By the end of this year, several more states in the U.S. could be among those who have legalized cannabis for medical and recreational purposes. Of course, their success is up to the activists and voters in each state. If you’re in one of these states, here is what you need to know.
States where recreational legalization is on the ballot: Nevada
States where medical legalization is on the ballot: Florida
States where activists are going through the legislature or attempting to make the ballot for recreational or medical legalization: California, Vermont, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Ohio, Michigan, Rhode Island, Maine, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Arizona, Utah, Arkansas
As anyone who pays attention to things in the United States knows, the opinions, values and culture of people can vary wildly from state to state. For various reasons, which we will get into, some states have much better shots at legalization than others.
For example, the state of Kentucky has seen several attempts to pass medical marijuana legislation the last several years, and this year in no different. State Senator Perry Clark and his allies face a very tough battle.
Activists in Missouri are making attempts at both medical and recreational legalization, though many feel the medical proposal is much more practical than the recreational one, with its lack of any sort of limits. “Missouri activists are pressing for medical marijuana,” said Russ Belville, cannabis columnist and host of The Russ Belville Show. “Its vote will be close, but I’m betting it will win.”
A recreational legalization bill was recently introduced in the Michigan state Senate; it is hard to tell and a bit too early in the game to know if it has any chance at all. A watered-down medical cannabis bill seems to be gaining momentum in Utah while an effort at medical marijuana in Arkansas is getting a conversation started in that state.
Ohio Tries Again
Legalization proponents in Ohio are still reeling from the debacle that was Issue 3 last year, and some outside forces have come in to help. The national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project is backing an initiative from Ohioans for Medical Marijuana.
The initiative itself recently hit a snag, but MPP says it still has time to make the ballot, and Russ Belville tells us that if the measure does make the ballot, he is “confident it will pass.” The attempt has a lot of advantages over Issue 3, not the least of which are MPP’s expertise in this area and that fact that Ohio is a crucial swing state in a Presidential election year, which should drive up turnout, especially among young people.
Viable Legislature Attempts
In Vermont a recreational bill is making its way through the legislature, and it has the backing of the state’s governor. A couple of other states are also in the process of going through the legislature for legalization.
“Pennsylvania has already passed medical marijuana through their legislature, awaiting a signature from the governor,” Russ told us. “Vermont has already made progress on a legislative legalization proposal that’s likely to become law. And the governor and legislature of Rhode Island are also likely to take up a successful legislative legalization bid.”
Recreational legalization has yet to be effected through a state legislature, but due to the different rules from state to state regarding how laws are passed, it’s bound to happen sometime; that sometime looks more and more like it will be this year.
The Big Hitters
What makes 2016 such an exciting year in the cannabis law reform community is the multiple chances to get recreational legalization passed in several more states, covering a large portion of the population.
“2016 could be the watershed year for marijuana reform that pushes America beyond the tipping point,” Russ Belville said. “It’s a near sure thing that Massachusetts will legalize. California is almost as guaranteed. Arizona and Nevada will probably be close, but I’d bet they win. Maine is still appealing a rejection of signatures they turned it. If they make the ballot, it will be too close to call.”
Massachusetts, a traditionally liberal/progressive state politically, is a prime candidate for legalization. The powers that be in the state, however, are dead set against legalization; these powers include the state’s Governor and Attorney General, along with the Mayor of its largest city, Boston. They recently approved an op-ed to run in their names that lists all the supposed drawbacks to recreational legalization.
In Nevada a recreational legalization measure is already slated for the fall ballot; the state recently started opening medical marijuana dispensaries to serve patients, so people there are getting used to the idea of going somewhere legal and purchasing cannabis. The same can be said for Arizona; voters there passed medical marijuana by a slim margin in 2010.
The Green Rush in the Golden State
Of course the big prize when it comes to recreational legalization is California. After the defeat of Prop 19 in 2010, activists in the state have had trouble coming together and getting enough signatures for and money behind any one initiative; the result has been that none have made the ballot.
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act has everything needed – in theory – to pass as a legalization measure. It has the financial backing from the likes of WeedMaps and Tech billionaire Sean Parker; it has the support of many big groups inside California and several marijuana law reform advocacy groups (along with an endorsement from the California Medical Association); and it’s tame enough to draw votes from all parts of the political spectrum.
For many, California’s lack of recreational legalization is a symbol of how much work is still to be done when it comes to reforming cannabis laws nationwide. Of course California’s medical marijuana program is the most wide-open in the country, but new regulations are making it much less so. The more medical cannabis is regulated and restricted, the more important recreational legalization becomes to millions of consumers in the state.
Relief Under the Sunshine?
“Florida is retrying its amendment to legalize medical marijuana. They garnered 58% of the vote in 2014, but need 60% under the Florida constitution, and I’m betting they clear that mark this year,” Russ told The Marijuana Times. While 2014 was a banner year for recreational legalization with Oregon, Alaska and Washington D.C. joining the ranks of jurisdictions that have legalized, medical cannabis patients in Florida suffered an agonizing defeat by a lousy 2%.
United for Care – backed financially by Orlando lawyer John Morgan – has gotten medical marijuana legalization back on the statewide ballot for this fall. Wiser after learning from their mistakes two years ago, when initial polls showed support for medical cannabis in the state approaching 90%, United for Care is confident that they will hit the mark this time.
Much remains to be seen on that front, including what casino magnate Sheldon Adelson plans on doing; it was Adelson who flooded the state with cash late in the campaign in 2014 in an effort to squash medical marijuana legalization, an effort he was obviously successful in.
What Will 2016 Bring?
2016 could be the biggest year in marijuana law reform history or an epic failure that cripples the movement for years to come; or something in between those extremes. Much work remains to be done, but there is reason to be optimistic.
A final thought from Russ Belville: “All in all, by the end of 2016, we are likely to have seven new legalization states and four new medical marijuana states. Stopping the progress of marijuana reform after that will be near impossible for prohibitionists to achieve.”
If those numbers prove accurate, it will truly be a historic year for cannabis law reform in the U.S. It will become a standard that activists in other states will measure themselves against in future election cycles. But most importantly it will mean tens of millions of adults have regained a freedom that was taken from them so long ago: the freedom to choose their own medicine and form of recreation as long as they are not infringing on the rights of anyone else.