More than a dozen state legislatures are considering medical or adult-use cannabis legalization bills this year as momentum builds following the 2020 election, which saw five states pass legalization measures, and the U.S. House’s approval of the MORE Act, which would federally deschedule cannabis.
“The Election Day legalization victories certainly added to the momentum for other states to pursue marijuana reform, particularly in the Northeast, and lawmakers in several states have already taken action by introducing legislation to legalize marijuana,” Violet Cavendish, communications manager for The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), tells Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary.
MPP is focusing its efforts on advancing legislation to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis in Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island and Virginia this year, Cavendish says, adding that New York and New Mexico are also key states to watch as state lawmakers consider legalization proposals.
On the medical cannabis front, MPP is actively working with patient advocates this year to advance legislation in Kentucky and South Carolina.
“Legalization has proven to be a winning issue, and we expect to see continued progress for state-level marijuana reforms this year,” Cavendish says.
NORML is also lending its support to many of these policy reform efforts, and Deputy Director Paul Armentano says the organization will be actively involved in adult-use legalization efforts in New Mexico, Virginia, New York and Connecticut this year, while also focusing on the implementation of New Jersey’s adult-use cannabis program.
NORML will also lobby in favor of home cultivation in Washington State, as well as expanded medical cannabis access and a reduction of criminal possession penalties in Texas. The organization is also looking to advance medical cannabis legalization in South Carolina.
“In several other states, we are also supporting efforts to expand existing medical access, facilitate the expungement of past records, and impose workplace and other legal protections against discrimination for those who use cannabis responsibly,” Armentano says.
NORML State Policies Coordinator Carly Wolf expects legalization legislation to advance more quickly in New Mexico and Virginia, which have short legislative sessions, and is also paying particularly close attention to the Northeast this year.
“With the implementation of New Jersey's voter-approved ballot measure expected in the coming months, I am closely watching other states in the Northeast like New York, being just across the river, as well as Connecticut, and am optimistic about the chances of legalization succeeding in both of these states in 2021, especially with even larger Democratic majorities now than in previous years,” she says.
Here is a closer look at the states that are weighing cannabis policy reform this year.
Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Efforts
Gov. Ned Lamont announced during his State of the State address in early January that adult-use cannabis legalization is a priority for him this year, and late last month, he introduced a draft bill to make this goal a reality. Lamont’s administration is currently seeking feedback on the draft legislation, and it remains to be seen whether Lamont will incorporate the proposal into his state budget, which is due to lawmakers in February.
Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and Sen. Jeff Brandes have filed complementary bills this year to legalize adult-use cannabis in the Sunshine State. Smith’s H.B. 343 would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older, while Brandes’ S.B. 710 would revise the state’s sales tax exemption for the sale of cannabis to apply only to purchases made by qualified patients or caregivers enrolled in the state’s medical cannabis program. The legislation would allow adults to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis or products containing up to 2 grams of THC, but smoking cannabis would remain illegal.
Del. Jazz Lewis has introduced a comprehensive cannabis legalization bill, H.B. 32, which would legalize the personal possession and home cultivation of cannabis for adults, as well as automatically expunge past cannabis offenses, establish a social equity program and reinvest a portion of tax revenue to endowments to Maryland’s four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) and the communities most impacted by prohibition. The Maryland Cannabis Policy Coalition organized a virtual press conference Jan. 26 in support of Lewis’ bill, which is officially called The Cannabis Legalization and Regulation, Inclusion, Restoration, and Rehabilitation Act of 2021.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler has been spearheading adult-use cannabis legalization efforts in Minnesota, and is renewing his push for policy reform this year with plans to once again sponsor adult-use legislation. Ahead of last year’s legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers held a series of public discussions across the state to gather public input on legalization, and Winkler introduced an adult-use legalization bill last spring that incorporated feedback generated from those discussions.
Democrats in New Mexico’s legislature are planning a cannabis legalization proposal during this year’s 60-day legislative session, which kicked off Jan. 19. Rep. Javier Martinez is leading the legalization effort this year and sees a path forward for policy reform after voters did not reelect some more conservative lawmakers to the Democrat-controlled legislature in the 2020 election. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham has also thrown her support behind adult-use cannabis legalization in the past.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo renewed his push for legalization this year during his Jan. 6 State of the State address, when he announced plans to introduce an adult-use legalization proposal. Since then, the legislature has introduced its own legalization measure, and the discussion continues surrounding the best approach to policy reform.
