The Next 4 States to Legalize Cannabis

Momentum continues for the U.S. cannabis movement.

The industry was among the biggest winners on Election Day 2018. Voters approved recreational pot in Michigan — increasing the number of states with recreational laws to 10 — while Utah and Missouri both approved medicinal marijuana. A number of pro-pot governors won terms, paving the way for new cannabis laws in the coming years.

The industry even received a post-election gift. Jeff Sessions, the outspokenly anti-pot U.S. attorney general, finally resigned among mounting pressure from President Trump. While this political development obviously had nothing to do with cannabis, the departure of Sessions removes one of the largest threats to the country’s growing marijuana industry. It’s hard to imagine that whoever ultimately succeeds Sessions will have opinions on pot that are as dramatically outdated.

The future appears brighter than ever for U.S. cannabis as we head into 2019. With that in mind, here’s a look at states states that will have marijuana on the mind during legislative sessions in the new year.

1) New Jersey

In the 2017 election, The Garden State replaced outgoing Republican governor Chris Christie with Democrat Phil Murphy. The new governor included recreational cannabis as among the key items in his campaign platform. Murphy went as far as to say that he wanted a legal pot bill on his desk within 100 days of his taking office.

Unsurprisingly, that bill got delayed by necessary legislative hurdles. A year later, the legislation now looks imminent. New Jersey lawmakers have taken the time to construct a well-reasoned recreational cannabis law, which should find its way onto the governor’s desk in the near future. Odds are high that New Jersey will soon become the 11th state to approve legal cannabis.

2) New York

Once New Jersey enacts recreational laws, expect its neighbor up north to follow suit.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, had for years opposed efforts for legal pot. Then his views shifted in 2018 when he faced a stiff challenge in the state’s Democratic primary from Sex and the City actress Cynthia Nixon, who campaigned in favor of legalization.

Cuomo defeated Nixon, but not without acknowledging the substantial support she received for her pro-pot views. In response, Cuomo asked the New York Health Department for a study on the subject. The resulting 75-page report, published this past July, was overwhelmingly in favor of recreational cannabis.

The governor then launched a committee to write a bill recommending legalization. His office expects a formal, comprehensive proposal sometime in 2019. Things could move fast afterwards.

3) Illinois

In the Land of Lincoln, Democrat J.B. Pritzker soundly defeated incumbent governor, Republican Bruce Rauner, on Election Day 2018. Recreational marijuana was a large component of Pritzker’s platform. And the state’s House Speaker Michael Madigan has already announced his support for Pritzker’s legalization plan.

The goal is to begin debating potential legislation in January of 2019. How quickly a bill progresses from that remains to be seen. If New Jersey is any indication, Illinois should expect a finalized bill no sooner than 2020.

4) New Mexico

It’s a similar story to Illinois farther west in the Land of Enchantment.

Republican Governor Susana Martinez had been anti-pot, but was forced out by term limits. The election to replace her brought victory for Democrat Michelle Lujan Grisham, who is in favor of legalization. New Mexico House Speaker Brian Egolf, a Democrat, has given recreational cannabis a good chance to pass the House. The Senate, which leans more conservative, is a different story. However, even anti-pot members of that chamber may reportedly consider a legalization bill.

Elsewhere on the map, left-leaning states on the upper east coast will likely give legalization another serious look as recreational shops open in Massachusetts. This includes Rhode Island, Connecticut and Delaware. In the Midwest, expect to see another ballot initiative in Ohio in 2019 to seek legalization via voter approval.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Beverage Wholesaler magazine and Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz or Instagram @cheers_magazine. Read his recent piece The Future of Cannabis After Canadian Legalization.

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