In a recent post we explored where things stood at the federal level with respect to marijuana decriminalization and legalization. The takeaway was that the focus on criminal justice reform and economic variables continue to propel cannabis to the forefront of a national discussion. Here, we take a look at the states and some new dominos look ready to topple.
The biggest news comes out of Pennsylvania where Governor Tom Wolf (D) just called for legalizing recreational marijuana sales as part of his fall legislative agenda. This call is the culmination of a robust existing medical market ($400 -$500 million in sales and more than 306,000 patients), significant focus on criminal justice reform and social equity, and of course, the need for an economic boost. Interestingly, even before the Covid-19 pandemic, Pennsylvania’s Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (a proponent of legalization) traveled to every county in the state to gather feedback on marijuana policy. His report found that a whopping 68% of Pennsylvanians support adult-use legalization, with many citing the economic potential of a new industry.
Like Illinois (the first state to legalize adult use through legislation), Pennsylvania is looking to recreational marijuana to provide additional revenue as the state recovers from the coronavirus crisis. Governor Wolf also wants to see additional criminal justice reforms aimed at helping those with marijuana convictions and a portion of marijuana revenues directed toward “restorative justice programs that give priority to repairing the harm done to crime victims and communities as a result of marijuana criminalization,” his office said. The proposed legalization bill in the Pennsylvania Senate has a 17.5% sales tax and directs the money toward an “adult-use cannabis fund” to be managed by the state. That tax revenue would go towards regulation costs and awarding business grants and loans, and any remaining funds would be distributed to school districts across the state. This legislative effort will surely run into opposition, but the sentiment seems to be that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle prefer marijuana legalization to broad-based tax increases so the prospect here is promising.
The more traditional route for marijuana legalization at the state level has been through ballot initiative. To that end, voters in Montana, Mississippi, and South Dakota will face not one, but two marijuana questions at the ballot box this November.
In Montana, which has had a medical marijuana market since 2016 (legalized through a ballot initiative), voters will have the option of two recreational marijuana initiatives: one statutory initiative, Initiative 190, to legalize adult-use marijuana, the other a constitutional amendment, CI-118, to set the legal age at 21.
In Mississippi, Initiative 65 would set up a regulated medical marijuana market that would serve qualifying patients with debilitating illnesses. Initiative 65 does not contain a cap on marijuana licenses, it limits the amount of marijuana a patient can possess, and bars medical marijuana treatment centers from being located close to schools, churches or childcare centers. The second option, Initiative 65A, would legalize medical marijuana, but contains fewer regulatory details and is less concrete about the way that a market would be set up. It also limits the number of licenses available (but does not specify a number) and instructs the program to limit the “categories of marijuana preparation.”
In South Dakota both medical and recreational marijuana legalization initiatives will be on the ballot. Measure 26 is a statutory initiative to set up a regulated medical marijuana program. Amendment A is a constitutional amendment to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana. Remarkably, this is the first time both medical and recreational proposals will be on the ballot simultaneously in a single U.S. state.
Some states will face stronger opposition campaigns than others, and competing ballot initiatives could to be confusing to voters and possibly have the effect of diluting the vote on legalization. Nevertheless, the much needed economic boost that comes with legalization during these unprecedented times is cause for optimism on legalization efforts. All eyes remain on the upcoming election in November.
Please check out our blog for developments in the cannabis industry. Also, visit our COVID-19 Resource Center for up-to-date information to help you stay informed of the legal issues related to COVID-19.