The past couple years have been banner years for cannabis reform in states across the U.S. And 2019 is shaping up to be just as exciting for advocates around the country who have been working to end prohibition. Not only are a number of states expected to legalize marijuana via legislative action, lawmakers in Washington, too, are optimistic about finally getting to vote on some federal cannabis reform measures.
As of the 2018 midterm elections 33 states now have medical marijuana programs on the books, while ten have legalized adult use of recreational marijuana. In addition to ballot initiatives being passed in Michigan (full recreational), as well as Missouri and Utah (medical), a number of pro-cannabis candidates have won seats in state legislatures and governorships, the U.S. Senate, and the U.S. House of Representatives.
Below are the five U.S. states that are most likely to join their ranks in 2019.
The legalization of recreational marijuana in New Jersey is, at this point, a near certainty. In late November committees in both the state’s Senate and Assembly voted to advance the “Cannabis Regulatory and Expungement Aid Modernization Act.”
To make it to the Governor’s desk, both the Senate and the Assembly must now pass the bill. Senate President Stephen Sweeney has said that the Legislature will be running the bill by Murphy for his approval before bringing it up for a full floor vote.
If the bill passes as expected, New Jersey will be the second U.S. state to legalize marijuana for adult use by an act of the legislature (Vermont being the first), and the first to set up a regulated and taxed market for cannabis by an act of the legislature.
Support for legalization has been growing among both voters and lawmakers in New Yorkers for some time. According to a Quinnipiac University survey from early 2018, 63 percent of New Yorkers support legalizing marijuana for personal use.
In early 2018, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, who was previously against legalizing recreational use of marijuana, ordered a study to determine the health consequences and potential benefits of legalization.
The panel created by Cuomo to study the issue came back with positive recommendations, pointing to benefits such as reducing black market sales, better control over product quality. Increased tax revenue and the ability to refocus law enforcement and public health resources were also major points in the report.
Shortly after the report was made public, state Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) proposed a comprehensive legalization bill. She expects the bill to be debated as soon as the state legislature reconvenes in January of 2019. She hopes that a bill will be passed in time to implement a taxed and regulated market in the state of New York some time in 2020.
Just recently, Governor Cuomo pledged to make legalization a priority in 2019. Furthermore, adding to cannabis advocate’ optimism, the mid-term election saw Democrats take control of the state’s Senate.
Legalizing marijuana will help bring in revenue to our state, and will be a major step forward in reforming our criminal justice system. The time is now. Check out my plan here: https://t.co/BpzF5tWcwG
— JB Pritzker (@JBPritzker) April 16, 2018
In Illinois, incoming billionaire governor J.B. Pritzker is taking the lead on the state’s legalization movement. Considering Pritzker will be the richest politician in America — even wealthier than President Trump — the Hyatt Hotels heir is certain to have a lot of pull as the state’s governor.
Pritzker believes that legal pot will bring with it many benefits for the state beyond medical use and tax revenue such as reduced jail population and social justice for minority communities who have been disproportionately hit by the war on drugs.
“The path forward for Illinois is clear,” state’s Pritzker’s website, “we need to legalize marijuana. As governor, I am ready to stand with leaders, communities, and families across our state to legalize marijuana and move our state forward.”
With the help of state lawmakers, Pritzker intends to put in place a regulatory framework to license businesses to cultivate, process, distribute and sell marijuana to consumers for recreational use.
Illinois State Representative Kelly Cassidy and influential state senator Heather Steans are working together to put together legislation to legalize cannabis, and the pair intends to introduce legislation in the next legislative session.
“Right now, all the money being spent on marijuana is going into the pockets of criminals and cartels. In a regulated system, the money would go into the cash registers of licensed, taxpaying businesses. It would generate hundreds of millions of dollars per year in new revenue for our state. Prohibition is a financial hole in the ground, and we should stop throwing taxpayer dollars into it.” — Illinois State Senator Heather Steans
Although a 2018 Paul Simon Public Policy Institute poll showed that more than two-thirds of Illinois voters are in favor of recreational legalization, doing so is not going to be a cakewalk. Opposition to legalization is strong among law enforcement agencies and faith-based communities.
If Illinois does legalize cannabis, the state is expected to be a major player in the adult-use and medical marijuana markets.
In New Hampshire, Representative Renny Cushing has proposed that the state join the ranks of neighboring states Maine, Vermont, and Massachusetts. To that end, he has proposed a comprehensive bill intended to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older. Sponsors of the bill include Senators John Reagan (R), and Martha Hennessy (D) and Republican representatives Carol McGuire, John O’Connor, and Jim Webb all of whom were part of the committee that commissioned the marijuana study.
Detractors are already lining up in opposition to the bill. Most notably, New Hampshire Governor Chris Sununu who is adamantly opposed to marijuana legalization. The New Hampshire Association of Chiefs of Police is also opposed.
Cushing’s proposal also includes the creation of a state regulatory system for the cultivation of hemp under federal rules set by the freshly signed 2018 Farm Bill.
The bill is expected to be formally introduced next month when the 2019 legislative session begins.
I support legalizing marijuana for adult recreational use by developing a system of taxation, guaranteeing that it is Minnesota grown, and expunging the records of Minnesotans convicted of marijuana crimes. #mngov #OneMinnesota
— Tim Walz (@Tim_Walz) August 10, 2018
In Minnesota, the outgoing governor who opposed legalization is being replaced by incoming Governor Tim Walz (D). Furthermore, although Republicans control the Senate by one seat, the midterm elections resulted in a House majority for Democrats.
Walz has pledged to “replace the current failed policy with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
Advocates are optimistic about Walz ability to get the job done. As a member of the U.S. House Walz authored the first-ever standalone cannabis bill to pass a congressional committee.