It has been said that 2016 was the biggest year with respect to pushing the marijuana movement onto the next level. Several states, including Massachusetts and Nevada, legalized the leaf for recreational use, while others approved programs giving patients access to the herb for its therapeutic benefits. Among the victors in this blowout of public opinion was California, which, even though we have yet to see the effect reverberate to the nation’s capital, is predicted to influence the federal government to legalize marijuana nationwide. In the meantime, states are going to continue establishing their own pot policies. The nation is now full speed ahead on what has been a decades-long journey to make marijuana a legitimate part of the American way of life. But exactly which jurisdictions are going to be the next to climb aboard?
Here are some predictions:
It has been a long time coming, but it finally appears that Michigan voters will get to decide on the issue of recreational marijuana in the November election. Advocates recently passed the signature-collecting phase of their ballot campaign and have moved on to the next stage. Michigan seemed to be a lock for this progressive reform back in 2016, but the state government pulled some weasely shenanigans that ultimately sabotaged the initiative.
But the polls suggest that Michiganders are ready for marijuana to be sold in dispensaries in a manner similar to beer. Somewhere around 58 percent of the voters support the current initiative, according to the latest poll. Interestingly, there is somewhat of a conspiracy theory being spread right now over how Michigan lawmakers are trying to suppress voter turnout this year by touching on the recreational marijuana debate in the state legislature. The word on the street is that Republicans are using this scheme to stop voters from showing up to the polls for Democrats. But all of this dirty politicking shouldn’t have an impact on the course of legal weed. One way or another, Michigan is putting recreational marijuana law on the books in 2018.
Governor Phil Murphy said during his campaign that the legalization of marijuana was one of his top priorities. Although his desire to pull the state out of prohibition has not changed, there seems to be some challenges in rallying enough support for this idea in the state legislature. Many lawmakers, both Democrats and Republicans, are pitted against legalization because of concerns that U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions will make good on his threats to unleash a marijuana crackdown. But considering that the federal government has yet to get into a nasty standoff with legal weed, Murphy doesn’t appear worried. The governor’s goal is to bring a taxed and regulated pot market to New Jersey by the end of 2018. Of course, skittish lawmakers have been trying to negotiate a half measure to put the debate under the table for a while. Some are seeking to decriminalize pot possession rather than full-blown legalization. But Murphy has said, “decriminalization alone will not put the corner dealer out of business, it will not help us protect our kids, and it will not end the racial disparities we see.” Even the voters aren’t sure whether the state should go in the same direction as nine other states by establishing a legal cannabis trade. The latest poll shows a close margin in public opinion — 49 percent are in favor, while 44 percent are against. Still, while it may be difficult to get this deal done before the end of the year, New Jersey is still one of the most likely to take this leap.
Although the Empire State is a long shot, as Governor Andrew Cuomo believes legal weed will cause an uptick in the state’s addiction rates, the General Assembly might be forced to consider this issue more sooner than later if New Jersey succeeds in its fight to end prohibition. In the not so distant future, New York could be surrounded by states that allow adults 21 and older to purchase cannabis products in the same way they do with alcohol. Massachusetts is set to roll out legal sales later this summer. This alone has New York law enforcement on high alert, with police worried that they are going to have to deal with an influx of people smuggling weed across the state line. Sadly, they are not wrong. New Yorkers will undoubtedly bring legal pot products back to their home state if not given legal access. The situation will only worsen if New Jersey passes a similar law. At that point, all bets are off. New York will have not choice but to make a move. And Governor Cuomo knows this is true. In fact, he recently called for a panel to examine the impacts of marijuana legalization on the state. Lawmakers advocating for this reform say the study is all in preparation for the move that New York will be pressured into very soon.
It won’t be this year, but Illinois is poised to become one of the next states to legalize recreational marijuana. In March, 63 percent of the voters in Cook County said “yes” when asked “Shall the State of Illinois legalize the cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for recreational use by adults 21 and older subject to state regulation, taxation and local ordinance?” Although it was not a binding agreement, lawmakers now know exactly where the voters stand on the issue legal weed. To coin the cliché, it’s not if, it’s when. But the “when,” however, really hinges on the next governor. If Bruce Rauner is re-elected, the state of legal pot commerce could be a ways off. The Republican believes a move of this magnitude would be a “mistake” and he wants to wait to see how the situation unfolds in Colorado and California before tendering his support. But if billionaire businessman J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, clinches the election, recreational marijuana could be on the horizon. He wants to use this reform to pull the state out of economic turmoil and drive down racial disparity among minority citizens.
Lawmakers have been discussing recreational marijuana in the 2018 session. A proposal calling for a taxed and regulated pot market recently made it out of committee, which was a big step for the state’s legislative powers. Still, it is up in the air on whether the bill will get the votes it needs to go the distance. House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz says, “I don’t know where the votes are at” telling reporters recently that legal weed will probably have to wait until 2019. But the state has already decriminalized marijuana possession, and Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy seems to be warming up to the idea of opening the door to recreational reefer. His recent budget plan contains a list of potential revenue streams, including, you guessed it, the legalization of marijuana. Malloy hasn’t come out in favor of selling weed in a manner similar to booze, but if this issue carries over to next year his attitude could change drastically.
TELL US, what state do you think will be next to legalize marijuana?