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A Brief History of Cannabis Legalization: AZ, MD, MN, NM & NY

The legalization of cannabis has made astonishing leaps and bounds in the last five years, but as you know, it’s hardly a done deal. While the tide of individual states ratifying pro-cannabis legalization shows no signs of slowing, there are no clear signals that federal prohibition is ending anytime soon.

But rather than speculate on where cannabis should be, we’d prefer to look back at the history of legalization in a few key states and appreciate just how far we’ve come. So with that in mind, let’s embark on a mini-tour of a few of the states that have championed cannabis thus far, with a thought towards where they might find themselves in the next few years.

History of Legalization: Arizona

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In November of 2020, The Grand Canyon State made history when it joined the 11 states that had already legalized adult-use cannabis. Proposition 207 is expected to be certified by the end of 2020, with legal sales starting in the spring of 2021.

Prior to that, Arizona voters had approved medical cannabis, though it hadn’t been without challenges. After 65% of voters approved an initial medical cannabis bill back in 1996, legislators quickly vetoed it. Another voter referendum overturned the veto, but technicalities with the bill’s wording rendered the referendum null and void. Finally, 2010’s Proposition 203 squeaked by to grant Arizonans access to medical cannabis.

History of Legalization: Maryland

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Maryland legalized medical cannabis in 2014, with the first dispensaries opening their doors three years later. But the topic of cannabis justice is a hot one in the state, which currently has the fifth-highest cannabis possession arrest rate in the nation. That’s one reason advocates and activists are pushing for legalization of adult-use cannabis as well. Some industry-watchers believe that 2021 will be the year the Free State goes all-in on cannabis

History of Legalization: Minnesota

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The Land of 10,000 Lakes has toyed with cannabis decriminalization since 1976 when it reduced the penalty for a small amount of cannabis to a petty misdemeanor. 2014 saw the passage of a medical cannabis bill, with some additional conditions added to the notably restrictive initial list of qualifying conditions. Right now, it doesn’t appear that adult-use cannabis is on the table. 

History of Legalization: New Mexico

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New Mexico was actually the very first state to allow very limited medical cannabis use back in 1978, but residents had to wait until 2007 for a broader medical cannabis law to take effect. Like Minnesota, the limited list of qualifying conditions has been expanded since then. 

As of late 2020, the state appears poised to join the adult-use cannabis throng. While a legislative push stalled in 2019 and 2020, the governor has appointed a legalization policy task force, and many in the industry are confident the Land of Enchantment could soon become the Land of Fully Legal Cannabis. 

History of Legalization: New York

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Like Minnesota, New York moved to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis back in the 1970s. After cannabis-related arrests began to rise in the 1990s—and many lawmakers and citizens became outraged that the vast majority of those arrested were Black and Latino, despite their only constituting a minority of actual users—NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio directed the NYPD to issue tickets rather than arrest people for cannabis use. That same year—2014—Governor Andrew Cuomo signed medical cannabis legalization into law. Interestingly, the Empire State is one of the few in which smoked cannabis flower is not permitted.

That may soon change. More recently, Governor Cuomo has urged the state legislature to study the possibility of adult-use legislation. Many believe the state will be ready to allow it as soon as 2021, especially as neighboring New Jersey approved adult-use cannabis on November 3rd, 2020, the same day as did Arizona.