Four More States Could Still Legalize Marijuana This Year After New Mexico, New York And Virginia

With New Mexico, New York and Virginia legalizing marijuana in recent days, one might think the cannabis reform movement has already achieved its high water mark for 2021. But the fact is, legalization bills are still moving forward in several other states across the country this session.

From Delaware to Minnesota, lawmakers are still working to end prohibition by the year’s end. While there’s no guarantee that they’ll be successful, there’s growing momentum for legalization with top lawmakers and governors on board, and each state that enacts the policy change adds pressure on those around them to follow suit.

If two more states get legal marijuana bills signed this session, 2021 would set a record for the highest number of new legalization laws enacted in a single year. And if just one more state were to adopt legalization this session, 2021 would tie 2016 and 2020 as a year with the most number of states to legalize cannabis—quite remarkable given that no states are putting the issue directly to voters on the ballot this year.

Here’s a look at the states that could still legalize cannabis this session:

Connecticut

There are two legalization proposals being considered in the Connecticut legislature, including one that’s backed by Gov. Ned Lamont (D).

The governor’s bill cleared the Judiciary Committee on Tuesday after being amended to more comprehensively address issues of social equity. A competing measure from Rep. Robyn Porter (D) was approved in the Labor and Public Employees Committee last month.

Lamont said on Wednesday that if lawmakers fail to pass a marijuana reform bill, he expects voters to decide on the issue via referendum.

House Speaker Matthew Ritter (D) said last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters. Ritter put “50-50” odds on lawmakers getting the job done this year themselves, however.

If cannabis does end up on the ballot, though, it would likely prove popular, as a poll released last month found that 66 percent of Connecticut adults favor legalization, and the same percentage of respondents back expunging prior cannabis records.

Delaware

A bill to legalize marijuana for adult use in Delaware was approved in its first House committee late last month.

The legislation, filed by Rep. Ed Osienski (D), passed the House Health and Human Development Committee in a 10-5 vote despite vocal opposition from some Republican members of the panel.

The bill as introduced would establish a regulated commercial cannabis system and tax sales at 15 percent. Home cultivation for personal use, however, would remain illegal.

The sponsor has stressed that the proposed legislation is “the first step,” and it will be subject to revisions in its next panel, the House Appropriations Committee.

Osienski was the chief sponsor of an earlier reform bill that cleared a House committee in 2019 but did not advance through the full chamber. One major difference between this latest bill and the last version is that HB 150 would not allow existing medical cannabis dispensaries to start selling marijuana during the transitional period between enactment and full implementation, as the previous bill would have done.

That led four of the state’s six medical cannabis operators to testify against the legislation—a decision that’s prompted certain advocates and patients to mount a boycott, accusing the companies of being profit-minded while standing in the way of broader reform.

Minnesota

Four House committees have already approved a bill to legalize marijuana in Minnesota. And Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D), sponsor of the reform legislation, said last week that it will move through its remaining committee stops by the end of April, setting the stage for action in the full chamber in May.

Winkler, Speaker Melissa Hortman (D) and other lawmakers filed the measure in February. It would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 1.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivate up to eight plants, four of which could be mature.

The House Environment and Natural Resources Finance and Policy Committee was the latest panel to advance the bill on Monday.

Before that, the Agriculture Finance and Policy Committee, Workforce and Business Development Finance and Policy Committee, Labor, Industry, Veterans and Military Affairs Finance and Policy Committee and Commerce Finance and Policy Committee approved the proposal.

Its next stop will be the Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee on Wednesday.

Still, even if the legislation does make it all the way through the House, it’s expected to face a significant challenge in the Republican-controlled Senate, where lawmakers have signaled that they’re more interested in revising the state’s existing medical cannabis program than enacting legalization of adult use.

The majority leader’s bill as introduced was identical to a proposal he filed last year, with some minor technical changes. The majority leader, who led a statewide listening to gather public input ahead of the measure’s introduction, called it the “best legalization bill in the country” at the time. It did not advance in that session, however.

Gov. Tim Walz (D) is also in favor of ending marijuana prohibition, and in January he called on lawmakers to pursue the reform as a means to boost the economy and promote racial justice. He did not include a request to legalize through his budget proposal, however.

Walz did say in 2019 that he was directing state agencies to prepare to implement reform in anticipation of legalization passing.

Winkler, meanwhile, said in December that if Senate Republicans don’t go along with the policy change legislatively, he said he hopes they will at least let voters decide on cannabis as a 2022 ballot measure.

Rhode Island

A pair of Rhode Island Senate committees held a joint hearing on two marijuana legalization proposals this month—including one proposed by the governor.

The Senate Judiciary and Finance Committees heard testimony from administration officials on Gov. Dan McKee’s (D) budget measure as well as legislative leaders sponsoring the competing bill. While the panels did not immediately vote on either proposal, members generally discussed legalization as an inevitability in the state, especially with neighboring states enacting the reform

Senate Majority Leader Michael McCaffrey (D) and Health & Human Services Committee Chairman Joshua Miller (D) are leading the separate legalization measure.

“We know there’s going to be a lot of input from different organizations and different individuals—and we hope over the next couple of months that we’re able to come up with a final piece of legislation,” Miller said. He added that enacting legalization this year is a priority for the Senate and administration.

Both plans allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to one ounce of marijuana. However, only the lawmakers’ bill provides a home grow option, with the governor’s stipulating a series of fines and penalties for personal cultivation of any number of plants.

The proposals are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

House Speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and leans toward a private model.

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