The subject as to additional north American States legalizing recreational and/or medical cannabis is more a case of when, rather than if. Following the monumental shift in US cannabis policy on the back of the November 2016 ballots, it is now seen as something of an inevitability that further states will head in the same direction. Indeed, the example being set by those that have already legalized cannabis is being watched extremely closely, as discussions continue in a number of states as to when and if to follow suit.
California in particular has long been seen as a bellwether state for the US – a standard-setter that will undoubtedly inspire others. So assuming things pan out as positively as expected on the west coast, it’s highly likely we’ll be seeing an even greater number of US states legalizing cannabis in one form or another soon enough.
Suffice to say, the US is fast carving out an incredible future for itself as the cannabis tourism destinations for global travellers.
But as far as the immediate future goes, which North American states are the most likely to legalize cannabis over the coming months?
Speaking at the Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting in October 2016, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry famously said “It’s time to certainly look at it.” The ‘it’ issue she was talking about was of course the legalization of recreational cannabis, which is expected to be brought up and discussed by state officials during the first half of 2017. Henry had previously promised to extensively overhaul recreational cannabis policy, in order to legalize the use of pot by residents of Delaware over the age of 21. Clearly echoing her own views on the subject, a poll carried out recently by the University of Delaware confirmed that approximately 61% of the state’s citizens would vote in favour of recreational cannabis legalization. Given the way in which the possession of small amounts of cannabis was decriminalized in Delaware last year, it is highly likely that this could be the first state of 2017 to give the full go-ahead to recreational pot. If not this year, almost certainly next.
While it had long been expected that Rhode Island would eventually overhaul its recreational cannabis policy, the fact that neighbouring Massachusetts has now done exactly that is only likely to speed things up. Massachusetts has given the green-light to recreational cannabis for anyone over the age of 21 – the state of Rhode Island is likely to do exactly the same at some point this year.
“We’re looking at it,” confirmed Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo late last year.
“If I could get myself comfortable that we, the state, could legalize in a way that keeps people safe, keeps children safe, folks aren’t getting sick, then I would be in favour.”
In addition, Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. Scott Slater, recently outlined the benefits of and motivation behind the potential legalization of cannabis – presumably a precursor to a change in legislation:
“To be clear, new jobs and tax revenue are not our primary motivations. Improving public health and safety by replacing an illicit market with a responsibly regulated legal market is our goal. In a regulated market, consumers know what they are getting and do not have to worry about dangerous pesticide levels or laced products. Workers in a regulated marijuana economy are not vulnerable to exploitation and have protections like Social Security and unemployment insurance. Communities also benefit from sales being moved from the streets into a regulated market made up of legitimate tax-paying businesses – not gangs and cartels.”
Gov. Chris Christie has made his strong opposition to cannabis decriminalization more than apparent throughout his career. “You’re d*%n right I’m the only impediment to legalizing marijuana. And I am going to remain the only impediment until January of 2018,” he recently blurted. However, key state officials have also made it clear that the subject of cannabis legalization is very much on the table. Which isn’t exactly surprising, given the fact that recent polls suggest that close to 60% of New Jersey residents would vote in favour of new legislation reversing current cannabis prohibition. Not only this, but a second poll suggests that approval ratings for Christie are once again approaching record lows, having plummeted to just 19%. This is clearly one governor that has completely lost touch with the priorities and sentiments of his constituents. Or in other words, if change doesn’t happen while he remains in office, it most certainly will after his departure.
Despite having traditionally been extremely strict when it comes to cannabis policy, state officials in Texas are known to be focusing on the decriminalization of cannabis as a key 2017 priority. As it stands, the possession of even a small amount of cannabis can result in criminal charges and a criminal record. Should proposed legislation be introduced, penalties for possession of cannabis in small amounts will be reduced to on the spot fines of $250 with no formal charges or criminal records being affected. But the decriminalization of cannabis in small amounts represents just one of five cannabis related issues currently under discussion in Texas. As it stands, Texas operates a medical cannabis system though one that is considered to be fatally flawed due to its extremely restrictive nature.
“Compassion should not be exclusive. Twenty-eight states have recognized the medical benefit of cannabis, including conservative states like Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota … It is time Texas steps up to the plate on behalf of our sickest patients,” commented Senator Menéndez.
Another state that could see things turned around significantly this year is Kentucky. Behind the scenes, the wheels are already turning and steering the state closer to recreational cannabis legalization than ever before. Kentucky State Senator Perry Clark has already prepared a bill that could bring cannabis legalization state-wide, in the form of the Cannabis Compassion Act. Though various long-standing and high-ranking officials have made clear their own objections to the prospect of cannabis legalization, polls suggest that public opinion strongly supports such measures.
The fact that New Mexico is currently facing a $600 million deficit represents just one of the reasons why cannabis legalization would make perfect sense for the state. Not only this, but a recent poll carried out revealed that more than 60% of citizens actively support the legalization of recreational cannabis. As such, the subject is to be discussed by state officials during the early stages of 2017 and could lead to legalization in the near future. In an interview with KOB4, state representative Bill McCamley highlighted the importance of taking back control of cannabis production and distribution.
“We want to take control of cannabis out of the hands of drug cartels in Mexico who are using profits to rape and murder people and put profits in the hands of legitimate business people and the government,” McCamley said.