As the majority of states (28) have legalized cannabis, we anticipate a few more to join the ranks this year. In fact, here are summary reviews of five states we’re watching closely.
While Delaware took active steps towards legalization, decriminalizing it in 2015, there are still inroads to be made for cannabusinesses. Senator Margaret Rose Henry mentioned in October, 2016, “It’s time, quite frankly. It’s time to certainly look at it.” This comment was made at a Medical Marijuana Act Oversight Committee meeting.
As with many other states, Senator Henry added, “Education is suffering.” Revenue from legalizing marijuana could help struggling schools and seniors, among other causes, and would close major budget deficits in Delaware. The new governor, John Carney, also supported the decriminalization of cannabis and is looking at ways to bring in the additional $21 million that cannabis poses for the state.
A University of Delaware poll shows a clear majority (61%) of residents surveyed support legalization.
Governor Raimondo of Rhode Island and Senate Majority Leader Dominick Ruggerio indicated last year they were open to signing on for legitimate cannabis businesses in the state. Late last year, Senator Josh Miller and State Representative Scott Slater co-wrote a pro-legalization op-ed piece in The Independent, where they site the benefits of added tax revenues from cannabis. In it, they call for mobilization in 2017 to move aggressively towards the next step in the legislative process.
Bills to tax and regulate marijuana were introduced in the New Jersey Assembly by Democrat Reed Gusciora and Republican Michael Patrick Carrol in 2016. Senate President Stephen Sweeney said, “I am absolutely sold that this industry can be regulated.” He also declared that lawmakers intend to move quickly to pass a bill as soon as Governor Chris Christie leaves office, as the Governor’s promised veto is the last remaining impediment to progress. With an approval rating at a near-record low of 19%, it’s hard to say if the Governor will by-pass the millions of revenue dollars New Jersey needs in 2017.
Decriminalization is a priority for the state’s 2017 lawmaking agenda. Five cannabis-related items are on the table for the 85th session that would support lawmaker’s efforts. Texas has already passed the Texas Compassionate-Use Act, which legalizes low-THC cannabis for medicinal use. Fatal flaws in the Act are addressed by Senator Menedez’ SB-269 bill, submitted this year.
Luis Nakamoto, executive director of San Antonio NORML, has been working with state lawmakers to help reduce penalties and reclassifying convictions for possession of up to an ounce of marijuana. “The mentality is changing and catching up to the science behind cannabis,” Nakamoto said. “So now there’s more support that the legislators can stand on and make those important decisions.”
Kentucky has had a long history of trying to legalize cannabis over the past several years, with proposed legislation see-sawing through the house in 2014, 2015, and is slated again for 2017. Last year, the Kentucky Nurses Association, endorsed the Cannabis Freedom Act and Kentucky’s governor, Matt Bevin is weighing the estimated $135 million in projected cannabis tax revenue. Submitting the bill as the Cannabis Compassion Act, State Senator Perry Clark is focused on getting the state closer to legalization that would help fill the budget gaps.
A common theme uniting all states that are considering legalization, or expansion of legalization, is the attractive tax revenues that cannabis would bring. Many states are struggling with school budget gaps, and this change in policy would generate a much-needed windfall.
The next logical step, as more states legalize, is to address the banking guidelines. State Treasurers from Illinois and California have already petitioned the new administration for clarification. This small step by the federal government would enable dispensary owners in legalized states to go cashless. By enabling banking opportunities, tax revenues would be more readily available to states in need of funding. We’ll continue to watch the progress of these states and others in the efforts to legalize cannabis throughout 2017.