Politics  The latest in cannabis legalization including laws and policies, legislators’ views, election coverage, and more.

Which States Are Most Likely to Legalize Cannabis Next?

Editor’s note: A lot has changed since we made our initial legalization predictions in December 2016 (which are listed at the bottom of this article). Be sure to check out Leafly’s final cannabis legalization results from the 2016 election, with live coverage from the Leafly News staff.

RELATED STORY
Final Election Predictions: Which States Will Legalize Cannabis Today?

Our Predictions for Legalization of Cannabis in the U.S.

Following a near-sweep of legalization votes in November 2016, cannabis advocates are looking to 2017 with great anticipation. It’s an off year, election-wise, but that doesn’t mean legalization supporters are resting. Vermont, which nearly passed adult-use legalization through its legislature last spring, is expected to take up the issue again when the next session opens in January. Michigan, Missouri, Delaware, and Rhode Island are also expected to see a lot of action in the coming 12 to 24 months.

Which states are most likely to legalize next? Here’s what we think could happen in 2017.

Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Likely in 2017

Green traffic light in city

VERMONT

In spring 2016, Vermont nearly became the first state to adopt adult-use legalization by a vote of the state legislature. We say nearly because, despite strong backing from the Vermont Senate, Gov. Peter Shumlin, and the current and former state attorneys general, S. 241 ultimately died in the House in late April. What killed it? Lack of grassroots pressure and a rising fear of cannabis contributing to the state’s opioid crisis.

RELATED STORY
Crash and Burn in Burlington: How Legalization Failed in Vermont

Six months later, Vermont legislators find themselves living in a changed landscape. Maine just voted to legalize adult-use cannabis. Vermont’s next-door neighbor to the south, Massachusetts, did the same. Although it is against the law to transport cannabis from a legal state to an illegal one, it’s not hard to imagine thousands of Vermonters doing just that, dropping $85 at retail cannabis stores in Massachusetts border towns like Northfield or Satan’s Kingdom (not a joke), and returning home to enjoy a pleasant weekend of syrup tapping.

Word to Vermont: You’re about to be watch millions of dollars of cannabis excise tax revenue and retail sales tax money drive out of your state.

Governor Peter Shumlin supported legalization, but his successor, Republican Lieutenant Governor Phil Scott, who will be taking over the office, has a more complicated stance on the topic. His belief in a hands-off approach from the government means, in his words, “I can appreciate the discussion around ending the prohibition of marijuana.” During the discussion of the failed S.241, he raised many concerns about the bill’s shortcomings. After coming so close in 2016, the sponsors of S. 241 may be ready to re-introduce the measure (or a revised version) when the next legislative session opens on Jan. 4, but hopefully, they will take the lessons learned from their past venture to improve the bill to make it stronger, better and more likely to earn support.

Vermonters may be more vocal about their support for legalization, and legislators may learn that researchers are finding cannabis legalization to be an effective tool in the fight against the opioid crisis.

RELATED STORY
How Cannabis Could Turn the Opioid Epidemic Around

RHODE ISLAND

Rhode Island is an example of a successful medical marijuana program with reciprocity for out-of-state certified patients, but does it have the support to legalize? A recent poll from Brown University found that 67 percent of Rhode Island voters support the state’s current medical marijuana program, and 55 percent of those polled supported passing a law to tax and regulate the use of cannabis by adults. The support was especially strong among voters under the age of 44, with 72 percent of those respondents strongly supporting such a change.

The state also took the prize for highest cannabis consumption rate for two years running—no small feat for the unassuming, 1,200-square-mile area. Regulate Rhode Island, the state’s legalization leader since 2013, pushed unsuccessfully for legislation in 2015 but will likely continue to build support with state lawmakers, forge coalitions with the Marijuana Policy Project, and grow grassroots campaigns.

After the success of Massachusetts’ legalization initiative, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said that she would take a closer look at legalization in her state but added that she remains concerned about public safety and how the law is drafted. Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello said he’s ready to take up legislation, namely because so many Rhode Islanders will likely cross the border to visit Massachusetts in the wake of their legalization, anyway. Legalization seems imminent for Rhode Island, so it’s a question more of when than whether.

