American cannabis reform momentum could propel several states to pass legislation this year. Last year saw five states pass ballot initiatives, emboldening the belief that more reform efforts are on the horizon this year.
Violet Cavendish, communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project, said that 2020 was another banner year for the reform movement. She added, “The clean sweep of state-level legalization victories in November reflects that this is a policy that Americans are in favor of, regardless of political affiliation.”
Several states are already lining up to be part of the cannabis reform class of 2021. The possible contenders span the country, from the Northeast to the Southwest as well as some of America’s more conservative states.
Adult Use Is In Play For Virtually The Entire Northeast And New England
Practically the entire eastern portion of the U.S. is in play this year. Despite its current legislative struggles, numerous sources consider New Jersey’s passed ballot initiative to signal the remaining Northeast holdouts to enact legislation. Even as it is held up by state lawmakers once again, neighboring states seem to see the writing on the wall.
“New Jersey kind of set off a wave around the Northeast,” said Morgan Fox, director of media relations for the national cannabis industry association. New Jersey’s passage could soon trigger states like Maryland, Connecticut, Delaware, and New York to act on measures that have been debated for years.
Maryland has prefiled legislation ahead of the 2021 session back in December. In early January, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once again announced legalization as part of his yearly proposal, marking the third consecutive year it’s made the agenda. In November 2020, incoming Connecticut House Speaker Matt Ritter, cited legalization in New Jersey and Massachusetts, as well as likely passages in New York, as reasons why his state must also act. He gave the prospect a “50-50” chance of passing this year. Rhode Island appears ready to make a similar action, with likely incoming governor and current Lt. Gov. Daniel McKee backing a private market model in January.
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One New England state that may not be so likely to pass adult-use reform in New Hampshire. “There are definitely some champions there, but most of the legislature is not quite on board yet,” said Fox, adding, “And the governor certainly isn’t.”
Additional Reform Efforts Taking Shape In America
Additional states on the East Coast could pass legislation in 2021.
Virginia is following up last year’s decriminalization passage with efforts to pass adult use this time around. In November, Governor Ralph Northam offered his support for the measure, then introducing legislation in January.
Virginia’s support for cannabis marks another point in the state’s shift to a more politically moderate stance than in previous years. Another traditionally conservative Southeast state, South Carolina, could also pass legislation in 2021. In December, two medical marketplace bills were prefiled, with Senator Tom Davis calling his proposal the most conservative medical bill in the U.S.
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Marijuana Policy Project Vice-Chair and South Carolina native Jeffrey M. Zucker believes 2021 is optimistic over its potential passage. “We think 2021 has a good chance of being the year South Carolinian patients finally get a law that allows them to legally access medical cannabis,” said Zucker.
Those looking beyond the East Coast for a state likely to pass should keep an eye on New Mexico. NCIA’s Fox said the state, which saw legislation introduced, likely could have passed last year but ran out of time during the legislative session.
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Even with an expected busy legislative session in 2021, several states could further advance the reform movement. What that could do under a more cannabis-friendly government over the next two to four years remains to be seen.