Recreational marijuana use became legal in just one more state, Illinois, with the start of the New Year on Wednesday. More states could follow suit in 2020, with several states set to put recreational marijuana on the ballot. Cannabis is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level.
According to an end of the year CBS News Poll, support for legal pot hit a new high in 2019, with 65% of U.S. adults saying marijuana should be legal. And, for the first time in CBS News polling, a majority of Republicans (56%) favored legal marijuana. While people ages 65 and over continued to be the least likely age group to support marijuana legalization, slightly more of them favored it (49%) than opposed it (45%) in the 2019 poll.
The trend has been reflected in state legislatures, albeit piecemeal. Thirty three states have legalized pot in some form, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Since 2012 — when Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize recreational use — 11 states in total have legalized recreational marijuana.
Marijuana is currently legal for recreational use in: Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia. On January, 1, 2020, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Democratic Governor JB Pritzker granted more than 11,000 pardons for low-level marijuana convictions on Tuesday, ahead of the state’s official legalization — which the Legislature passed in June — effective on Wednesday. State officials estimate that 116,000 convictions involving 30 grams or less of marijuana, including for possession of the drug, are eligible for pardons under the new law.
Illinois is now the second state in the Midwest, following Michigan in 2018, to legalize recreational marijuana sales and use.
Several states are expected to vote on recreational marijuana use measures in 2020, while others are preparing similar legislation.
Make It Legal Florida, a political committee, is behind a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Chairman Nick Hansen told CBS Miami in early December that, according to their polling, over 65 percent of Florida voters “want to have expanded access to cannabis for 21 and over.”
However, that milestone appears to have hit a snag. The Miami Herald reports that Make it Legal filed a lawsuit against the state on Tuesday, alleging that a new election law placed restrictions on the ballot initiative process that hampered their ability to collect signatures.
As of Tuesday, the state had verified 219,290 signed petitions from Make It Legal — just 28% of the total signatures needed by the February 1 deadline.
Democrats in the state are preparing marijuana legislation, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports. House Majority leader Ryan Winkler (D) has been touring the state on the issue in an effort to ready a bill for the state’s session in February.
The Republican-controlled Senate, however, poses steep odds, as key conservative leaders remain opposed to legalization.
Last year proved lackluster for recreational marijuana legislation efforts in the Empire State.
A measure to legalize cannabis for adults went up in smoke, despite support from Governor Andrew Cuomo. Legislators did downgrade possession from a misdemeanor to a fine, but people with more than two ounces of the drug on them can still be arrested, according to the New York Police Department.
Cuomo has continued to push the issue, hiring Norman Birenbaum, a major force in pro-legalization efforts, to lead the state’s cannabis program.
The state will vote on legalization of recreational marijuana in November, 2020, The Associated Press reports. If the measure passes, New Jersey residents 21 and older will be allowed to use pot recreationally. All sales of cannabis products would be subject to a 6.625% sales tax.
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring has called for the “immediate decriminalization” of possession of small amounts of marijuana, and hosted a Cannabis Summit in December to educate state leaders on what steps need to be taken to accomplish that goal.
“The system is broken. It’s unjust. It’s not working and the way to fix it, first of all, is to move and decriminalize possession of small amounts and address those past convictions. But for me, I think we should move to legalize and regulate adult use,” Herring said, CBS affiliate WTVR reports.
He may have the support he needs, as the Commonwealth of Virginia’s House and Senate are now controlled by Democrats, who tend to favor marijuana reform.
One piece of marijuana legislation that has been filed for the state’s 2020 session, SB 2, would decriminalize marijuana possession, and would raise the amount needed to be charged with distribution to one ounce versus half-an-ounce, WTVR reports. The bill would also allow people to petition to expunge their convictions.
California is still fine-tuning its cannabis regulation
On January 1, 2020, two new laws went into effect in California that clarify tax laws related to the state’s legal cannabis industry — which competes with it’s long-established illegal cannabis industry.
Senate Bill 34 allows licensed cannabis retailers to donate cannabis to low-income patients, and exempts those products from state taxes, CBS affiliate KFMB reports. Assembly Bill 37, allows cannabis businesses to claim deductions and credits available to other legal businesses in the state.
Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom signed those bills into law, but “begrudgingly” vetoed another cannabis bill that would have required some health care facilities to allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis. In a message explaining his decision, Newsom wrote that the requirement would put patients on Medicaid and Medicare at risk of losing coverage.
Is federal legalization likely in 2020?
Since cannabis is still considered an illegal substance at the federal level, most banks are prevented from doing business with marijuana companies. To face this hurdle, lawmakers introduced the Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would protect banks who partner with cannabis businesses, CBS Miami reports.
The Act passed the Democratic-led House, but is expected to fail in the Senate, after Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-ID) expressed his strong opposition in December.
“Significant concerns remain that the SAFE Banking Act does not address the high level potency of marijuana, marketing tactics to children, lack of research on marijuana’s effects, and the need to prevent bad actors and cartels from using the banks to disguise ill-gotten cash to launder money into the financial system,” Crapo said in a press release outlining his concerns.
The same fate is likely for federal cannabis legalization.
In November, the House Judiciary Committee approved a bill that would decriminalize marijuana at the federal level. The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act of 2019, or MORE Act, now heads to the full House, where its chances are better in the Democratic-controlled chamber than in the Republican-held Senate, where the bill’s future is uncertain.