RELATED STORY
Cannabis Consumption Increases in the U.S., with One Surprising State Taking the #1 Spot

DELAWARE

Delaware is certainly a curious case for cannabis. Although the state’s slightly larger than Rhode Island, when drafting its medical marijuana program the state health department severely restricted the number of dispensaries. Now, five years after medical marijuana became legal, there’s still only a single dispensary to serve the entire state.

The state has seen sharp growth in the number of registered patients, jumping from just 700 patients in November 2015 to a total of 2,023 patients a year later. In order to account for the rising number of patients, the First State Compassion Center, which runs the state’s only operational dispensary, received approval from the state to open a new facility in Sussex County that will open as early as January. State officials also awarded a licensed to New York-based Columbia Care for a dispensary in Kent County, which should open by mid-2017.

Delaware’s recent gubernatorial race could also affect its speed to legalize. During the 2016 election, the Republican candidate for governor, Sen. Colin Bonini, surprised Congress by announcing that he would support a legalization bill, saying the state has all but legalized cannabis already. His Democratic opponent and the ultimate victor of the election, John Carney, is more reluctant to support full legalization, stating Delaware should watch to see how other newly legal states fare before making concrete steps towards adult use.

A poll out of the University of Delaware’s Center for Political Communication found that 61 percent of Delaware respondents support legalizing cannabis for adults, but backing by the governor’s office would certainly smooth the road to legalization.

 

Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization Likely in 2018

Yellow traffic light in city

MICHIGAN

Michigan advocates have made multiple attempts to legalize cannabis over the years, including one in 2016 that fell short on signatures. The state could very well make a successful push in the future—but don’t expect voters to consider a ballot measure until 2018.

The Mitten State has had legal medical cannabis since 2008, but the law as it was written left much to be desired. Since then, there have been revisions to the law to clarify gray areas pertaining to dispensaries and other cannabis products.

A measure to legalize cannabis was proposed earlier this year, but it failed to gather enough signatures for the Michigan Marijuana Legalization Initiative to be placed on the November ballot. Advocates are expected to craft a new measure aimed at the state’s 2018 ballot. “The next election’s already started for us,” MI-Legalize Executive Director Jeff Hank told a Michigan radio station just days after last week’s election, adding that the group expects to begin a petition drive in April. They’ll need to collect 250,000 signatures within a state-mandated 180-day window to put adult-use legalization on the ballot.

RELATED STORY
Michigan Senate Approves Medical Marijuana Tax, Regulations

MISSOURI

Missouri’s local advocacy group, Show-Me Cannabis, has repeatedly pushed for both medical and adult-use measures, including the Missouri Recreational Marijuana Legalization Initiative earlier this year. Unfortunately, the group this year failed to meet a deadline to submit the necessary 157,788 signatures to put that measure on the November ballot.

Another group, New Approach Missouri, also submitted signatures for a medical marijuana initiative in 2016. But Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander invalidated more than 10,000 of those signatures in the final days, leaving the group 2,242 signatures shy of the target. Kander later came out in support of medical cannabis, urging the Legislature to step up and legalize medical cannabis through the General Assembly.

As with their compatriots in Michigan, cannabis advocates in Missouri are looking to regroup in 2017 and work to put a medical or adult-use measure on the ballot in 2018. “We ended up missing [the ballot] by just a few signatures, and we are going strong and going to try for 2018,” NORML KC Executive Director Jamie Kacz told StJoeChannel.com. NORML KC, the Kansas City chapter of NORML, helped support New Approach’s medical initiative during the past year.

RELATED STORY
Missouri Medical Marijuana Effort Falls Short on Signatures for Ballot

MARYLAND

Ah, Maryland, home of “The Wire,” delicious blue crabs, and—coming soon to a county near you—medical marijuana dispensaries. Former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley played the good guy in 2015 by decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis.

