Which States Will Legalize Cannabis in 2022?

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Only 14 states remain without full medical or adult-use legalization. Which will legalize next?

January 10, 2022

Map Illustration: foxysgraphic | Adobe Stock; All other illustrations: rashadashurov | Adobe

Cannabis policy reform is gaining momentum. At the federal level, a trio of senators unveiled the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act (CAOA) this summer to deschedule, tax, and regulate cannabis, and the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act passed the U.S. House for the fifth time in September as part of a defense spending package, although it was later removed from the bill.

At the state level, Arizona, Montana, New Jersey, and South Dakota legalized adult-use in the 2020 election (although the South Dakota legislature is now grappling with its own legalization proposal after the state’s Supreme Court ruled the ballot measure unconstitutional). In 2021, Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia all legalized adult-use cannabis legislatively. Only 14 states remain without full medical or adult-use legalization.

Here are the states to watch in 2022 as ballot initiatives and legislation ramp up.

Delaware (Adult-Use)

On March 24, The Health and Human Development Committee approved House Bill 150, the Delaware Marijuana Control Act, to legalize, tax, and regulate adult-use cannabis in the state.

The legislation would have established the regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis in Delaware, allowed adults 21 years and older to purchase up to one ounce of cannabis for personal use, provided opportunities for small businesses to receive licenses, and given equal access to individuals living in areas disproportionately affected by prohibition.

The legislation was set for a House floor vote in June 2021, but was delayed after a debate over a social equity fund included in the bill. Chief sponsor Rep. Ed Osienski said he plans to reintroduce a substitute of the bill in early January, in time for the 2022 legislative session.

The majority of Delawareans support adult-use legalization. A 2018 University of Delaware poll showed 61% of voters favor legalization.

“Support for adult recreational marijuana has been growing for years in Delaware and across the country,” Osienski said in a March 18 press release. “We have seen other states successfully enact policies that established a safe and legal market for cannabis, and we have studied those laws to craft the best policy for Delaware. We believe we have a solid bill that has the support of the public ... .”

Oklahoma (Adult-Use)

In October 2021, Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action filed initiatives to legalize adult-use cannabis and to dial in some regulatory oversight structure of the state’s medical cannabis market. Both initiatives target the November 2022 election.

The pair of petitions make for a promising run at cannabis reform in a deeply conservative state that has found a place on the vanguard of the regulated medical marketplace.

“Until we pass recreational [marijuana legalization], we will not be able to truly bring stability to our program,” Jed Green, head of Oklahomans for Responsible Cannabis Action, told The Oklahoman. “Legalization prevents diversion. Folks have been and are going to use marijuana. Have been for decades. It is in the best interest of our state to get ahead of the curve on this issue. We must put this issue to rest.”

As things stand now, Oklahoma is in a unique position with its medical cannabis market: The state legalized medical cannabis in 2018 and enacted a free-market approach to licensing. Baked into the medical cannabis regulatory overhaul initiative, which would replace the Oklahoma Medical Marijuana Authority (OMMA) with the Oklahoma State Cannabis Commission, is a provision to bar the state from capping cannabis business licenses.

Mississippi (Medical)

Mississippi crossed the finish line to fully legalize medical cannabis—only to have the state’s Supreme Court overturn a 2020 voter-approved ballot initiative in May 2021.

Going against two-thirds of Mississippians who voted in support of legalization, six of nine justices ruled the measure was unconstitutional based on a signature-gathering technicality stemming from the state’s outdated initiative process that put a five-district requirement mathematically at odds with the political structure of the state’s electorate following the 2000 Census.

The 2020 citizen-led ballot measure prevailed over Alternative 65A, a competing measure put forth by the Mississippi Legislature, which industry advocates called a cynical effort by lawmakers to misdirect voters. But now legalization is in the hands of those very lawmakers.

Republican Sen. Kevin Blackwell, chairman of the Senate Medicaid Committee, and Republican Rep. Lee Yancey, chairman of the House Drug Policy Committee, announced in July 2021 they were working on bill proposals aimed at restoring the will of their constituents. In late September, legislative leaders reached a deal on a medical cannabis draft bill and said they planned to ask Republican Gov. Tate Reeves to call an executive session.

