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Election 2020: The State of Cannabis Legalization

The COVID-19 / Coronavirus pandemic aside, 2020 is still an election year, and it’s a major one. With several years of steady gains under its belt, the cannabis legalization movement is looking to expand. 

But while even a few months ago, many analysts predicted strong gains in 2020, as we’ll see, the pandemic is putting a major crimp in legislative and signature-gathering efforts.

With that in mind, will this be a banner year for legal marijuana, or is it just a—pardon the phrase—pipe dream? Here’s a state-by-state rundown of some of the places with cannabis on the ballot.  

Cannabis Legalization 2020: AZ

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Let’s start the list with a bang: 2020 is looking to be a very big year for MMJ in the Grand Canyon State. With at least one voter initiative to legalize adult-use cannabis expected on the November ballot—and at least two bills proposed by lawmakers working their way forward through the legislature before the session was suspended due to COVID-19—many advocates have hopes that this will be their year. That said, passage is far from assured. Several Republican lawmakers (and Governor Doug Ducey) have come out against adult-use cannabis. 

Cannabis Legalization 2020: MD

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In Maryland, the legislature has plenty of cannabis-related work to consider, even if it’s currently adjourned to COVID-19. A legislative workgroup convened last year decided not to recommend full legalization of cannabis in 2020; that said, many observers feel that legal weed in Maryland is less a question of “if” than “when.”

Cannabis Legalization 2020: MN

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After a statewide “Be Heard on Cannabis” tour and opportunity for stakeholder input, Minnesota’s House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler was expected to introduce a comprehensive legalization proposal. That was back in February. Since then, of course, much has changed (including the suspension of the legislature for much of the last six weeks). Unfortunately, it appears that cannabis is off the table this year, at least so far as lawmakers are concerned. A number of voter initiatives are gathering steam, but thus far, it’s unclear how far they’ll get before Election Day. Once again, it appears that fully legal weed may have to wait.   

Cannabis Legalization 2020: NM

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Cannabis Advocates in New Mexico were disappointed this past February when the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to table SB115, the Cannabis Regulation Act that would have allowed adult-use cannabis there. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham has stated that “legalized recreational cannabis in New Mexico is inevitable.” The only question, then, is: When?

Cannabis Legalization 2020: NY

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After a nail-biting but ultimately doomed push to get legal weed over the top in the Empire State last year, hopes were high, so to speak, that 2020 might be the year. Unfortunately, the emerging pandemic more or less consumed the legislature. Now, Governor Andrew Cuomo admits that the push for cannabis legalization in 2020 is “effectively over.” Same time, next year?

Cannabis Legalization 2020: OH

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Meanwhile in Ohio, a campaign entitled “Regulate Cannabis Like Alcohol” hit a snag when Attorney General Dave Yost rejected the group’s petition, saying the language wasn’t fair and accurate. In response, the group contends they’re still on track to submit a revised petition for approval on time to collect the roughly 443,000 signatures required to put the initiative to voters in November. The deadline is July 1, but will COVID-19 put an end to the drive? Stay tuned.  

Cannabis Legalization 2020: PA

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Late in February, Pennsylvania state Representative Jake Wheatly, Jr. introduced a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis. A follow-up to his failed House Bill 50 of 2019, this version incorporated suggestions and input from stakeholders all across the Keystone State, including significant criminal-justice and social reform components. Whether or not it will gain traction is an open question. In addition to stated objections from the Republican-controlled state Senate, the legislature has been largely suspended the last six weeks. However, democrat Governor Wolf does support legalization.

Cannabis Legalization 2020: RI

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Last year, Rhode Island’s pro-cannabis Governor Gina Raimondo inserted legalization language in her budget proposal for 2020, though it was thwarted by lawmakers. She tried it again in her proposed 2021 budget and suggested that if legislative buy-in fails to materialize, she may turn the question over to voters. In the meantime, two lawmakers have introduced legislation to expand the state’s existing MMJ program, including a hardship program for low-income patients and the expansion of industry opportunities for those with prior drug convictions.