Maryland’s embattled medical marijuana program, signed into law in 2014, has faced countless delays. Earlier this year, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission approved the first 15 cultivation and processing companies but allegedly failed to consider racial diversity among the candidates—a mandatory provision of the law. The approvals sparked lawsuits, resulting in further delays, which means that medical patients will likely have to wait until mid-2017 before seeing wider availability of legal medical cannabis.

The question now is whether or not Maryland is ready to take up recreational cannabis. State lawmakers introduced the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, a pair of companion bills in the House and Senate, but with no action on them, they died in committee. That’s not for lack of support: An October 2016 Washington Post poll found that 61 percent of Maryland voters favor legalizing the possession of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

RELATED STORY
Maryland Patients Still Waiting on Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana Legalization Likely in 2017 or 2018

Red stop light in city

MISSOURI

Missouri’s local advocacy group, Show-Me Cannabis, has repeatedly pushed for both medical and adult-use cannabis measures, including the Missouri Recreational Marijuana Legalization Initiative earlier this year. Unfortunately, the group failed to meet a deadline to submit the necessary 157,788 signatures to put that measure on the November ballot.

Another group, New Approach Missouri, also submitted signatures for a medical marijuana initiative in 2016. But Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander invalidated more than 10,000 of those signatures in the final days, leaving the group 2,242 signatures shy of the target. Kander later came out in support of medical cannabis and urged the legislature to step up and pass medical cannabis through the Missouri General Assembly.

As with their compatriots in Michigan, cannabis advocates in Missouri are looking to regroup in 2017 and work to put a medical or adult-use measure on the ballot in 2018. “We ended up missing [the ballot] by just a few signatures, and we are going strong and going to try for 2018,” NORML KC Executive Director Jamie Kacz told StJoeChannel.com. NORML KC, the Kansas City chapter of NORML, helped support New Approach’s medical initiative during the past year.

RELATED STORY
Missouri Medical Marijuana Effort Falls Short on Signatures for Ballot

TEXAS

Texas may seem like an unusual state to make this list, but believe it or not, Texans love their cannabis. The state legalized a limited CBD program, and medical legalization seems to be drawing close on the horizon. Advocacy groups have begun popping up in support, such as Texans for Responsible Marijuana Policy and Republicans Against Marijuana Prohibition (RAMP), the latter of which works within the GOP to educate and connect with lawmakers about cannabis.

The Lone Star State also has pockets of liberal voices in cities like Austin, which has a thriving culture and music scene and has long been bastions of cannabis tolerance. However, the biggest challenge to legalizing cannabis in any form in Texas will be the conservative Legislature. Statements like that of Sen. Donna Campbell—who famously told a veteran with PTSD who was seeking cannabis treatment that “We already legalized medical cannabis”—show the state still has a ways to go before cannabis makes it into the mainstream.

NORTH CAROLINA

North Carolina may be a bit of a long shot for outright legalization, but they’re looking ripe for a medical movement. Gov. Pat McCrory signed a limited CBD law into effect in 2014, and North Carolina legislators proposed House Bill 983 earlier this year to expand medical marijuana access and add qualifying conditions. The bill was proposed by Republican Rep. Greg Murphy, and although it didn’t make it out of committee, we’re confident it won’t be the last, either.

RELATED STORY
America’s 2016 Cannabis Laws and Legalization State Map


How Did Leafly’s 2016 Legalization Predictions Fare?

Want to check out Leafly’s predictions for legalization in 2016? Here’s the list – see how we did:

States We Thought Were a Sure Thing for Adult-Use Legalization in 2016

NEVADA

Nevada’s was the first state campaign to officially gather the required number of signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot, submitting 170,000 signatures last December. In November of 2016, 54.4 percent of voters approved Question 2 to legalize cannabis for adult use in Nevada.

RELATED STORY
Legalization in Nevada: Here’s What Happens Next

CALIFORNIA

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which was endorsed by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and several major cannabis advocacy groups, made history on November 8, 2016, with 55.8 percent of voters in favor of Proposition 64.

