Back in March, as the novel coronavirus settled into communities across the country, many lawmakers and advocates paused their legalization efforts amid the response to the crisis.
Now, months later, states have begun to emerge from stay-at-home orders, with some legislatures powering through backlogged bills while others fade into recess. Cannabis Wire contacted public servants, elected officials, and activists from Rhode Island to Arizona to find out where legalization initiatives—for medical and adult use—stand as legislators head home for the summer and election boards prepare for November. An overview:
Qualified for November ballot:
Mississippi: medical use
South Dakota: medical and adult use
New Jersey: adult use
Collecting signatures for November ballot:
Arizona: adult use
Arkansas: adult use
Montana: adult use
Nebraska: medical use
Oklahoma: adult use
Suspended (for 2020):
Florida: adult use
Idaho: medical use
Missouri: adult use
North Dakota: adult use
Ohio: adult use
Bills and budget proposals:
Session still in progress, but on back burner:
New Hampshire: adult use (no sales)
Vermont: adult use sales (adult use already legal)
New York: adult use
Rhode Island: adult use
Did not pass by session end:
Alabama: medical cannabis
Connecticut: adult use
Kentucky: medical cannabis
Minnesota: adult use
Pennsylvania: adult use
Tennessee: adult use
Republican State Senator Tim Melson’s medical cannabis bill, SB165, on which Cannabis Wire has reported, cleared the Alabama Senate in March and was referred to the state House of Representatives Committee on Health when the legislature reconvened on May 4. But the bill didn’t make it out of committee in time for the end of the 2019-2020 session on May 18.
Cannabis Wire did not receive a response to a request for comment on the future efforts from Melson’s office by deadline.
Connecticut adjourned its legislative session early, on April 21, without approving SB16, a bill to legalize cannabis for adult use, which had been championed by Governor Ned Lamont, as Cannabis Wire previously reported.
Cannabis Wire reached out to Governor Lamont’s office as well as state Senators Martin M. Looney and Bob Duff, who introduced the bill in the Senate, regarding their plans for the next session, but did not hear back by deadline.
A medical cannabis legalization bill, HB136, passed the state House, but failed to clear the Senate before the legislature closed in April. Cannabis Wire reached out to the bill’s lead sponsor, Representative Jason Nemes, regarding plans for the next legislative session but did not receive a response to a request for comment by deadline.
“This was the first time the full House ever voted on the issue. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic reached the US at an inopportune time, and the Senate decided to focus their efforts on the budget and the commonwealth’s pandemic response before adjourning for the year,” Marijuana Policy Project noted.
On May 5, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler introduced HF4632, a bill that would have legalized cannabis for adult use, as Cannabis Wire reported, while a companion bill, SF4585, went before the Senate on May 7. Neither bill got a hearing before the legislative session ended on May 17.
“The COVID stuff kind of derailed the priorities of the session,” Leili Fatehi, campaign manager for Minnesotans for Responsible Marijuana Regulation, told Cannabis Wire. “It’s been introduced since, but unfortunately it required pretty extensive hearings, so this was just not the session for it to be able to get through.”
Regarding next steps, Fatehi noted that all of Minnesota’s legislators are up for reelection in the coming cycle. The makeup of the next cohort will play a pivotal role in future legalization efforts, as Minnesota does not allow for the ballot initiative route.
The Granite State’s adult-use legalization compromise bill, HB1648, would not allow for sales, but would allow New Hampshire residents to grow cannabis for personal use, as Cannabis Wire has reported. The state House of Representatives passed the bill on February 20, and the Senate referred it to its Judiciary Committee, where it had been awaiting a hearing since March, when legislative activity was suspended due to COVID-19.
On June 16, when the Senate resumed, the bill was “laid on table.”
HB2050, which would amend legislation passed in 2016 legalizing medical cannabis and expand it to include adult use, has been parked in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Health Committee since March 4. No hearing has been scheduled.
Cannabis Wire reached out to the bill’s author, Representative Jake Wheatley, for comment on next steps, but did not receive a response by deadline.
Read Cannabis Wire’s coverage of Governor Tom Wolf and Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman’s support for legalization, including Fetterman’s statewide listening tour.
When legislative committees began meeting again in late May, after adjourning due to COVID-19 in mid-March, two adult use bills were up for consideration. SB1849/HB2389, which would legalize cannabis for adult use, passed the state Senate in January, but has remained stuck in the House’s Criminal Justice Subcommittee since February. The same committee was scheduled to hear HB1610/SB1898, which would have legalized adult use with provisions allowing individual counties to decide whether or not to permit cannabis cultivation, possession, and/or sales in their jurisdictions, on May 27, but removed the bill from its calendar. The session will end in the coming weeks.
State Representative Rick Staples, the latter bill’s author, said that he was committed to putting the same proposal forward again if reelected. “I guarantee you…that November this year before Thanksgiving, I will be filing this legislation,” Staples told Cannabis Wire, emphasizing the economic opportunities an adult use cannabis industry would provide Tennessee farmers.