During an Oct. 8 interview, Lt. Gov. Delbert Horsemann told WLOX News that Blackwell led negotiations to address Reeve’s requisites for calling a special session and that a final version of the bill was on the governor’s desk.

Maryland (Adult-Use)

The Maryland House of Delegates is expected to introduce legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis in the state in early 2022, putting it on the 2022 general election ballot.

“Adding the measure to the 2022 general election would bypass the state Legislature and allow the law to go into effect through just the public’s vote,” Cannabis Business Times previously reported.

In July 2021, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) announced her support of putting the question of legalization before voters.

“The disparate criminal justice impact leads me to believe that the voters should have a say in the future of legalization,” Jones said, per The Washington Post. “The House will pass legislation early (2022) to put this question before the voters, but we need to start looking at changes needed to state law now.”

Jones also appointed a 10-member group to work over the next year on establishing the regulatory framework for adult-use cannabis in Maryland if voters were to approve the measure.

Ohio (Adult-Use)

A group of cannabis advocates in the Buckeye State has relaunched efforts to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” after the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the campaign’s push to place an adult-use legalization measure on Ohio’s 2020 ballot.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’s proposed law would legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, testing, and sales to adults 21 and older, as well as allow adults to grow up to six plants at home for personal use. The proposal would levy a 10% tax on adult-use cannabis sales, in addition to regular state and local taxes, to support social equity, host communities, substance abuse education and treatment, and a Division of Cannabis Control, which would oversee the industry.

The proposed law allows Ohio’s existing medical cannabis operators to expand their cultivation footprint and open additional dispensaries to serve the adult-use market. It also authorizes new adult-use cannabis licenses, including 40 Level III cultivation licenses (granting up to 5,000 square feet of cultivation canopy) and 50 retail licenses, with a preference to social equity applicants.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol must collect roughly 133,000 signatures to present the proposed legislation to the Ohio Legislature.

Wyoming (Medical)

With pressure exerted from Montana and South Dakota’s emerging cannabis markets, Wyoming advocates are pushing for medical cannabis legalization in 2022. The signature-gathering process is underway.

“We’re encouraging medical freedom and medical liberty,” Madonna Long, one of the initiative sponsors, told Fox 13. “Voters truly do understand what the initiative is, and they’re coming here on their own.”

Pennsylvania (Adult-Use)

A trio of efforts to legalize adult-use cannabis this session has created some spark in Pennsylvania that wasn’t necessarily there before neighboring New Jersey’s voters and New York’s Legislature decided to go green within the past year.

In the Pennsylvania House, Democratic Reps. Jake Wheatley and Dan Frankel formally filed their adult-use measure, the “Cannabis Regulatory Control Act,” in September 2021. The bill aims to legalize and regulate the possession of up to 1 ounce of cannabis or 5 grams of concentrate for personal use for adults 21 and older.

House Bill 2050 puts social and criminal justice at the forefront of reform. In addition, Amber Littlejohn, executive director for the Minority Cannabis Business Association, said provisions in the measure help with access to capital, address barriers to entry, and create pathways for small businesses to participate in the cannabis industry.

H.B. 2050 competes with a pair of efforts that have GOP backing in the Senate.

Earlier in February 2021, Republican Sen. Dan Laughlin and Democratic Sen. Sharif Street introduced a bipartisan proposal with provisions for social and economic equity that include expunging non-violent cannabis convictions. As of mid-December, they have yet to officially file their proposal.

And Republican Sen. Mike Regan, a former U.S. Marshal with a 23-year background in law enforcement, announced Oct. 4 that he’s seeking co-sponsorship for adult-use legislation he plans to introduce. The chairman of the Law and Justice Committee, Regan said current state policy on cannabis has financially “benefited and perpetuated” organized crime, gangs, and cartels.

