More than half of U.S. states working on new and expanded cannabis reforms
The move toward the legalization of marijuana for therapeutic and recreational purposes continues to steamroll across America in 2019 with legislative proposals and voter initiatives taking place in more than half of U.S. states.
Currently, the vast majority of Americans live in states where marijuana is legal in one form or another. Ten states have gone so far as to legalize the adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes, nine of which have also set up a state-regulated system for the licensing and oversight of growers, processors, and retailers. The tenth state to legalize recreational use, Vermont, is likely to pass similar measures this year.
In this post, we’ll give a brief summary of some of the more prominent measures being considered across the country.
In addition to the 22 states mentioned below, other states which have already implemented reforms are in the process of refining and expanding marijuana laws as well. It’s an exciting time for cannabis advocates and consumers.
The Arizona Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments on March 19 in the case of Rodney Jones, a registered medical marijuana patient who was convicted of possession of hashish. Jones was sentenced to two-and-a-half years in prison when the court previously ruled that the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act does not allow for the use of hash or cannabis extracts. The Court of Appeals reaffirmed the conviction in June of last year.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which supports Jones in his appeal, argues that the ruling goes against the intent of AMMA. According to a report in High Times, a legislative solution is in the works. House Bill 2149 would permit medical patients to possess all forms of medical marijuana.
A joint resolution introduced in the Florida Senate on Thursday would add a new section to the Florida Constitution to establish the right “to possess, use, and cultivate cannabis”. According to the proposal, these rights “may not be infringed, except that the transfer of cannabis by purchase or sale may be regulated by law as necessary to ensure public health and safety”.
If approved by lawmakers, the question would go before voters in the 2020 general election. Introduced by Sen. Randolph Bracy (D) of Orlando, the proposal has a good chance of passing, as nearly two-thirds of voters in the state now approve of legalizing marijuana.
In the medical realm, a circuit judge in Florida recently struck down a law capping the number of dispensaries in the state. Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers again reprimanded lawmakers and state health officials for tinkering with a constitutional amendment which was approved by more than 71 percent of voters in 2016.
Gievers had previously struck down another provision which prohibited patients from smoking medical marijuana. Two new proposals by lawmakers allowing patients to smoke medical marijuana is expected to receive floor votes within the next few weeks. This comes after Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis called on lawmakers to act on the matter by mid-March.
A Senate committee in Hawaii has approved a bill to legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older in the island state. According to a report by Marijuana Moment, the bill will likely be referred to one or two additional Senate panels before the chamber gets the chance to approve it. The legislation would allow adults 21 and older to possess, cultivate, and consume marijuana.
The government would license facilities to manufacture, test, and sell cannabis, which would be subject to a state excise tax as well as a 15 percent surcharge. If the measure is enacted, retail sales would begin in February 2021 at the earliest. However, the state’s governor has vetoed cannabis reform legislation in the past. Any measure legalizing marijuana in the island state will have to be somewhat conservative, as Gov. David Ige has expressed that he is not in favor of legalization.
A bill has been filed in Illinois that would legalize recreational marijuana and allow licensed businesses to grow and sell pot. It would also provide for the creation of social consumption areas. Under the proposal, residents would be permitted to grow a whopping 24 plants at home. A more restrictive proposal has been in the works for more than a year.
In early March, Kentucky’s House Judiciary Committee recently voted 16 to 1 to advance a bill that would legalize medical marijuana and establish a Department for Alcoholic Beverage and Cannabis Control responsible for issuing licenses to patients, doctors, growers, processors, and dispensaries.
House Bill 136 has 43 cosponsors out of 100 chamber members. About 80 percent of voters in the state are in favor of medical marijuana and Republican Gov. Matt Bevin supports the measure. HB 136 now advances to the Rules Committee where lawmakers must decide whether the bill will be voted on by the full House.
In early March, a House committee in Maryland heard testimony regarding two legalization bills. One bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase up to an ounce of marijuana through a state-regulated system or grow up to four plants of their own.
The bills are unlikely to advance this session as lawmakers are still gathering intelligence on the matter, but there’s a good shot they’ll be up for a vote in 2020. Maryland Republican Gov. Larry Hogan does not have a favorable opinion of legalization. He feels it would be premature to legalize marijuana before kinks in the state’s medical cannabis program are addressed.
In Nebraska, a petition to put the legalization of medical marijuana on the 2020 ballot was approved by the secretary of state. The initiative would amend the Nebraska Constitution to “provide the rights to use, possess, access, and safely produce cannabis, and cannabis products and materials, for serious medical conditions as recommended by a physician or nurse practitioner.”
The state legislature has rejected multiple attempts to legislate a medical cannabis program. Ten percent of the state’s registered voters must now sign the petition in order for it to make the ballot in November. Meanwhile, a medical cannabis bill is seen to have little chance of being signed by Republican Governor Pete Ricketts.
Under a bill passed by the New Hampshire House, qualifying medical patients would be allowed to grow their own marijuana. Medical marijuana was legalized in 2013. Currently, more than 7,000 patients are enrolled in the program. However, there are only four dispensaries in the state. The bill allows for up to three mature plants, three immature plants, and 12 seedlings.
The bill must now go to the Senate for consideration. Lawmakers also are considering a bill to legalize recreational use of marijuana. However, Republican Governor John Sununu has said he will veto any recreational measures.
Lawmakers in New Jersey are close to agreement on cannabis legalization measures. According to NJ.com, Gov. Phil Murphy and state Senate President Stephen Sweeney came to a “deal in principle” that could see the Garden State legalize weed this spring. Under the proposed measures, rather than a state sales tax, cannabis would be taxed by the ounce.
