Despite the rapidly changing shape of the federal government, cannabis legalization is pushing forward. Last year, several states legalized marijuana for recreational use, joining the small, select club that kicked it off. And though the incoming presidential administration has many in the industry (and those that support it) justifiably spooked, it doesn’t appear that any momentum has been lost.
That momentum looks to carry on into 2017 and 2018. The next big election push will be during the midterms in November 2018, but like Ohio did last year, some states may try to jump the gun. In the states that have legalized cannabis, the rewards have been obvious. Jobs are being created by the thousands, and state coffers are filling with tax revenue.
Not to mention that state resources are being freed up — especially on the law enforcement side of things.
For these reasons and others, legislators nationwide are looking for ways to sell legalization. A majority of the population now is in support of ending cannabis prohibition. So, if there was ever a time to seize the initiative, this is it. Still, there are plenty of barriers and obstacles to getting legislation passed or even on a ballot. But as legalization spreads from coast to coast, lawmakers are feeling the itch. After all, have you ever met a politician that didn’t like money?
2016: A recap
2016 was, without a doubt, the biggest year for marijuana yet. Though the start of the legalization push was in 2012 when voters in Colorado and Washington passed legislation, 2016 saw California and a slew of others follow suit. As it stands, the entire west coast has legalized cannabis. And it’s officially spilled over to the east coast — Maine and Massachusetts joined Washington D.C. with legalization laws, too.
The big hiccup, of course, was the election of Donald Trump to the presidency. While Trump has sent mixed signals on where he stands in terms of legalizing marijuana, his cabinet nominees and appointments leave a lot to be desired. Specifically, Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has been a big opponent of marijuana throughout his career.
Cannabis is still federally illegal, meaning that even if you’re in a legal state, you’d be violating federal law by using or possessing the drug. During the Obama years, the federal government was more or less instructed to look the other way. That wasn’t really an official policy, though — and under Trump, it could change. That’s what has a lot of people on edge; we really don’t know what’s going to happen.
Despite Trump now residing in the White House, it appears many states will continue to push for legalization. Here are eight states that could do so this year, or at least lay the groundwork for a ballot measure in 2018.
Aside from California, which legalized cannabis last year, Texas is the biggest domino left on the board. It has a huge population, large cities, and a diverse set of cultures, making it very influential on the national stage. It also appears that hardline stances against marijuana are softening within the state. According to local Texas news sources, a plethora of legalization bills are flooding the state legislature. It’s seemingly only a matter of time before the levy breaks.
2. New Mexico
Breaking Bad’s Walter White may not be stoked, but his home state of New Mexico seems apt to legalize marijuana in the near future. The idea is being kicked around by state legislators as they deal with big budget shortfalls. Plans to reveal a bill later this year have been announced by Democratic state senators, but they do face staunch Republican opposition.
The sleepy, small state of Delaware evidently wants a piece of the action. State lawmakers started digging into it last year, and have even crafted legislation that closely mirrors that in other states. The reason for it? Lawmakers are pushing the idea in order to help shore up budget gaps.
The state of Missouri has already decriminalized marijuana possession. And in 2016, advocacy groups were close to actually getting legalization on the ballot for voters. They came up short, but it looks like they’re redoubling their efforts. Medical marijuana proposals are on the table, and if things don’t get pushed through in 2017, it looks like 2018 will be the target year for voters.
Virginia’s governor has discussed the idea of legalizing cannabis and has even said he supports medical marijuana laws. The hang-up? He doesn’t think the state legislature has “the guts” to put a bill on his desk. The data shows that most Virginia residents support legalization, which may sway lawmakers as we head into 2017 and 2018.
6. Rhode Island
Taking a cue from its neighbor, the state of Massachusetts, lawmakers in Rhode Island are expressing interest in legalizing cannabis. The state’s governor and other key figures have been weighing the pros and cons, and are evidently very interested in the potential tax revenue that legalization would bring in.
7. New Jersey
New Jersey’s Governor Chris Christie has come out in staunch opposition to legalization, a fact that has made him largely unpopular — more unpopular than almost any other governor in the country. And that means doing things that he hates is popular. State lawmakers have gone to other states to see how legalization is shaping up across the country, leaving them convinced this is the way to go. Hence, it comes as no surprise that the wheels appear to be in motion for legalization bills either this year or next in the state of New Jersey.
Though Vermont legislators killed a legalization bill last year, it looks like they’ll be revisiting the idea very soon. Massachusetts and Maine both voted for ending prohibition in 2016, softening the ground a bit for New England states to pursue similar laws. There’s a renewed push following the last election, even going against the sitting Governor’s desires.