Even with 2019 marking the beginning of a notable election, marijuana legalization campaigns were able to accomplish many of their goals. After 2018 saw five states increase access to cannabis, many states abandoned waiting for broad approval from Congress and began legalizing the plant on their own through ballot measures and legalization. As of December 2019, thirty-three states have legalized medical use and eleven more have approved adult recreational use.

The legalization efforts go beyond just states that normally vote blue – Missouri and South Dakota are beginning to warm up to the idea of legalization. Democrats and conservative Republicans in these states are beginning to see eye to eye – making it a bipartisan issue.

Some states may not have to worry if opposing political parties can work together by putting legalization on the ballot in November. New Jersey and South Dakota are two of those states, even though people still could be prosecuted if they drive across state lines with the product, due to cannabis being banned federally. Ballot measures also don’t just include legalization – Montana is looking to place a ballot initiative that will restrict cannabis to those over 21 since Montana’s state constitution defines adulthood at 18.

States that know legalization will take time have begun to appoint marijuana task forces to put together a detailed map to legalization. The goal is to take the patchwork of regulations that currently exist, look at the failures of past states, formulate a plan, and present to divided statehouses. Short legislative sessions combined with complex president contests, however, take focus away from legalization and these task force efforts.

How much harder is getting a ballot initiative on the ballot as opposed to passing legislation? Most of the time, it’s up to public approval. Organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project must not only gather the number of signatures needed (which varies state to state) but also must vet those hundreds of thousands of signatures. If too many signatures are fake, the initiative is thrown out and the process starts again.

Many legalization campaigns are beginning to focus on a possible domino effect that’s beginning to happen on the East Coast. Even New Hampshire, a state who’s behind the times in legalization, is beginning to pass bills to decriminalize small amounts of cannabis and allows a qualified patient to begin to grow up to three mature plants. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo invited New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Connecticut Governors  (notably, all Democrats) to a summit in October to coordinate adult-use legalization efforts. This included licensing, taxation, and minority and small business participation, and the beginning of a template for other states to use while working towards legalization.

Legalization also doesn’t just end at the ballot box or the Governor’s signature. States like Illinois are taking their efforts to expunge criminal records for low-level cannabis offenses. The state also established 30 million in low-interest loans for entrepreneurs from areas hit by the controversial War on Drugs. Minnesota plans to do the same – by creating cannabis apprenticeships and loans to help communities hit by anti-drug laws. Only time will tell if these laws will be able to pass Republican-held legislatures.


Do you know where your state is in the legalization process – and what’s coming next? To get a jump start into 2020, partner with us today.

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