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Several states in play to legalize marijuana this year through legislation

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  • Several states in play to legalize marijuana this year through legislation

    Marijuana legalization through state legislatures heated up in 2021, and that trend likely will continue this year as lawmakers in several states are expected to legalize either recreational or medical cannabis.

    The Northeast and mid-Atlantic states are in the spotlight for adult-use marijuana legislative activity, with Rhode Island the top candidate to approve a regulated commercial market, according to industry experts.

    Maryland lawmakers are expected to refer an adult-use legalization initiative to voters.

    Medical marijuana legalization is expected in Mississippi, where the state’s high court nixed a voter-approved referendum last May.

    Lawmakers in North and South Carolina also have a solid chance of legalizing medical cannabis, experts said.

    Meanwhile, industry officials and advocates are closing monitoring recreational and medical marijuana legalization efforts in other states across the country. (See map above.)

    The expected activity this year follows a strong 2021 when lawmakers in Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia legalized recreational marijuana markets that eventually are expected to generate more than $4.5 billion combined in annual revenue.

    Alabama lawmakers passed a medical marijuana measure.

    Several factors at play

    Karen O’Keefe, state policies director for the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, identified a number of factors driving lawmaker-led legalization:
    • Support for legalization has roughly doubled in the past decade, with most Americans now supporting recreational as well as medical marijuana. “By and large,” O’Keefe said, “elected officials are starting to realize that this is where the public (sentiment) is.”
    • Marijuana sales are generating large amounts of badly needed tax revenue for states.
    • Elected officials “now have had plenty of time to see the sky hasn’t fallen” with legalization, O’Keefe said.
    • Regional pressures are mounting, creating domino effects for lawmakers to act so their states won’t lose tax dollars to neighboring states where cannabis is legal.

    Rhode Island, for example, borders Massachusetts and Connecticut, both of which have legalized adult use.

    Massachusetts has a vibrant recreational market where retail sales are projected to reach $2 billion annually by 2024, according to the MJBizFactbook.

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