It’s 4/20, and what a year for it! Marijuana legalization is on the menu — and will be on the ballot in many states, come November. Some states may even pass it in their legislatures. While most legalization efforts have taken place in western states, this year may bring cannabis to a state near you, as prospects look good in New England, as well as in Midwestern states like Ohio.
At the end of last year, Forbes’ Debra Borchardt predicted that 2016 would be “marijuana’s big year.” She listed several states with some form of marijuana push, either decriminalization, medical marijuana, or full legalization of the drug for recreational purposes.
Here is a run-down of sixteen states where cannabis is on the ballot, or in the state house, or otherwise making political headwind.
On Sunday, Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolfe signed a bill into law legalizing medical marijuana in that state. Authors of the bill say it could take up to two years (!) to write regulation and get retailers opened, but one provision allows parents to legally administer marijuana to their children before the bill takes effect. Pennsylvania has legalized marijuana in pill, oil, vapor, ointment, and liquid form, but not for smoking or growing.
After a ballot initiative failed to legalize the drug in Ohio last year, proponents have pushed a new version that does not include the controversial regulatory structure which condemned the first one. Some outspoken opponents of the 2015 measure have already signed on to the new version. A few opponents say it lacks direction and could easily be abused, but this simplicity may be its only hope of getting passed.
“We shouldn’t be putting regulations into our constitution,” explained Grassroots Ohio spokeswoman Cassie Young. “The amendment is about protecting inherent rights of Ohioans — not enshrining business interests.” The initiative needs to collect 305,591 signatures of Ohio voters by July 6 to qualify for the November ballot, but Young said that Grassroots Ohio is building a long-term campaign and could wait to put the measure on the ballot until 2017 or even later. This would only legalize medical marijuana, like in Pennsylvania.
Next Page: Marijuana in New England?
Interestingly, New England looks poised to legalize marijuana in at least two states. There are legalization efforts in six states.
Connecticut may pass a recreational marijuana bill this year, and proponents tout how the law could address the state’s disastrous deficit. Representative Juan Candelaria (D, New Haven) introduced a bill which would allow adults to use, grow, and sell marijuana, but the Democratic governor, Dannel Malloy, said he could only support medical marijuana. In Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2012, the state raised $135 million in taxes on the almost $1 billion in sales through the end of 2015. A Quinnipiac poll from 2015 showed 63 percent of Connecticut voters supported legalizing small amounts of the drug.
In Maine, the ballot initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is poised to qualify for the ballot. The campaign turned in more than 103,000 raw signatures from its petition drive in February, and it only needs 61,000 valid voter signatures to quality. While state officials originally said there were not enough valid signatures, a court ruled this month that the state unlawfully disregarded many valid signatures. In a 2015 poll, 65 percent of Maine voters supported legalization.
The Massachusetts initiative from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has already qualified for the ballot. Under the state’s law, the legislature must first take up the issue, and it is very unlikely to do so. This month, state officials came out against the initiative, but the organization responded by focusing on a new poll showing 57 percent of voters back their proposal. The campaign will likely have to collect another 10,000 signatures, but if it does so, the initiative will likely pass.
Next Page: New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Vermont
6. New Hampshire
In New Hampshire, the legislature is most likely to pass legalization. The state house passed such a bill in 2014, but that one died in the senate. Two bills have been killed this year, but the legislature is currently considering a decriminalization bill. The senate killed at least two such bills in the past, but this year may be different.
7. Rhode Island
A Rhode Island legalization bill got a hearing last week. While similar bills have been struck down for the past four years, there is hope for change this year. Republican House Rep. Brian Newberry supports the bill, and Democratic House Speaker Nick Mattiello, who has long opposed legalization, is becoming “more open-minded.”
The Vermont senate passed a legalization bill in February, but the New York Times reported that marijuana is taking a back seat to the opiate crisis. The bill is stalled in the state house, as lawmakers struggle to avoid the appearance of supporting drugs.
Next Page: Go West!
In California, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act will be on the ballot. This initiative has passed all legal hurdles and will be up to the voters to decide in November.
The Nevada Initiative to Regulate and Tax Marijuana has also qualified for the November ballot.
Last week, it was reported that Arizona’s ballot initiative is close to completing its signature goal. The Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana Act has already achieved 200,000 signatures (it needs 150,642), and its goal is 225,000. Expect to see it on the ballot in November.
Next Page: Michigan, Florida, Arkansas
Michigan originally looked promising this year, but groups are having trouble collecting the required number of signatures before the deadline.
In Florida, an initiative for legalization failed in 2014, but a medical marijuana measure is likely to pass this year. A Public Policy Polling study found that 65 percent of the state’s voters support such a measure, and the initiative needs 60 percent to pass. Florida Governor Rick Scott expanded the state’s “Right to Try” legislation to include medical marijuana in March. This opens the possibility of weed to the terminally ill.
Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge rejected a ballot initiative (for the eighth time!) to legalize marijuana last month, but she approved one on medical marijuana, which might appear on the ballot in November.
Next Page: The final two. Which states are left, again?
Marijuana decriminalization is making strides in Illinois, where the state senate is following advice from Governor Bruce Rauner (who blocked legislation last year).