The future is notoriously difficult to predict, especially when it involves the legislative process.
In November, voters in all five states with cannabis on the ballot elected for reform, generally reflecting public opinion. But the next round of legalization is taking place in states where legalization has to win approval from lawmakers.
In numerous markets, there’s momentum to legalize REC, propelled by pressure from neighboring states and the belief that pot taxes can relieve Covid-related economic concerns. But each has its own potential variables which could delay or derail the process.
Here’s a guide to the most likely states to legalize in coming months:
Amid New Jersey’s recent legalization and New York’s push to follow suit, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont(D) wants to join the party. He has released a bill that would legalize REC, with sales to begin in Spring 2022. However it’s taking flack from the left which says it doesn’t do enough for equity — including creating ways for small business owners to enter the space — and from legalization opponents in the corporate world and medical establishment. Lamont’s team has indicated an openness to making the bill more equitable.
Kevin Graney, president of military contractor General Dynamics Electric Boat, one of the state’s biggest private employers, has suggested that legalizing in the state could impede his company’s ability to win military contracts. While it’s not clear that this has happened in other legal states, it’s the kind of statement that can give lawmakers pause. The legislative session ends in June.
Insiders are watching a Maryland legalization bill which would create some of the most significant provisions for equity of any U.S. market. It’s passage isn’t assured however. Among the usual issues that arise as a state debates legalization, Maryland’s MED commissioner expressed concerns about it making the state the only one to regulate REC and MED separately.
Another big question mark: Maryland is the only state on this list with a Republican Governor. Last year, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed a bill that would have blocked low-level cannabis offenders from being added to a publicly available database, though he said his position wasn’t related to the substance of the bill. He’s been cagey on REC but seems to recognize the inevitable, saying, “At this point, I think it’s worth taking a look at.”
The Land of Enchantment legalized MED in 2007, and after years of back and forth on REC, is among the most likely states to make it happen this year. An REC bill which would direct substantial tax revenues to equity passed the state’s House of Representatives last week. Subsequently, the state Senate began debating competing bills, which are at odds over issues including how the industry would be structured. Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham(D) has touted the economic benefits of legalizing, but legislators will have to act fast: the year’s session ends on March 20.
Both Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Democrats in the state legislature want to legalize this year, and it could happen as soon as this month, during the state’s budget approval process. However, the two sides remain at odds over what bill to pass. The more progressive Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act (MRTA), among other variables, would allocate a larger portion of the tax revenue to social justice-related causes. In February Cuomo moved in their direction with a bill that reserves more money for equity and would allow delivery licenses, a business type more available to mom and pop entrepreneurs.
However, it’s not clear if Cuomo’s proposal will be enough to satisfy the liberal caucus which has until the end of the legislative session, in June, to pass a bill. Additionally, with Cuomo under fire for how he dealt with nursing home Covid deaths and several sexual harassment claims, progressives may not be in the mood to compromise. There’s talk that they could pre-emptively pass a bill in coming weeks.
As with other states, legalization has been a live issue in Rhode Island for several years. It hasn’t gotten across the finish line, but 2021 could be different.
Gov. Gina Raimondo(D), who took office in 2015, was a reluctant legalization supporter. In 2019, with Massachusetts legal and the rest of the region not far behind, she proposed a framework that would have proposed legalizing but under strict terms. Among them the state would have run the industry, a structure no other U.S. market has tried. She also proposed a ban on concentrates and growing at home.
This week, the U.S. Senate confirmed Raimondo as Commerce Secretary and she has been replaced by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee who says the state is ready to go legal. He’s also open to industry running the market. Leaders of both houses of the state legislature have also signalled openness to the prospect.
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