As Cannabis Wire previously reported, Vermont’s long-awaited adult use sales bill, S.54, passed the Senate and headed to the House before the General Assembly transitioned to remote hearings in March.
Vermont legalized cannabis in 2018, but only for home grow, similar to what has been proposed in New Hampshire. A joint Committee of Conference composed of three legislators from each chamber was called for “members to discuss their differences and to agree on a bill that will be presented to both chambers for a vote,” according to the Assembly’s website.
Cannabis Wire contacted the bill’s author and a Committee of Conference delegate, Senator Dick Sears, regarding the bill’s progression. Sears noted that the legislature adjourned shortly after the committee was appointed, due to COVID-19, and that the Senate Judiciary Committee would be meeting only on COVID-related matters. “If and when we get a green light to continue to work on House bills and conference committees, the conference committee may meet” regarding S54. But, as of publication time, that had not yet happened.
Governor Andrew Cuomo included legalization in his budget proposal for the second year in a row, but acknowledged that legalization was “not likely” to pass through the budget as the state scrambled to combat the COVID-19 epicenter downstate.
With hours to go before the state’s April budget deadline, a reporter asked Cuomo at a news conference whether lawmakers could agree on a budget deal that included legalization. Cuomo responded by saying, “too much, too little time,” as Cannabis Wire reported.
It’s unclear when lawmakers will return to Cuomo’s legalization proposal this session, or one put forth by Senator Liz Krueger and Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes.
Like Cuomo, Governor Gina Raimondo put forward a budget proposal for the fiscal year that starts July 1 that would legalize adult use—her second attempt to do so by budget, as Cannabis Wire reported. Like last year, state legislators were quick to voice opposition. In response to an inquiry from Cannabis Wire as to whether the millions in potential cannabis revenue had softened his position as Rhode Island faces a massive budget shortage following COVID-19 shutdowns, Senate President Dominick Ruggerio replied only: “I am still opposed to the legalization of marijuana at this time.”
Cannabis Wire reached out to the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, which worked on the budget, to learn whether cannabis legalization would remain in the budget. Brian Hodge, deputy director of communications, told Cannabis Wire, “In this unprecedented time, we are still evaluating how to best proceed with next year’s budget. While we remain committed to the policy goals we were driving forward in our proposal this past January, including adult use, we need to wait to see what assistance will be given to the states from the federal government.”
As Arizona lifted its stay-at-home order on May 16, Smart and Safe Arizona prepared to relaunch its signature-gathering campaign, employing new hygiene measures such as single-use pens and obligatory masks. If passed, the proposed amendment would legalize cannabis for adult use, as Cannabis Wire previously reported.
While signature gathering was put on pause in March and April, Smart and Safe was still at work. The campaign joined with the organizations behind three other ballot initiatives to petition the courts for the right to gather signatures online (something candidates for office can already do). The state Supreme Court ruled against them on May 13, so it’s back to the masks until the initiative’s qualifying deadline on July 2.
Despite the hiatus, the campaign has already collected “well over 300,000 signatures,” according to Smart and Safe spokesperson Stacy Pearson. With only 237,645 required to get its adult use question on the ballot on November 3, the campaign says it is in good shape. “We weren’t relying on a favorable decision from the court, which rarely if ever has supported direct democracy,” Pearson told Cannabis Wire.
Like their counterparts in Arizona, Arkansans for Cannabis Reform also resumed signature collection this month for the Arkansas Adult-Use Cannabis Amendment. With 89,151 signatures required by July 3 to qualify for the November election, the group’s executive director, Melissa Fults, told Cannabis Wire the campaign had approximately 20,000 as of May 12. Fults described the campaign’s relaunch in the last week of May as a “slow start” but noted that they were having some success getting supporters to mail in signed petition forms.
Read Cannabis Wire’s reporting on campaign’s kickoff.
More than a dozen bills focused on medical and adult-use cannabis died in committee when the Florida legislature adjourned in March, including HB1860, which would have legalized cannabis use for adults aged twenty-one and older.
Make It Legal Florida, which pulled its adult-use ballot initiative from consideration for the November election back in January, has continued gathering signatures with an eye toward 2022. Though, as Cannabis Wire reported in March, the campaign is already facing pushback and hurdles.
Cannabis Wire reached out to Make It Legal Florida but did not hear back by deadline.
Idaho Cannabis Coalition, the organization behind the proposed Idaho Medical Marijuana Act, suspended its campaign to legalize medical cannabis after Governor Brad Little issued a statewide stay-at-home order. The order was lifted on April 30, just one day before the original petition deadline on May 1.
“Since our campaign is so volunteer-driven, we can’t provide a verifiable estimate of signature collection so far. The realities of verifying signatures … and Idaho’s extra hurdle of requiring a threshold of 6 percent of registered voters from a majority (eighteen of thirty-five) legislative districts mean the odds are against Idahoans being able to vote on medical marijuana in November of 2020,” campaign spokesperson Russ Belville wrote in a statement announcing the suspension on April 2. Cannabis Wire reached out to the coalition but received no response.