Voting in favor of Pennsylvania’s medical cannabis measure in 2016, when he was a member of the state House, Regan said he wants to build off the success of a program that had more than 582,000 patients and caregivers as of May 2021. Regan said his proposal will allow the legal purchase and possession of firearms regardless of one’s choice to use cannabis, and address DUI enforcement, among other provisions.

Rhode Island (Adult-Use)

In June 2021, the Rhode Island Senate passed an adult-use bill, 29-9, to allow those 21 and older to possess up to 1 ounce of cannabis or 5 grams of concentrate and grow up to six plants for personal use. It also would expedite the expungement process for those with misdemeanor cannabis records.

The measure, Senate Bill 568, was sponsored by Sen. Joshua Miller and nine of his Democratic colleagues. Miller has been advocating for reform since he chaired a commission that examined prohibition and the effects of what he called a failed policy in 2010. When Miller finally had the opportunity to introduce his adult-use bill in June, it took the upper chamber all of 15 minutes to discuss the legislation before passage.

But that was a week before adjournment, when House Speaker Joe Shekarchi said the lower chamber was focused on passing a budget and would instead kick cannabis legalization down the road to a special session.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio, one of the S.B. 568 sponsors, told WPRI-TV last fall that legislative leaders were “very close” to making a deal to take up in special session.

Nebraska (Medical)

Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana is again trying to get medical cannabis legalization in front of voters after the Nebraska Supreme Court struck down the group’s 2020 ballot measure on the grounds that it violated the single-subject rule outlined in the state’s constitution.

Advocates filed two new medical cannabis initiatives with the secretary of state in September 2021 and must gather 250,000 signatures by July 7, 2022, to qualify the measures for the 2022 ballot.

The first initiative would require the Nebraska Legislature to enact laws to protect doctors who recommend cannabis to their patients, as well as the patients who possess and use medical cannabis, from criminal penalty. The second measure would call on lawmakers to pass legislation to establish a regulatory framework to protect businesses that produce and sell medical cannabis.

Arkansas (Adult-Use)

Two groups, Arkansas True Grass and Arkansans for Cannabis Reform, are working to gather signatures to place competing adult-use cannabis legalization measures on the state’s 2022 ballot. The campaigns must gather roughly 89,000 signatures each by June 2022 to put the issue in front of voters.

Florida (Adult-Use)

Sensible Florida has filed a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize adult-use cannabis in the Sunshine State after the Florida Supreme Court struck down an earlier version of the amendment in June 2021. The group must collect more than 891,000 valid signatures by Feb. 1, 2022, and receive Supreme Court approval to qualify the initiative for the 2022 ballot.

Missouri (Adult-Use)

Voters may face competing adult-use legalization measures in 2022, as Fair Access Missouri and Legal Missouri 2022 are working on similar efforts. The campaigns must each gather roughly 171,000 valid signatures to qualify their initiatives for the ballot.

North Carolina (Medical)

Although the North Carolina Senate Judiciary Committee passed S.B. 711 twice in 2021, the medical cannabis legalization bill hasn’t made it much further than that in the Statehouse. It has been a bumpy road in North Carolina, fraught with false starts despite an electorate keenly supportive of medical cannabis, with 80% of voters calling for it as far back as 2017, according to an Elon University poll.

South Dakota (Adult-Use)

The South Dakota Supreme Court ruled in November 2021 that Amendment A, the state’s voter-approved, adult-use cannabis amendment from the November 2020 election, is unconstitutional.

With the voter-approved initiative unable to take effect, South Dakota lawmakers are pushing a compromise adult-use legalization effort through the state Legislature, while cannabis advocacy group South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws is gathering signatures for an initiative to put adult-use legalization back on the ballot for 2022.

Idaho (Medical)

Idaho cannabis advocates are working to place medical and decriminalization measures on the state’s 2022 ballot. The Idaho Way, formerly known as the Idaho Citizen Coalition for Cannabis, is currently collecting the nearly 65,000 signatures required to place the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2022 (PAMDA) on Idaho’s 2022 ballot, while Kind Idaho is gathering signatures to get the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act for 2022 (IMMA) in front of voters in 2022.