RELATED STORY
California Just Legalized Cannabis! Now Comes the Hard Part

ARIZONA

When Arizona voted to legalize medical marijuana in 2010, the initiative won by a measly 4,000 votes, which did not bode well for the state’s recreational legalization initiative, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in Arizona. Unfortunately, Arizona’s legalization initiative was the only marijuana-related initiative on the general election ballot that did not win. It was narrowly defeated with 52.2 percent of Arizonans voting against it.

MAINE

The state’s legalization initiative, the Marijuana Legalization Act, to allow anyone over the age of 21 to legally possess up to 2 ½ ounces and grow up to 12 plants for personal use was one of the last measures to finally roll in, as ballots were painstakingly counted by hand. In the end, 50.17 percent of Mainers voted in favor, giving the measure just enough edge to pass.

RELATED STORY
Ayuh, Maine Just Legalized Cannabis! Now What Happens?

States We Thought Could Possibly Try to Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in 2016

CONNECTICUT

There were two legalization initiatives considered during the 2015 legislative session that eventually stalled, and Connecticut cops are already preparing for legalization as an inevitability, but ultimately 2016 was not the year for Connecticut.

MICHIGAN

The Michigan Cannabis Coalition created a legalization initiative but it did not gain traction, and while the group MI Legalize was on track to collect 252,000 signatures before the June deadline in order to qualify for the 2016 ballot, they fell short of meeting the deadline.

RHODE ISLAND

Regulate Rhode Island, the state’s legalization leader, pushed unsuccessfully for 2015 legislation and could very well be ready to carry the fight for legalization over into the upcoming years.

RELATED STORY
Pew Poll: Support for Cannabis Legalization Keeps on Rising

States We Didn’t Think Would Legalize Adult-Use Cannabis in 2016

DELAWARE

in 2015, Delaware Governor Jack Markell decriminalized the possession of cannabis for personal use. As a result, although there has been a lot of talk about possible legalization in the state, but the cannabis decriminalization was enough to appease the masses for now.

MARYLAND

The question now of whether or not Maryland is ready to contend with recreational cannabis yet has more to do with the long-delayed implementation of their medical marijuana program. In 2015, state lawmakers introduced the Marijuana Control and Revenue Act of 2015, a pair of companion bills in the House and Senate, but they died in committee. It would probably be wise to work out the kinks of a functioning medical program before opening up a new can of worms with recreational legalization.

MASSACHUSETTS

We couldn’t be happier about being wrong! Massachusetts faced heavy opposition in the efforts to legalize in the Bay State. Governor Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, and Attorney General Maura Healey all came out against the measure. Despite the well-funded opposition campaign, Massachusetts proved to be as tough and scrappy as their voters when Question 4 to legalize cannabis for adult use passed with 53.6 percent of the vote.

RELATED STORY
Massachusetts Just Legalized. Now What?

NEW YORK

The Empire State’s medical program has only barely come into the light, but Senator Liz Krueger (D-NY), cosponsor and author of the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act, introduced in 2015, seems determined to continue to push for an end to cannabis prohibition in New York. The medical program needs some tweaks and changes before legalization should seriously be considered.

MISSOURI

Missouri was able to pass a cannabis extract law and the Missouri Department of Agriculture even issued licenses for two non-profit organizations. With that in mind, it’s fairly implausible that Missouri will be able to successfully transition from a severely limited CBD program to full recreational legalization. Maybe someday, but for now, the Show-Me State can show us stronger support than just 36 percent in favor of legalization. Do I sense, perhaps, an expanded medical marijuana program in Missouri’s future?

VERMONT

Vermont’s legalization seemed all but a sure thing. Governor Peter Schumlin had been watching Colorado very closely, even going so far as to organize meetings on the logistics of legalizing cannabis for recreational purposes from a regulatory perspective. S.241 passed through the Senate, but died during a vote from the House. Legalization will have to wait for the Green Mountain State.