After four of five statewide marijuana legalization ballot initiatives were approved by voters in 2016, no additional states ended cannabis prohibition in 2017 (though New Hampshire did decriminalize possession of the drug and West Virginia allowed its medical use).
Now, a number of states are poised to legalize marijuana and approve other far-reaching cannabis measures in 2018.
If marijuana policy advocates’ plans come to fruition in the new year, 2018 will bring about the first legalization laws passed by lawmakers; to date, all eight states to end cannabis prohibition did it through voter initiatives.
Here’s a look at the states that are most likely to enact marijuana reforms in 2018:
The Green Mountain state appears ready to legalize cannabis very soon. House and Senate leaders and Gov. Phil Scott (R) have signaled in recent weeks that they are prepared to legalize marijuana shortly after the legislature reconvenes on January 3. Because the state operates on a biennium, all that is needed is one more House vote in favor of a previously-Senate-passed bill that the governor has pledged to sign.
The legislation is different that other existing legalization laws because it would not create a system of taxed and regulated cannabis sales, at least not initially. It would instead legalize possession of small amounts of marijuana as well as low-level home cultivation, while a study commission would examine potential future legal commercialization.
Gov.-elect Phil Murphy (D) campaigned on legalization, and the Senate president says he’s ready to pass a bill in 2018. While some key lawmakers have signaled that they’d prefer not to rush into passing big changes to marijuana laws, the sponsor of a Senate legalization bill says he wants to get it to the governor’s desk within the first 100 days of the new administration.
Murphy consistently pledged to end prohibition on the campaign trail, often describing it as an important piece of a broader criminal justice reform agenda, in addition to touting the tax revenue it would generate. Failing to shepherd a legalization bill to enactment in the Garden State would amount to a broken promise and likely be somewhat of an embarrassment for the new governor.
Advocates are poised to place a marijuana legalization measure on the state’s November ballot.
A similar proposal fell just short of qualifying in 2016, but the new effort is better-funded and has the support of national groups like the Marijuana Policy Project. Several surveys have shown majority support for legalization, including one this May that found likely voters back ending prohibition by a margin of 58 percent to 36 percent.
If the measure is approved, Michigan would be the first state in the Midwest to end cannabis prohibition.
Activists have already succeeded in collecting enough signatures to place a medical cannabis measure before voters. There was a chance the measure could have gone on the 2016 ballot but, because a dispute over the measure’s official ballot title with then-Attorney General Scott Pruitt (now U.S. Environmental Protection Agency administrator) was not resolved by the state Supreme Court in time, its consideration was delayed until the next election.
Gov. Mary Fallin (R) says she will announce after the new year whether it will appear on the June primary ballot or will be considered during the November general election.
A 2013 poll found that 71 percent of the state’s likely voters support medical cannabis.
Activists are mounting a well-funded effort to qualify a medical marijuana measure for the state’s November ballot. If approved, the proposed measure would allow patients with cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis, PTSD, chronic pain and other specifically enumerated conditions to use medical cannabis preparations, but they would not be allowed to smoke the drug.
An October Salt Lake Tribune survey found that 75 percent of the state’s registered voters back medical marijuana. If the conservative state, along with Oklahoma, approves medical cannabis it would send a strong signal that the issue is not a partisan one.
The Show Me State could potentially see three separate medical cannabis ballot measures qualify in 2018.
Competing teams are currently working to collect signatures for measures that would allow patients to use medical marijuana with their doctors’ recommendations. If one or more of the measures pass, the result could be in flux. Whereas the measure with the most votes usually prevails in instances of same-topic questions appearing on the same ballot, in this case two of the measures are constitutional amendments and one is a statutory change. Enacted constitutional provisions take precedence over statutes, of course, but if the statutory measure gets more votes than either of the proposed constitutional changes, it’s not clear which would be enacted. Litigation would likely ensue.
A July 2016 survey found that voters favored an earlier proposed ballot measure by a margin of 62 percent to 27 percent.
Gov.-elect Ralph Northam (D) made marijuana decriminalization a centerpiece of his campaign, often describing the issue in stark racial justice terms.
Removing criminal penalties for cannabis appears to have bipartisan support in the state. Republican Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment has pledged to file a decriminalization bill early in 2018.
And the effort could get an additional boost by Democrats’ surprising number of wins in House of Delegates races this past November. Depending on the results for two still-pending seats under review, the party could either have a narrow majority in the chamber or be tied with Republicans. The GOP has a two-seat majority in the Senate, but tie votes there would be broken by the Democratic lieutenant governor.
A team of wealthy individuals in Ohio announced this month that they will work to qualify a marijuana legalization measure for the state’s 2018 ballot. A 2015 initiative pushed by the same group was overwhelmingly rejected by voters. That campaign generated opposition from many longtime legalization activists because it proposed creating an oligopoly on cannabis cultivation for the very investors who paid to put it on the ballot. Advocates were also turned off by the campaign’s usage of a cartoony mascot, “Buddie,” which raised concerns about appealing to children. The team has said that it learned from those mistakes.
While Vermont and New Jersey are seen as most likely to pass marijuana legalization bills through their legislatures in 2018, advocates are also working to build momentum for bills to end prohibition in a number of other states next year. Among those are Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois and Rhode Island, any or all of which could potentially send legalization legislation to their governor’s desks in the coming months.
2018 is likely to be one of the most active years to date for marijuana legislation, and lawmakers in a number of states have already gotten a head start and begun prefiling bills for new sessions that begin in January.
This piece was first published by Forbes.