Before November, 2016 – only about 5% of the country’s population lived in a state with legal recreational marijuana. After the 2016 election, another four states joined the ranks – raising the percentage of U.S. citizens with access to recreational marijuana fourfold, to 20%. That means that 1 in 5 Americans now live in a state where voters have decided to legalize recreational cannabis.
And Americans are not just voting their minds at the ballot box. According to the industry research firm The Arcview Group, American consumers spent more than $6 billion on legal cannabis products in 2016 – up 34% from the previous year. And that’s not counting the new players in the market like California and Massachusetts. With these new adult use markets opening up, The Arcview Group predicts marijuana sales will generate more than $22 billion in revenue by 2021.
So which states are next?
While taking into account the local political climate, public opinion, previous legislative attempts and the word on the street, here are our best predictions as to which states will legalize marijuana next…
If New Jersey’s next Governor is a Democrat (Christie term is up), it’s highly likely recreational marijuana will be legalized in New Jersey in 2018. With all top democrats in support, and an estimated $300 million in potential tax revenue at stake, the state legislative ranks are fat with marijuana reform advocates and plans for the future.
Earlier this year, New Jersey state legislators put forth a bill that would have legalized, regulated, and taxed recreational marijuana in the state. The principle obstacle to its passage, Governor Chris Christie, will be leaving office in less than six months from now – on January 16th, 2018.
N.J. State Senator Nicholas Scutari has already introduced legislation to legalize recreational marijuana and has been working to build support among his colleagues across the state ever since. The majority of residents in the state support legalization. In a Rutgers University sponsored poll taken in 2015, marijuana legalization enjoyed 58% support among residents. A recent nationwide Gallup Poll showed 60% support across the nation as a whole.“Now is the time to begin shaping New Jersey’s recreational marijuana program,”said Sen. Nicholas Scutari
Even the state’s leading Republican’s are calling for decriminalization. Interested in reading more? Check out this recent article in NJ.com.Vermont
No state is better positioned to beat New Jersey to the legalization punch, than the great state of Vermont. The Vermont legislation is the furthest along the marijuana legalization process. Earlier this year, the Republican governor vetoed a marijuana legalization bill after it passed both the state Assembly and the Senate . When Governor Phil Scott vetoed the bill, he left the door open by asking legislators to send it back with stronger protections against “stoned driving” and increased restrictions on children’s access to marijuana.
Vermont legislators listened and responded by adding stiffer penalties for “stoned driving” and against those illegally providing marijuana to children, smoking it in cars with kids present, as well as penalties specifically against the sale of marijuana in school zones. With the governor’s concerns addressed, it is likely the bill will come up to a vote again soon. If it passes both the state Assembly and Senate (both are likely to pass the bill), it will be on its way back up to Gov. Scott’s desk for his signature.
Worth noting… Vermont’s approach to legalization might come at a steep cost. The current bill does not allow for the creation of a legal marijuana market, only for its legal personal use. Similar to D.C., Vermont residents would be allowed to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. Residents would not be empowered to purchase it legally, as no market infrastructure would be setup or permitted.
Legalization nearly passed in 2016 and the movement has only gained in acceptance and vigor this past year. Legalization stands a far better chance at passage in 2018, although the current initiatives are not without their problems.
At least three separate initiatives are currently gathering signatures for a chance to appear on the ballot in 2018. One initiative would decriminalize several illicit drugs, including heroin – and is unlikely to gain broad support. An effort much more likely to succeed is through a group calling itself Safer Arizona. Safer Arizona boasts a 400+ all-volunteer membership and intends to collect more than 225,000 signatures (50% above the min needed) by next July, to ensure their measure qualifies for the November 2018 ballot.
Proponents of a recreational marijuana in the state of Michigan think they have the votes to legalize marijuana in 2018. A proposed ballot initiative intended for the November 2018 election cycle, would legalize possession of marijuana, cultivation and use for those adults 21 and older. The measure would also legalize industrial hemp and create market regulations to support the licensing of businesses to cultivate, process, tax and sell marijuana for retail consumer consumption.
With Massachusetts paving the way towards legalization, the fine people of Rhode Island will likely follow suit in 2018. A 22-person panel was commissioned by the state to examine marijuana legalization. The panel’s findings are due in 2018.
Rhode Island is taking a slow and methodical route to legalization. Rhode Island is allowing neighboring states to experiment and forge the footprint to be used by itself and other Northeast states in the coming years. This is not a course without its own costs – not the least of which are: lost tax revenue and no seat at the table defining the marketplace
The pressure to legalize will most likely arise from the lose in significant tax revenue to neighboring states such as Massachusetts and Maine.
Other states on the radar…
Connecticut has been looking at legalization for some time now. Current polling looks good and cannabis prohibition is under serious legislative scrutiny at the moment. A recent budget proposal submitted by state Democrats would regulate and tax marijuana on par with current state laws governing alcohol. Time will tell if Connecticut can muster the coalition to pass legalization in 2018.
Delaware, New Mexico and even Maryland are additional states that are also moving on new legislation for adult cannabis use. Keep an eye on this space for more news on state efforts to legalize and safely regulate the adult use of marijuana.