2020 was a big year for marijuana legalization. Every single marijuana legalization initiative that was on the November 2020 ballot was successful. Four states passed laws allowing adults 21 and older to legally purchase recreational cannabis; two enacted medical marijuana laws. So how does 2021 look?
In January, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont sent the state’s General Assembly a bill entitled “An Act Responsibly and Equitably Regulating Adult-Use Cannabis.” The 163-page long bill would allow anyone over the age of 21 to “possess, use, and otherwise consume cannabis products” in an amount up to one and a half ounces of marijuana flower or an equivalent amount of other cannabis products. Violation of the new law, be it by an adult who was caught with slightly more than the legal limit of cannabis, or someone who is underaged, would be fined $150 for their first offense and between $200 and $500 for any subsequent offenses.
For anyone caught with over 2.5 ounces of marijuana, those fines go up a bit and repeated offenses can result in misdemeanor charges or mandatory substance abuse treatment. The bill has faced some blowback from people who oppose legalization entirely, and from people who support legalization but do not care for this particular bill. In the latter camp are certain activists who worry the Governor’s efforts fell short of ensuring equity for communities impacted by the War on Drugs.
The Governor’s team says Lamont plans to expand the bill later to address those issues. Connecticut also has its Labor and Public Employees Committee pushing for legalization in a bill that also offers grants and loans to minority entrepreneurs interested in breaking into the cannabis market, as well as training and education for people who have a history of marijuana-related criminal convictions.
Hawaii has been making massive progress toward legalization, and residents and lawmakers alike seem hopeful 2021 is the year it’ll finally happen in Hawaii. Lawmakers already advanced two separate cannabis bills in February; one to legalize recreational cannabis for people 21 and older; and another to increase the amount that falls within the boundaries of the state’s decriminalization law, which went into effect in 2019.
The legalization bill, SB767 SD2, passed with a 4-1 vote, with the only nay coming from the only Republican member of the Senate Committee on Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs. From here, the legalization bill moves on to a hearing between the Senate Judiciary and the Ways and Means committees. From there, it’ll go the House chamber.
Kansas isn’t talking about recreational weed just yet, but their Democratic Governor, Laura Kelly, is pushing for House Bill 2184, the Kansas Medical Marijuana Regulation Act. Governor Kelly believes tax revenue generated from legalizing medical marijuana could be used to finance an expansion of the state’s Medicaid program. Governor Kelly said in a news briefing that even the simple introduction of the bill and discussion surrounding it is a win for the state.
“Previous estimates that we have range all the way up to $50 million per year,” the Governor said, emphasizing that is a conservative estimate. “Many comments from the opposition have been, ‘We can’t afford it.’ And we have just designed a bill that pays for itself and more, and I think it eliminates the argument that we cannot afford it. There’s never been any other good argument against expansion.”
Marijuana is making slow but steady moves in Kentucky. In January, lawmakers filed a bill to legalize medical marijuana. At his State of the Commonwealth Address, Governor Andy Beshear also said Kentucky should consider cannabis reform. “Speaking of laws that unduly restrict us from growth and innovation,” said Governor Beshear, “it is time to legalize medical marijuana.”
A cannabis bill in Minnesota has already cleared its first hurdle. Minnesota’s House Majority Leader, Ryan Winkler, drew up HF 4632, which would establish the Cannabis Management Board to oversee sales, licensing, inspection, testing, taxation, and other regulation of marijuana. That Board would also take over the oversight duties for medical marijuana, which is already legal in Minnesota.
It also aims to expunge marijuana-related criminal convictions. “From a health perspective, from a racial equity perspective, from a criminal justice reform perspective, from just being able to do a better job of regulating a product that can be used responsibly, it’s time for Minnesota to change its cannabis laws,” Winkler said.
A marijuana legalization bill is already gaining steam in New Mexico. It would allow adults 21 and older to have “at least” two ounces of cannabis, as well as grow plants in their homes. Individuals could have six mature and six immature plants for personal use. The bill would also establish a system for regulating and taxing cannabis sales.
Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham used her State of the State Address to reiterate her commitment to the legalization of adult-use marijuana in 2021 – a goal she’s made clear in the past. “We have the power to decide what kind of future we make for New Mexico as we recover from this challenging year.
