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These States Will Be The Next To Legalize Marijuana

Hopes were at an all-time high for sweeping cannabis policy reform and industry expansion as 2019 turned into 2020. With widespread, and bi-partisan, public support, the MORE ACT passing the House Judiciary Committee, and the prospect of nearly a dozen cannabis policy votes in 2020, there was plenty of reason for optimism. I even wrote in this column that “2020 was shaping up to be the biggest year ever for marijuana policy reform.”

All bets were off when the Covid-19 pandemic plunged us into global uncertainty this past spring. Individuals, families, and corporations were left scrambling towards a proverbial “new normal,” with the majority of policy initiatives taking a backseat to the public health crisis demanding our attention. This meant that qualifying ballot initiatives became vastly more challenging, with traditional signature gathering, and the amount of social contact it requires, no longer considered acceptable or safe. Montana ordered 150,000 pens so each petition signer could have their own. Other states, however, weren’t so lucky, with Arkansas unable to meet their July 3rd signature deadline for adult- use cannabis legalization and Idaho preemptively anticipating the same fate, opting to suspend their medical cannabis campaign in early April (they needed 55,057 by May 1 to qualify). California, Missouri and Nebraska also saw cannabis related policy efforts halted by Covid-19.

(Photo by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Efforts to legalize cannabis in state legislatures similarly suffered, with state legislatures shutting down for months at a time, and most only reconvening virtually to handle essential business. Anticipated legislative pushes to legalize in states like New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, and New Mexico all stalled due to Covid-19 related legislative paralysis.

In spite of numerous policy hurdles, cannabis business was deemed essential, with states allowing dispensaries to stay open at a time when nearly all other establishments were forced to shutter; a green beacon of hope in the dismal socially distanced spring and tumultuous summer. Now, as we enter a historically tense election season, cannabis sales are continuing towards new heights, with record- setting months in Illinois, Colorado and Ohio (medical) this summer.

(Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI / AFP) (Photo by KAMIL KRZACZYNSKI/AFP via Getty Images)

AFP via Getty Images

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The Future Of Marijuana Under Biden and a GOP Senate

The people want pot. And while many efforts to open up new states to cannabis freedom were thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic, we could still see major changes to the legal cannabis landscape by year’s end. Last year I predicted that as many as six state legislatures may legalize adult- use cannabis and sadly, because of Covid-19, it appears there is only a chance for one to do so.

Vermont’s legislature agreed to a final compromise on S. 54, which had previously passed both the Senate and the House in different forms. At the time of this writing, the bill sits at the desk of Gov. Phil Scott, who has not yet indicated publicly whether he will sign it. In addition to Vermont, there are four states with adult-use cannabis legalization measures up for vote via ballot initiative this election. South Dakota sits uniquely with 2020 ballot initiatives for both medical and adult-use cannabis legalization; and Mississippians will also vote on medical cannabis ballot initiatives come November 3rd. Here is a rundown of the states best positioned to end cannabis prohibition this year.

ADULT- USE STATES

Smart and Safe Arizona, Proposition 207, would legalize adult- use cannabis in Arizona as well as allow for those convicted previously of possessing less than an ounce of marijuana or six or fewer plants or paraphernalia to petition to have their records expunged. After a narrow initiative defeat in 2016, the campaign announced the delivery of 420,000(!) signatures of support to the Secretary of State’s office in July and officially qualified in August for the November ballot. If approved, “early applicants,” which are either existing medical marijuana establishments in good standing or applicants seeking to locate a business in a county with fewer than two existing medical marijuana establishments, will be licensed first. For a full summary of the Arizona Prop 207 visit Marijuana Policy Project.

PHOENIX, AZ – AUGUST 04: People walk back to their car after voting during Arizona’s primary . [+] election at Burton Barr Central Library on August 4, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. Larger venues have been catered to allow for social distancing as adjustments are made in light of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Courtney Pedroza/Getty Images)

Advocacy group New Approach Montana submitted signatures of support for two complementary ballot initiatives which were approved by the Montana Secretary of State in August. The first, I-190, would legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis in Montana. The second, CI-118, would set the legal minimum age for purchasing, consuming, or possessing marijuana at 21. For a full summary of the Montana ballot initiatives visit Marijuana Policy Project.

