The cannabis industry’s business owners and consumer base walked into 2019 with optimism and a gust of wind at their back. The 2018 Farm Bill had just legalized a robust domestic hemp industry, and several states seemed locked and loaded to approve adult-use bills in short order.
While it’s only May, we know the cannabis industry moves fast. Expectations remain high, but it’s become clear that some of the states that were seen as shoe-ins for a legal cannabis market are now headed back to the drawing board (New Jersey, New York). Other states, like Connecticut and Illinois, are stepping up to the plate this month; they seem poised to legalize adult-use cannabis.
As with any political predictions in the cannabis space, it’s hard to say what will happen next. That said, here’s a look at seven states champing at the bit to become No. 12 on the big board of adult-use markets in the U.S.
Gov. Ned Lamont is eager to legalize cannabis, but lawmakers have been juggling separate pieces of legislation to accomplish that goal.
Just this week, the state’s Finance Committee approved an adult-use bill that would funnel tax revenue toward community development corporations (CDCs) tasked with job training and local workforce development. The tax question turned into a much broader debate on cannabis legalization at an April 29 hearing.
“Gov. Lamont plainly supports it. Senate and House leaders have both plainly said that they support it, and there have been discussions ongoing among the leaders of both chambers of the legislature and the governor’s office and advocates,” Matt Simon, legislative analyst and New England political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Cannabis Business Times. “It’s all about trying to figure out where it’s going to move first, how it’s going to move, and trying to [determine] the best path to have a bill proceed and make good policy so that at the end of the session we can be happy with the bill.”
Connecticut’s legislative session adjourns June 5.
CBT assistant digital editor Melissa Schiller reported this week on the state of adult-use legalization in Illinois, where a contingent of Democratic lawmakers are eager to pass something by the end of the month.
The legislation, expected to be introduced and fast-tracked next week, will be modeled after the state’s medical cannabis program. Gov. J.B. Pritzker is supportive of the effort.
“When it comes to the sponsors, the lawmakers involved and the governor’s office, there is very strong interest in ensuring that the program will be fair and that it will be a diverse program,” Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for the Marijuana Policy Project, said. “That’s really been, I think, more than any other particular topic, the main issue that I’m seeing between the lawmakers involved and the governor’s office.”
New Hampshire is a tough case. The Granite State is surrounded by geographic pressure to legalize adult-use sales and reap tax revenue, but Gov. Chris Sununu remains adamantly opposed to any legislation that even suggests cannabis reform.
That said, the New Hampshire House voted 200-163 to legalize adult-use cannabis in early April. The bill is being kicked around Senate committees now.
The legislative session adjourns June 30.
New Jersey has danced around the matter of legalization since Gov. Phil Murphy took office in early 2018. And the state has come close.
But lawmakers canceled a March 25 vote on a legalization bill after it became clear that the Senate couldn’t muster the necessary votes. Murphy, however, remains eager to see this bill get through the legislature sometime this month—before dropping his efforts and focusing more closely on expanding the state’s medical cannabis market.
New York’s 2018 gubernatorial challenger, Cynthia Nixon, pushed incumbent Andrew Cuomo into a supportive stance on cannabis reform. He went on to win reelection and place legalization among his economic priorities in the state’s budget.
Currently, lawmakers are debating the finer points of legalization—namely, how to fit a social equity approach to small business development into a state’s regulatory agency that’s thus far favored multi-state operators (in the medical cannabis market).
"Conceptually, many people agree that marijuana should be legalized under the right circumstances," Cuomo said this week. "Under the right circumstances is what's important here because the devil is in the details."
Lt. Gov. John Fetterman is more than halfway through his “marijuana listening tour” of all 67 counties. So far, he’s reported that cannabis legalization is supported by a clear majority of residents. Fetterman’s work helped buttress a two-day hearing on the matter in Harrisburg, where political leaders discussed what legalization might look like in PA.
Sens. Daylin Leach and Sharif Street circulated Senate Bill 350, a full adult-use bill, in March.
In March, Rhode Island officially brought on Colorado’s former Director of Marijuana Coordination to guide the state in its efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis. The state’s lawmakers have also worked with Massachusetts leaders to develop an approach to sound regulatory principles.
Gov. Gina Raimondo has vocally supported the need to legalize cannabis in her state—another New England jurisdiction nearly surrounded by access to legal cannabis. Rhode Island’s legislative session adjourns June 30.