One of the few bright spots in an otherwise difficult year was marijuana legalization’s progress in the US. Four states voted to legalize recreational cannabis on Election Day while Vermont and Illinois had already begun legal sales of adult-use marijuana earlier in the year.
Though there won’t be any marijuana legalization ballot measures in 2021, a handful of states nonetheless look poised to end cannabis prohibition. Here’s a look ahead at those states most likely to legalize marijuana in 2021.
House Democrats are preparing for a vote in the next legislative session on a bill to legalize marijuana, with House Speaker Matt Ritter viewing the measure as a matter of urgency given neighboring New Jersey’s vote to legalize and the state’s projected budget deficit.
The bill is expected to be along the lines of one that stalled in the House last year, which would legalize cannabis for adults 21 and older and includes social equity provisions to encourage minority participation in the industry. Ritter recently warned congressional lawmakers if the new bill falters once again, the question would instead be put to voters through a ballot proposal in 2022.
Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham started this year calling for a renewed effort to legalize marijuana but while a bill to do just that passed the House it didn’t receive a floor vote in the Senate. Grisham argued a legal cannabis industry could have mitigated the subsequent economic harms of the coronavirus outbreak and urged lawmakers to look again at the measure to help rebuild the state’s economy.
Rep. Javier Martinez said he will introduce a new cannabis legalization bill in New Mexico’s next legislative session which could stand a better chance of passing given the election losses of several influential opponents of the measure. If it fails though, Grisham said she is open to putting the question to voters through a ballot initiative in 2022, which would also require lawmakers’ approval.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been desperate to incorporate marijuana legalization through his annual state budget for the past two years, but political wrangling over the allocation of tax revenues as well as the Covid-19 pandemic means the measure has been put on hold.
However, with neighboring New Jersey’s decision to legalize adult-use marijuana set to take effect on January 1, 2021, New York lawmakers are aware legal cannabis for many residents will soon only be a short journey away. The threat of lost tax dollars to a maturing marijuana market next door could force lawmakers and Cuomo into a compromise. One of the governor’s top advisors recently confirmed marijuana legalization would once again be included in Cuomo’s proposed state budget. If New York lawmakers can find common ground on social equity provisions and industry regulation then legal marijuana in the Empire State could soon be a reality.
Gov. Tom Wolf has come around to the idea of marijuana legalization having been skeptical of the measure in the past. The governor is aware it enjoys majority support in Pennsylvania and he recently said a legal cannabis industry could help the state deal with the damage caused by the coronavirus outbreak.
Like New York, Pennsylvania now has a neighbor that will soon have a legal marijuana industry. Unlike New York, however, Wolf has to grapple with a Republican-controlled legislature that has not shown itself to be open to marijuana legalization in the past.
That said, with largely red states like Montana and South Dakota voting to legalize cannabis at the elections, the measure may be more palatable to Pennsylvania Republicans or, at least, it may seem more like an inevitability that’s better dealt with through the legislature rather than a ballot initiative.
Rhode Island’s position with regards to marijuana legalization lies somewhere between that of New York and Pennsylvania. Gov. Gina Raimondo has attempted to legalize cannabis through her state budget for the past two years but has been opposed both times by Senate leadership.
However, the tone toward marijuana legalization at the Senate Democratic caucus in November was markedly different with lawmakers more open to the idea as a way to plug holes in the state’s finances caused by Covid-19 lockdown measures. It looks like Raimondo will include cannabis legalization in her 2021 budget proposal and a more receptive Senate could see the measure pass.
Texas lawmakers pre-filed 13 marijuana-related bills ahead of the next legislative session, including a few legalization proposals. The most comprehensive of these was a bill submitted by Rep. Roland Gutierrez that would legalize cannabis for recreational purposes and establish the framework for a legal marijuana industry projected to create 30,000 jobs and rake in more than $3 billion annually once the market matures.
The past year has seen a flurry of marijuana reforms in Virginia, including decriminalization and an expansion of the state’s medical cannabis program. Gov. Ralph Northam recently said he wants to build on this and ensure Virginia leads the way on marijuana legalization in the South.
To that end, Northam wants Virginia’s General Assembly to consider an adult-use cannabis legalization bill based on the findings of the governor’s Marijuana Legalization Working Group, which was established through one of the provisions of the aforementioned decriminalization bill. It looks like such a bill would stand a good chance of passing the House of Delegates, while Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw put the measure’s odds at “slightly better than 50-50.”