Words by Jason Barker
Voters in eight states passed marijuana legalization laws following the 2016 presidential election, giving the legalization movement the required momentum for more states across the country to carry out discussions on the decriminalization of cannabis in 2017.
Here are seven states to watch that are gearing up to legalize cannabis in 2017:
The recreational legalization of cannabis is expected to be discussed by the state’s officials in early 2017. Sen. Margaret Rose Henry, during a Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting in October 2016, said: “It’s time to certainly look at it.”
The state lawmaker has pledged to introduce a bill legalizing the adult use of cannabis, and a recent University of Delaware poll shows that 61 percent of residents surveyed support legalization, according to recent reports from the Delaware State News and The Wilmington News Journal.
The senator is responsible for drafting the state’s medical cannabis bill and Delaware’s Democratic Governor-elect John Carney also supports the decriminalization of marijuana in his state.
Delaware decriminalized cannabis last year, which means those caught with small amounts of the drug are slapped with a civil fine instead of a criminal offense. The Legislature also has eased some penalties for drug possession.
After neighboring state Massachusetts fully legalized cannabis for adults over 21, Rhode Island is expecting cannabis legalization in 2017.
“We’re looking at it,” said Rhode Island Gov. Raimondo, Providence Journal reported on Oct. 29. “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 favor.”
Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio, who was one of the high-ranking cosponsors of last year’s cannabis legalization bill, said he had a feeling last year that Massachusetts would sign on to legalization. Recently, he said the right “restrictions” need to be in place “in the event that … we in the Assembly decide to pass something related to that subject or we put it on a referendum.”
In a recent editorial written by Sen. Josh Miller and Rep. Scott Slater, tells residents of Rhode Island the primary reasons for cannabis legalization and it’s benefits –
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.
Despite Gov. Chris Christie being opposed to cannabis legalization, lawmakers are ready to explore the possibility. Bills to tax and regulate marijuana were introduced in the New Jersey Assembly by both Democrat (Reed Gusciora) and Republican (Michael Patrick Carroll) lawmakers in 2016. In addition, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have travelled to Colorado to learn more about legalization there and were excited by what they learned. Stephen Sweeney, the Senate President, said: “I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated. It’s safe, it’s well managed.” He also declared that lawmakers “intend to move quickly” to pass a bill as soon as Gov. Chris Christie leaves office; his promised veto seems to be the only remaining impediment to progress in New Jersey.
Gov. Christie recently said, “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 is out of touch with his constituents, however; 58% of New Jerseyans support replacing prohibition with regulation according to a 2015 poll, and Gov. Christie’s approval ratings are at a near-record low of 19%.
After visiting Colorado in October to evaluate the impact that legalization has had on the state, Sen. Nicholas Scutari, who was a part of the delegation, expects a vote in 2017.
“We want to learn from their experiences and improve on it as much as we can. This is not a joke… this is big money and it’s great savings to the state,” Scutari said, according to local news source NJ.com.
Texas is making decriminalization a priority on its 2017 lawmaking agenda. State officials will consider reducing charges for possession by adopting a model that fines people $250 without giving them a criminal record.
Five cannabis related items are on the table for the 85th Session. State Senator José Rodríguez and state Representatives Moody, Dutton and White have all sponsored legislation this session making it easier to use cannabis and lessen penalties if a person is caught.
Last year, Texas passed the Compassionate Use Act, which was intended to allow access to low-THC cannabis for those with intractable epilepsy. This year for 2017, Senator Menéndez (D-San Antonio) pre-filed SB 269, a comprehensive medical cannabis bill. Sen. Menéndez’s bill will make several improvements, including fixing a fatal flaw in the bill, allowing cannabis with any amount of THC, and expanding the law to include other qualifying conditions.
As Senator Menéndez says, “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.”
“The time of laughing and snickering about marijuana and marijuana cigarettes is over. We’ve got serious businessmen who have approached me on this now and say they are taking it to the governor,” Sen. Perry Clark told The Courier-Journal last year.
Almost one year after filing the Cannabis Freedom Act, Kentucky State Senator Perry Clark has pre-filed a bill for the 2017 legislative season that pertains to legalizing cannabis in the state.
Filed in December 2016 for the January, 2017, legislative season, the new bill is called the Cannabis Compassion Act and is filed as BR 409. Nevertheless, little has changed between the wording of the proposed laws of 2015, 2016, and the new 2017 Cannabis Freedom Act.
The fact that recent elections have replaced some candidates could mean the newcomers are more receptive to cannabis legalization than their predecessors. Before the elections this year, Norml gave most of Kentucky’s congressional members a poor rating for their lack of support for any type of cannabis legalization. The exceptions are Republican pro-cannabis legalization advocates Senator Rand Paul and Representative Thomas Massie.
Rep. Bill McCamley has suggested the state could use cannabis legalization as a way to resolve New Mexico’s $600 million deficit and, according to a poll conducted by the Albuquerque Journal in October, 61 percent of New Mexico’s voters would support the recreational use of cannabis. With the newly-elected Democratic majority in both the New Mexico House and Senate, proponents of recreational cannabis predict several proposed bills will be discussed on the floor in the legislature at the next general session in early 2017.
One measure that was proposed by state representatives Bill McCamley (D) and Javier Martinez (D) at the special session called in September 2016 was HB-11, Cannabis Revenue And Freedom Act. A similar measure is expected to be pre-filled with the legislature soon.
“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 to KOB4.
Jerry Ortiz y Pino, D-Albuquerque, also believes legalizing recreational cannabis means new money into a poor state like New Mexico while at the same time stopping those who make purchases from the cartel. But his approach differs from McCamley’s. Ortiz y Pino wants to send the question directly to New Mexico voters.
State Sen. Cisco McSorley has pre-filled a Hemp measure for the upcoming legislative session in 2017, Senate Bill 6 to provide for the establishment of the New Mexico industrial hemp research and development fund.
Bernie Sanders home state of Vermont almost passed adult-use legalization in 2016 and is expected to take up the issue again in 2017. In February 2016, the Vermont Senate voted 17-12 to pass S.B. 241, which would have allowed adults ages 21 and older to use cannabis and regulated a tax system for cannabis-based products. The measure failed in the House, but according to the Marijuana Policy Project, Vermont will reconsider legislation in 2017, encouraged by neighboring states that are just a short drive away, such as Massachusetts and Maine passing cannabis legalization measures in 2016. This could convince new Republican governor Phil Scott to support legalization this year, as researchers found the state could potentially rake in up to $75 million annually in taxes by regulating cannabis. Vermont’s next legislative session is scheduled to open in January 2017, there will be a new House speaker and a new Senate leader.
Two lawmakers in Missouri have filed proposals for the upcoming 2017 legislation to legalize medical cannabis and create a comprehensive statewide medical cannabis program.The two bills, Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Jason Holsman (D), and Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Rob Schaaf (R), were pre-filed earlier in December 2016. With Republicans holding a super-majority in the state Senate, SB 153 could have the upper hand, however.
Passage of either of these bills could finally bring a true medical cannabis program to Missouri. In 2014, Missouri lawmakers passed a limited medical cannabis bill to allow some patients with intractable epilepsy access to products containing marijuana extracts with THC amounts below 0.3%.
Voters in Missouri narrowly missed out on a chance to vote on a comprehensive medical cannabis bill in the November elections when thousands of signatures collected by proponents were invalidated in court, leaving the measure off the ballot. Polling results released in June found that 62% of Missouri voters supported the referendum, with only 27% opposed, making it highly likely that it would have been approved by voters had they gotten the chance to do so. Senate Bill 56 is very similar to the proposal that would have appeared on the November ballot.