Last week, we were pleased to cover Vermont’s big move to legalize cannabis state-wide, effective July 1. The Vermont effort was impressive for a couple of reasons: 1) it became the first state to legalize adult-use (recreational) cannabis through the legislature; 2) its cannabis bill passed just days after Jeff Sessions announced Department of Justice rescission of the Cole Memorandum; and 3) Vermont is an east coast state, contiguous to populous New York and freewheeling New Hampshire. (The latter state also has been looking hard at adult use cannabis.)
With 2018 not long underway, it is likely that we will see at least a few other states break away from prohibition and adopt some form of cannabis legalization this year. Today, we identify four states with the best opportunities to make some noise, notwithstanding Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s feckless attempts to formally resuscitate the failing war on drugs. These four states would add to the nine with approved recreational use programs, and the 28 with medical cannabis programs.
Before we dive in, it is important to note that 26 states offer initiative and/or veto referendum rights to their citizens. If a state is not on this list, the odds of cannabis legalization are probably longer in that jurisdiction. This is because state legislators outside of Vermont have typically been non-forward-thinking when it comes to cannabis. A recent example would be California, where it was long apparent that adult use cannabis would become a reality, but the state legislature could not or would not summon the courage take up the issue, leaving it to the initiative process.
Without further ado, here are the four states most likely to make a run at ending prohibition this year.
New Jersey would be a great state to roll, if only because it was Chris Christie territory until recently, and Christie may be the one public official more ridiculous about cannabis than Jeff Sessions. With Christie now gone, though, Governor Phil Murphy has promised to sign any reasonable legalization bill that makes it to his desk, including for recreational weed. New Jersey does not allow its citizens to bring direct initiatives, so legalization will have to come through the legislature, as with Vermont. Currently, a couple of bills are in the works and optimism is high that full access adult-use legalization will pass this year.
Oklahoma and cannabis is an interesting story. Not long ago, Oklahoma teamed up with Nebraska to sue Colorado in an effort to shut down its neighbor state’s adult use program. That effort fizzled, and now Oklahomans are set to vote June 26 on a qualified referendum to legalize medical cannabis use. In a fun twist, the date was fixed just hours after Sessions announced the change in Department of Justice policy as to cannabis.
Oklahoma’s ballot initiative is known as State Question 788, and it would allow the use, cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis to qualified patients. The initiative’s writers are off to a good start: they already defeated an effort by the state attorney general to re-word the ballot title in an allegedly misleading manner. For a fuller explanation of that episode, and of how this particular initiative will work, go here.
Michigan is another initiative state, and it appears to have enough signatures for adult-use program inclusion on the 2018 ballot. Michigan has had a medical use program in place for a decade, and appears to be the first Midwestern state ready to go all in on 21+. As of January 25, the initiative’s main committee had raised nearly $1.3 million from a variety of donors, and it appears likely to have obtained sufficient signatures to make it to ballot on November 6, 2018.
As to the details of the proposal, the Initiative seems modeled off of working programs in a few of the western states. Per Ballotpedia:
Individuals would be permitted to grow up to 12 marijuana plants in their residences. The measure would create an excise sales tax of 10 percent, which would be levied on marijuana sales at retailers and microbusinesses. The initiative would allocate revenue from the taxes to local governments, K-12 education, and the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges. The measure would also legalize the cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of industrial hemp. Municipalities would be allowed to ban or limit marijuana establishments within their boundaries.
Virginia is bringing up the rear on this list, as its efforts are focused on decriminalization and nothing more. Two proposed Senate bills contained fines for simple possession, but those were shot down yesterday by Senate Republicans. In their place, the same panel approved a cautious bill that lets first-time offenders for simple marijuana possession get their charges dismissed. The panel also voted in favor of legislation that would allow doctors to recommend CBD or THC-A oil to patients. We certainly applaud keeping people out of jail for cannabis use, and allowing doctors to recommend cannabis, but Virginia could do better.