Rep. Jason Dockter has sponsored an adult-use legalization bill in the state legislature this year, despite his own opposition to legalizing cannabis. According to The Dickinson Press, Dockter believes legalization is inevitable as more states legalize and regulate cannabis, and he says lawmakers should draft a legalization proposal instead of leaving the issue in the hands of a ballot initiative campaign. Legalize ND backed a 2020 campaign to get adult-use legalization in front of voters last year, but ultimately refocused its efforts on the 2022 election after the COVID-19 pandemic largely derailed its signature gathering efforts. In the meantime, Dockter’s H.B. 1420 would allow adults 21 and older to use, possess and transport up to one ounce of cannabis or an equivalent amount of edible cannabis products, and the state Health Council would be charged with licensing and regulating cultivators and dispensaries.
State Sen. Roland Gutierrez pre-filed S.B. 140 in November to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state. The lawmaker estimated that legalization would create 30,000 new jobs, as well as generate more than $3 billion in revenue, according to an ABC13.com report.
In mid-January, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed an adult-use legalization bill that has since been co-sponsored by Sens. Louise Lucas and Adam Ebbin. The legislation would allow adult-use sales to launch Jan. 1, 2023, and calls for the licensing of cultivators, processors, distributors/wholesalers, retailers and testing labs. The Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Subcommittee voted Jan. 20 to advance the bill, sending it to the full Senate Rehabilitation and Social Services Committee for consideration. Virginia Del. Steve Heretick has reintroduced a separate legalization bill, which is also still pending in the state legislature.
Medical Cannabis Legalization Efforts
Sen. Tim Melson plans to reintroduce a medical cannabis legalization bill this year after similar legislation passed the Alabama Senate during the 2020 legislative session before ultimately stalling in the House. Melson’s new bill would create the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission to license and regulate the industry in the state, where only industrial hemp has been legalized.
A group of lawmakers introduced a medical cannabis legalization proposal in mid-January with the backing of the Kansas Cannabis Industry Association. The bill’s supporters argue that a regulated medical cannabis market may help boost the state’s economy in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are confident that the legislation has the support it needs in the legislature if it is called up for a vote this year.
Sen. Steve West introduced a medical cannabis legalization bill Jan. 8 in the form of S.B. 92, which would legalize the cultivation, manufacturing, distribution, sale and delivery of cannabis products and allow practitioners to recommend medical cannabis to their patients. West’s proposal joins Rep. Jason Nemes’ H.B. 136, a separate medical cannabis legalization bill that was reintroduced Jan. 6 after stalling during last year’s legislative session.
Sen. Anna Wishart has introduced L.B. 474 to legalize medical cannabis in the state. Wishart helped lead Nebraska’s 2020 medical cannabis ballot initiative, which was supported by Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana and ultimately rejected by the Nebraska Supreme Court for violating the state’s single subject rule.
Sen. Janice Bowling has backed legislation to legalize medical cannabis in Tennessee for years, and announced plans in November to introduce a new medical cannabis legalization bill during this year’s legislative session. Bowling told local news outlet WREG that she hopes the recent legalization of medical cannabis in nearby Mississippi will generate more support for the bill, which would authorize medical cannabis use for patients with qualifying conditions that include cancer, glaucoma and PTSD.
States Making a Run at Both Medical and Adult-Use Legalization
Sen. Karen Tallian has introduced two pieces of legislation this year to legalize and regulate medical and adult-use cannabis, as well as hemp. S.B. 87 would establish the Cannabis Compliance Commission to regulate cannabis and hemp in the state, while S.B. 223 would decriminalize the possession of up to two ounces of cannabis.
Lawmakers in the Palmetto State pre-filed bills in both the House and the Senate in December to legalize medical and adult-use cannabis. Legislators in both chambers are considering two pieces of medical cannabis legislation, both called the “South Carolina Compassionate Care Act,” which mirror a proposal that was considered during 2019 legislative session, when the Senate ultimately pushed a vote on the measure to 2020. Although the legislation failed to resurface last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the conversation seems to be continuing this year, and lawmakers in the House and Senate have also pre-filed bills to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis, as well as legislation to legalize adult-use.