed that Cuomo is already renewing his legalization push heading into 2021, with plans to again include adult-use legalization in New York’s 2021-2022 budget.
As the state continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Tom Wolf has called for adult-use cannabis legalization to help boost Pennsylvania’s economy. Wolf’s legalization push has been met with mixed reactions from industry stakeholders, however, with some skeptical about a legalization bill clearing the Republican-controlled legislature.
Still, Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has also expressed support for adult-use legalization to help combat the state’s budget deficit, and some of Pennsylvania’s state senators have also thrown their support behind legalization to lessen the blow of the economic shortfall.
Like Cuomo, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo included an adult-use cannabis legalization proposal in her state budget plan at the start of 2020, but Senate leadership opposed the plan, which was ultimately tabled.
During the November Senate Democratic caucus, however, lawmakers seemed more receptive to legalization to counteract the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic, and are now considering Raimondo’s proposal as they work on the budget heading into 2021.
State lawmakers have pre-filed several bills that would expand Texas’ medical cannabis program and legalize adult-use ahead of the 2021 session that kicks off in January. Among the legislation is Rep. Roland Gutierrez’s S.B. 140, which would legalize adult-use and which Gutierrez says would create 30,000 new jobs and more than $3 billion in revenue.
Gov. Ralph Northam signed a cannabis decriminalization bill into law this past spring, effectively reclassifying the possession of one ounce of cannabis or less to a civil penalty punishable by a fine of up to $25. Now, heading into the New Year, Northam has announced plans to introduce an adult-use legalization bill when the General Assembly reconvenes in January.
In addition, the Virginia Marijuana Legalization Work Group, which was created by the decriminalization measure to study adult-use legalization and made up of community leaders, healthcare professionals, policy experts and members of Northam’s administration, released its recommendations Nov. 30. In a roughly 400-page report, the work group outlined guidelines for taxation, banking, criminal justice, licensing, regulation and consumer safety.
Separately, the Joint Legislative Audit & Review Commission has released its own study on the potential impacts of legalization in the state, and has found that legalization could generate more than $300 million in annual tax revenues by the fifth year of the program, reduce cannabis-related arrests by 84% when combined with decriminalization, and create more than 11,000 jobs in Virginia.
Lawmakers in the House of Delegates have said that legislation to legalize cannabis would likely pass that chamber, according to The Virginia Mercury, while Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw has said that the issue would have “slightly better than 50-50 odds” in that chamber.