New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Amendment (S2703/A4497) would amend the state constitution to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for adults age 21 and older. It would also legalize the cultivation, processing, and sale of retail cannabis and would take effect on January 1, 2021. The new law would also create an online portal which would allow for an expedited expungement process. There are many details left to be decided by the State Legislature in the language of the Amendment, including how stores will be licensed (and how many), as well as possession limits and home grow provisions. If the Amendment does pass, New Jersey will become the first Mid-Atlantic state to legalize cannabis for all adult consumers.

ADULT- USE AND MEDICAL

This November, South Dakota will become the first state to ever vote on medical marijuana and adult-use legalization at the same time. As is laid out by Marijuana Policy Project, South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws is championing a constitutional initiative (Amendment A) to tax and regulate marijuana. They are working alongside New Approach South Dakota, which is supporting a statutory medical marijuana measure. Both initiatives work together and support one another. South Dakota has among the harshest cannabis penalties in the nation, including a year in jail and a $2,000 fine for possession, making their legalization effort all the more imperative. South Dakota is also the only state with an “internal possession” law, meaning individuals can be forcibly drug tested and arrested if illegal drugs are found in their system – even cannabis consumed in a legal state while on vacation. Amendment A does not currently create a limit on licenses and vests the power to grant cannabis licenses of all kinds, including retail, processing, cultivation and testing, to the Department of Revenue. For the full text of Amendment A visit Marijuana Policy Project.

South Dakota will be the first state ever to vote on medical and adult-use cannabis ballot . [+] initiatives at the same time.

MEDICAL STATES

Mississippi will put two competing ballot initiatives for medical cannabis in front of voters on November 3rd. One, Initiative 65, is championed by Mississippians for Compassionate Care, who gathered 268,000+ signatures in order for the measure to be approved for the November ballot. Initiative 65A was submitted by state legislators after Initiative 65 was approved and seeks to install limited license caps and vest more control to the state over most major cannabis regulations.

Nothing is certain, in life or in business, and while cannabis legalization might seem increasingly inevitable, if 2020 has shown us anything, it’s to be prepared for any and all outcomes. While the United State’s prepares for a divisive election season, keep an eye on these key cannabis races as well.

The people want pot. And while many efforts to open up new states to cannabis freedom were thwarted by the Covid-19 pandemic, we could still see major changes to the legal cannabis landscape by year’s end.

Election 2020: Four Ohio communities pass marijuana measures

Four Ohio municipalities voted to decrease penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession in this year’s General Election. (Photo: Sue Ogrocki, AP)

Voters in four Ohio villages and townships approved marijuana decriminalization measures in the General Election, according to final, unofficial results.

Adena in Harrison and Jefferson counties and Glouster, Jacksonville and Trimble in Athens passed local ordinances lessening the penalties for misdemeanor marijuana possession of 200 grams or less to no jail time and the lowest fine allowed.

Ohio decriminalized marijuana in the 1970s with a law making possession of a small amount – less than 100 grams – a minor misdemeanor that carries no jail time but a fine. A bill pending in the Ohio House would extend that to 200 grams, or about 7 ounces.

The local measures decriminalize possession of 200 grams or less and marijuana paraphernalia, with no jail time or fines. The four communities have a combined population of about 3,300.

They join 18 other jurisdictions that have enacted decriminalization measures of varying degrees since 2015, either at the ballot box or by the city council. Those include large cities such as Cincinnati and Columbus, as well as Norwood near Cincinnati and Newark in central Ohio.

But not all measures have been embraced by local law enforcement. Norwood police instead cite possession under state law.

Activists had a longer list of local decrim measures in the works this year. But novel coronavirus pandemic-related event cancellations and stay-home orders made it difficult to collect the required number of signatures from voters to qualify for the ballot. A statewide recreational marijuana legalization measure was also in the works but stalled in March for the same reason.

Five states legalized marijuana for adult or medicinal use. South Dakota voters made history Tuesday by approving measures for both in the same election. Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota join 11 recreational marijuana states. Mississippi joined 34 states that have legalized medical marijuana.

The Ohio legislature legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and sales began in January 2019.

The push to reduce penalties for marijuana possession in Ohio notched four wins on Tuesday.