The hope is that this will help the state avoid any problems should cannabis prices drop in the future. “If the tax is $42 per ounce — which is reportedly the tax rate that’s on the table — it would stay the same whether the ounce cost $300 or $150 or even $50,” wrote NJ.com. Murphy recently released a state budget proposal that anticipates New Jersey generating $80 million in marijuana tax revenue over the next fiscal year.
Two separate marijuana legalization bills have passed the Senate and the House committees in New Mexico since the end of Feb. 2108. While both bills legalize adult recreational use of marijuana, the main difference between the two is that one calls for the licensing of private businesses, while the other calls for a system of state-run shops.
The first cleared both the House Health and Human Services Committees and the House Judiciary Committee. The second was approved by the House Public Affairs Committee. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) has expressed her support for legalizing marijuana.
New York lawmakers are in the process of gathering information in order to draft recreational legalization legislation. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has expressed his support for legal cannabis. Meanwhile, members of the New York City Council have introduced numerous cannabis-related measures, with 10 resolutions and two bills related to marijuana reform being filed just in recent weeks. One resolution calls for giving licensing priority to individuals disproportionately harmed by the drug war.
Another demands legislators set up a reinvestment fund to remedy “disparate burdens placed on people of color in the enforcement of marijuana prohibition”. The flurry of cannabis-related legislation suggests that City Council members expect the state to legalize adult-use in the near future.
A new proposal by lawmakers in North Carolina would make it legal to possess up to three ounces of marijuana for personal use and allow for expungement of criminal records for low-level drug possession. The bill, however, would not alter hashish possession laws. Similar measures introduced in previous sessions of the Senate failed to receive a vote.
Activists in North Dakota are hoping to get a recreational initiative on the state’s 2020 ballot. After the lawmakers recently failed to decriminalize pot use in the state, activist group Legalize ND has taken it upon themselves to get the job done. “The legislature has proven they have zero interest in reform, and that they are unwilling to live by their pledge to pass decriminalization as an alternative to full legalization,” the group posted on Facebook.
Things are looking a little brighter on the medical side, as the House recently approved legislation to add new qualifying conditions, increase the number of professionals who can recommend its use, and expand allowed consumption methods.
An Oregon Senate Committee will hold a Thursday hearing on legislation to allow the social consumption of marijuana at licensed lounges and events. If enacted, the bill would also let cannabis producers lead public tours of their facilities. As written, S.B. 639 would authorize the Oregon Liquor Control Commission (OLCC) to license venues of temporary events to sell marijuana, as well as make way for the consumption of marijuana at licensed lounges. The bill also allows for the delivery of marijuana products to buyers. This bill has a high likelihood of passing.
In Pennsylvania, lawmakers plan to introduce a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana. Under the proposal, adults 21 and older would be permitted to purchase marijuana and grow their own at home. The bill would also expunge convictions for marijuana crimes and release inmates currently behind bars for such offenses. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman has embarked on a statewide “marijuana listening tour” to take Pennsylvania's pulse on whether to legalize the drug. Gov. Tom Wolf has expressed interest in legalization since bordering states are moving toward legalizing marijuana. Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program, signed into law in 2016, launched in February 2018.
Under a bill filed in the Rhode Island House of Representatives, Rhode Islanders might be voting on a referendum this November which polls residents for their opinion on ending cannabis prohibition. The question on the ballot would read: "Do you support the legalization of possession and use of marijuana by persons who are at least 21 years of age, subject to regulation and taxation that is similar to the regulation and taxation of tobacco and alcohol?" The question is advisory only. A “yes” vote does not bind lawmakers to act, but it will likely motivate them to pull together cannabis legislation for the 2019 session.
In Tennessee, SB 486/HB 637, a revamped proposal to authorize the use of medical marijuana, would allow the sale and use of smokable forms of the drug. The proposal faces stiff challenges from legislators, but the marijuana industry has already expressed its support for the measure.
In Texas, efforts to greatly expand the state’s medical marijuana program are being batted around. House Bill 122 and House Bill 209/Senate Bill 90 will allow certain medical patients to grow their own marijuana. House Bill 551 will permit patients under the state's current Compassionate Use Act to possess marijuana extracts, rather than only CBD oil. Lawmakers in Texas recently heard over two hours of testimony related to proposed legislation to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana. Another proposal being discussed decriminalizes marijuana, drops jail time for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana, reduces a $2,000 fine to $250 for the first offense, and eliminates jail time. Also, those caught possessing small amounts of marijuana would have the option of taking a drug education course or undertaking community service if they are unable to pay the fine. A similar bill advanced out of committee last session but did not receive a floor vote.
A bill in Vermont, which intends to create a state-regulated marijuana market, has been approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee. Under the bill, a Cannabis Control Board would issue licenses for cannabis manufacturers, retailers, and testing facilities, and a 10 percent state tax would be applied to all retail sales. Local municipalities would have the option of imposing an additional two percent tax. Home deliveries would be prohibited. Vermont currently allows adults 21 and older to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use but has no provisions for production and sales. The measure has a high likelihood of passing a full vote in one form or another. However, Republican Governor Phil Scott has expressed reservations on establishing a retail market.
The West Virginia House of Delegates has approved a bill that would prohibit the state from penalizing financial institutions that do business with medical cannabis businesses operating in compliance with state law. The bill is seen as largely symbolic, as banks are reluctant to get involved in the industry while marijuana remains illegal at the federal level. However, Washington D.C. lawmakers recently held a hearing to address the issue.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers is calling for the decriminalization of possession of up to 25 grams of marijuana, as well as for expunging the criminal records of those who have completed their sentences for the charge. Evers is also calling on the state to align its CBD regulations to conform to new federal standards. The proposals are expected to face resistance in the state's legislative assemblies, which are both controlled by Republicans.