2020 could see huge change in how marijuana is regulated and prosecuted across the United States. More than a dozen states are exploring looser penalties, if not full-on legalization. Here are the states where voters will decide whether to legalize adult-use cannabis this year:
States gaining ground
The Smart and Safe Arizona Act received over 180,000 signatures more than it required to qualify for the November 2020 ballot. The measure, if passed, will allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to an ounce of marijuana, which will be taxed at 16% on top of normal sales taxes (the same as cigarettes and alcohol in Arizona), with revenues going largely toward community colleges and public safety.
New Approach Montana has two different items appearing on the November ballot. Statutory Initiative 190 would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana in Montana; Constitutional Imitative 118 sets the legal age for marijuana consumption to 21.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana turned in signatures for a proposal that puts legal protections in place for medical marijuana patients.
The state House of Representatives voted to legalize recreational marijuana , and now the Senate will be reviewing the legislation. The House passed a similar bill in 2019, only to have the Senate shoot it down; but the 2020 vote passed with such a wide majority, it can’t be vetoed. The bill would allow adults to grow up to 6 cannabis plants and possess up to ¾ of an ounce of cannabis.
A constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot aims to legalize possession, cultivation, processing, transport, and distribution of cannabis. There’s already a Cannabis Regulatory Commission in that state, which would take on recreational regulation if the measure passes.
A constitutional amendment on the November ballot hopes to legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana for adults. Adults could also grow up to three marijuana plants in their homes. The amendment includes language to pressure the legislature to come up with regulations by 2022.
Virginia is also hoping to decriminalize marijuana this year. Governor Ralph Northam says he plans to remove arrest and jail penalties for possession of small quantities of marijuana.
The Lieutenant Governor in Pennsylvania, John Fetterman, says the state is $3.2 billion in debt because of the coronavirus, and he wants to legalize marijuana to help pay for that. A large group of democratic leaders in the state agree, and support for legalization of recreational pot is overwhelming in Pennsylvania. So far though, there hasn’t been much headway in making a new law.
Texas and Georgia
Support in certain other states is gaining momentum as well. 55% of people polled in Georgia wanted cannabis legalized, as well as 53% in Texas.
Left in Limbo
After a hard-fought battle to legalize recreational marijuana in Arkansas, and a judge granting those involved in Arkansans for Cannabis Reform permission to gather petition signatures electronically, the movement fell short. That group has now merged with another organization called Arkansas NORML
The Make It Legal campaign had high hopes to allow people 21 and older to purchase, possess, transport, and use up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. Unfortunately, it was postponed in January 2020, due to a struggle to get enough signatures on a petition to put it on the ballot.
The coronavirus undercut efforts by the group Missourians for a New Approach. As a grassroots movement, gathering petition signatures means coming in close contact with people as you discuss your cause. COVID-19 made it impossible to get enough signatures for the measure to be included on the 2020 ballot.
New Mexico’s Senate Judiciary committee decided in a 6-4 vote in mid-February that a bill to legalize recreational cannabis would have to be tabled. Some legislators said they were worried about a lack of research on health impacts, and the potential for DUIs, while others were put off by ambiguous language in the bill that didn’t provide specifics on licensing, taxation, and so on.
Governor Andrew Cuomo said in March that legalizing marijuana was unlikely to be included in the state’s budget for the following fiscal year, and so far, that seems to be the case. Prior to the coronavirus, the likelihood of legalization seemed high.
In January, a Siena Survey found 58% supported legalization, while just 38% did not. Governor Cuomo said legalizing it would mean going over how things would work, how licenses would be distributed, how minority empowerment would be handled, and what police would do, and there simply wasn’t time to address all that given the pandemic.
A push to gain enough signatures for a proposed recreational marijuana measure fell short, and supporters are now working on a new one.
There are two initiatives in the works in Ohio, trying to make it to the ballot. It does not seem likely either one will do so in 2020, for similar reasons there were hold-ups in other states: coronavirus has made it difficult to gather enough verified signatures.
Additionally, in March, the Attorney General in Ohio, Dave Yost, rejected the language for one of the measures, which hopes to regulate marijuana in the same way as alcohol. Many of the medical cannabis licensees in Ohio didn’t care for the adult-use ballot indicatives, either.
At the federal level, there’s more bad news, at least if you were hoping for immediate change. The Democratic National Committee has put its foot down regarding its views on nation-wide marijuana legalization. The DNC’s 2020 Party Platform has taken a stance in line with presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden’s views, aiming to decriminalize the product. Biden has said repeatedly he wants further studies, both short- and long-term, done on cannabis before he’ll consider legalizing it nation-wide; however, that’s easier said than done, since federal laws currently put vast restrictions on the potential for the scientific study of cannabis.
The 2020 Democratic Party Platform does pave the way for change in the future, though. It also addresses federal intervention in cannabis businesses. The Trump Administration removed a longtime rider that asserted the federal government wouldn’t get involved in cannabis businesses operating legally within state laws, and the new DNC Platform implies it will remedy that. The Platform also makes clear the Democratic Party does not view marijuana on par with the other drugs it is federally associated with in its Scheduling classification, like heroin and methamphetamine. The platform says in part,
“Because of conflicting federal and state laws concerning marijuana, we encourage the federal government to remove marijuana from the list of “Schedule 1″ federal controlled substances and to appropriately regulate it, providing a reasoned pathway for future legalization. We believe that the states should be laboratories of democracy on the issue of marijuana, and those states that want to decriminalize it or provide access to medical marijuana should be able to do so. We support policies that will allow more research on marijuana, as well as reforming our laws to allow legal marijuana businesses to exist without uncertainty.”
The Party also says, “we recognize our current marijuana laws have had an unacceptable disparate impact in terms of arrest rates for African Americans that far outstrip arrest rates for whites, despite similar usage rates.” In that section, it does not address any plans to right those wrongs, but it does have a full section on its plans to fight against inequality, end systemic racism, and close the racial wealth gap.