In the 2021 legislative session we can set ourselves up to roar back to life after the pandemic, ready to break new ground and thrive,” Governor Grisham said. “My priorities for New Mexico's upcoming legislative session include delivering additional pandemic relief, fully funding early childhood education, legalizing recreational cannabis, and expanding and improving access to health care and behavioral health resources.”
Before New York Governor Andrew Cuomo came under fire for recent political and harassment-related scandals, he was firm in his push for the legalization of recreational marijuana, making clear it was a priority for the state in 2021. Cuomo has been pushing for legal adult-use cannabis for years, but now says 2021 is the year it will officially happen.
"Despite the many challenges New York has faced amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it has also created a number of opportunities to correct longstanding wrongs and build New York back better than ever before," Governor Cuomo said. "Not only will legalizing and regulating the adult-use cannabis market provide the opportunity to generate much-needed revenue, but it also allows us to directly support the individuals and communities that have been most harmed by decades of cannabis prohibition."
The commonwealth of Pennsylvania has legalized medical marijuana, but Governor Tom Wolf says he’s ready to take the next step. “I want to see Pennsylvania begin the process to legalize adult-use marijuana this year. The profits from this measure would be used to help us recover from COVID. Plus, it’s past time that we restore justice to those harmed by marijuana criminalization,” Governor Wolf wrote on Twitter. However, so far, the Governor hasn’t taken any steps to make that legalization happen.
Lawmakers in both Virginia’s House and Senate already voted to legalize marijuana, but that wouldn’t kick in until 2024. House Bill 2312 isn’t going fast enough for the Governor’s taste, however. In the 2021 State of the Commonwealth address, Governor Ralph Northam had strong words about the current status of cannabis. “It’s also time to acknowledge ways that our criminal justice system unfairly. Marijuana is a great example,” the Governor said.
“We know that while white people and Black people use marijuana at similar rates, Black people are three and a half times more likely to be charged with a crime for it and they’re almost four times as likely to be convicted. That happens because that’s how the system was set up generations ago. In fact, one of the early leaders of the Federal Drug Enforcement Agency was clear that marijuana laws should be written explicitly to target people of color, and so they were. And they’ve been targeting people for years. It's time to join 16 other states and make marijuana legal and end the system rooted in inequity.”
Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers is proposing legalizing both recreational and medical marijuana in the upcoming fiscal year. “States across the country have moved forward with legalization and there’s no reason Wisconsin should be left behind,” Governor Evers wrote on Twitter. His plan is to regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. Two of Wisconsin’s neighboring states, Michigan and Illinois, have already legalized recreational cannabis.
“Not only is legalizing marijuana expected to generate more than $165 million annually starting in 2023, we'd set aside approximately $80 million of that revenue to reinvest in equity initiatives and support for small, rural school districts in communities across our state.” The Governor also noted that nearly 60% of people in Wisconsin support legalization. Local news outlets in Wisconsin note that Republicans control the state legislature and are likely to either block the budget or propose a revised version that allows for solely medical marijuana.
The U.S. Government
At the federal level, a Democratic win was not the boon cannabis legalization advocates were hoping for. Before becoming president, Joe Biden made clear he supported states’ rights to choose their own course and wanted more research on whether marijuana is a gateway drug before he’d consider legalizing it at the federal level. Right now, researchers have a tough time getting approval to study cannabis because of its federal status.
Recently though, Democratic Senators have been more vocal about their intentions to pass pot reform. One of those Senators is New Jersey’s Cory Booker, who in 2019 pushed for the Marijuana Justice Act, which he describes as a “Social justice bill would end the federal prohibition on marijuana, expunge records, and reinvest in communities most impacted by War on Drugs.” Senator Booker is joined by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who has championed this effort in years past, and Oregon Senator Ron Wyden in his push for marijuana reform.
The trio issued a joint-statement on their intentions: “The War on Drugs has been a war on people—particularly people of color. Ending the federal marijuana prohibition is necessary to right the wrongs of this failed war and end decades of harm inflicted on communities of color across the country. But that alone is not enough. As states continue to legalize marijuana, we must also enact measures that will lift up people who were unfairly targeted in the War on Drugs.” Those Senators plan to release a draft of their plan for comprehensive reform soon.
That discussion will include ideas for restorative justice, public health protections, and taxes and regulations. Once it’s released, they’ll seek out input from stakeholder groups who will help with the development of the legislation. “The Senate will make consideration of these reforms a priority,” the Senators say in their statement.