Two dueling medical cannabis legalization initiatives, Initiative 65 and Alternative 65A, the former from activists and the other from state legislators, will appear on Mississippi ballots on November 3.
“We are confident that Initiative 65, the measure placed on the ballot with more than 228,000 signatures across Mississippi, will win in November,” Mississippians for Compassionate Care spokesperson Jamie Grantham wrote in a statement shared with Cannabis Wire. “The alternative proposed by the Legislature places the financial burden on taxpayers and places the Legislature in charge of determining what patients, if any, would qualify for medical marijuana instead of allowing physicians to make that determination. The Legislature has had twenty years and more than twenty-five attempts to pass a medical marijuana program legislatively, and they have denied every attempt.”
Cannabis Wire reached out to state Representatives Trey Lamar and Brent Powell, the authors of the alternative, for comment but did not receive a response by deadline.
Like similar campaigns elsewhere in the Midwest, a push to legalize adult use cannabis in Missouri fell victim to COVID-19 shutdowns. “Unfortunately, while there is widespread support from Missourians to tax and regulate marijuana, there is currently no practical way during the COVID-19 outbreak to safely, publicly gather the 170,000-plus signatures needed over the remaining four weeks to put this on the Missouri ballot in 2020,” John Payne, campaign manager of Missourians for a New Approach, wrote in a statement shared with Cannabis Wire announcing the end of the group’s adult-use campaign. “Our supporters from every corner of this state will be back next cycle to put this on the 2022 ballot and finally bring our state the benefits of a safe, adult-use marijuana program.”
On May 7, the campaigners behind two adult use legalization initiatives in Montana announced that they would restart their signature drive as the state reopened for business. New Approach Montana’s proposed Statutory Initiative 190 would legalize cannabis for adult use Constitutional Initiative 118 would set the legal age for adult use twenty-one. The campaign needs 25,468 signatures and 50,936 signatures, respectively, by June 19 to get on the November ballot.
Among other protocols, canvassers are expected to wear masks and gloves at all times and to carry disinfectant in the field.
On May 22, the campaign launched a “Sign From Home” program on its website, allowing interested Montana residents to either request or download a copy of the petition form to sign and mail in.
The Nebraska Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment, a medical cannabis legalization effort, has been seeking 130,000 signatures by July 2 to qualify for the November 3 general election.
In April, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, which is overseeing the effort, paused signature gathering due to COVID-19, but resumed on May 15, announcing its new social distancing and hygiene protocols in a video posted to Facebook.
“It’s been busy!” Jared Moffat, a campaign coordinator with the Marijuana Policy Project working with Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana, told Cannabis Wire regarding the revamped campaign. “We’ve been directing all circulators to follow safety measures (e.g. distancing, hand sanitizer, face covering, etc) to keep people safe. It seems the momentum has picked back up, though.”
After repeatedly spearheading failed attempts to pass legislation legalizing adult use in the Garden State, state Senator Nicholas Scutari and his co-sponsors successfully got legalization placed on the ballot in the upcoming general election, as Cannabis Wire reported. The ballot question will ask New Jersey voters whether they approve legalizing cannabis for adults twenty-one years of age and older.
In April, a Monmouth University poll found that 64 percent of New Jersey respondents supported legalization for personal use in general, but only 48 percent responded favorably to a question about the proposed amendment specifically.
In May, Legalize ND relaunched the signature drive for its adult-use legalization measure after a two-month COVID-19 hiatus, David Owen, the campaign chairman, told Cannabis Wire. With somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000 signatures on the petition as of mid-May, Owen wasn’t confident the campaign would gather the 13,452 required by July 6 to get on the November ballot.
“You need the major events to make up the shortfall,” Owen told Cannabis Wire on May 18. “Given that all the major events have been canceled, I still don’t see us getting the July deadline.” Instead, Owen said his campaign would keep canvassing through the summer in order to meet the December 3 deadline that would put the measure on the June 2022 primary ballot.
According to its website, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’s adult use amendment grew out of patient dissatisfaction with Ohio’s medical cannabis program, as well frustration with the war on drugs.
Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejected summary language submitted by the campaign, which aimed to put adult use on the November ballot, despite calls from the campaign asking Yost to reconsider. The campaign is now inactive.
(Yost also rejected a separate effort, by a separate group, to put a constitutional amendment on the ballot called “Marijuana Rights and Regulations.” That group, which appears to be made up of three locals, submitted 271 of the required 1,000 signatures.)
There are multiple efforts to put adult use on Oklahoma’s ballot. State Questions 807 and 813 were put on hold following legal protests filed by the sponsor of State Question 808, Paul Tay. It is not clear that Tay, who is currently in jail, will be able to proceed with his effort.
(Along with adult use Question 813, a group called We Are 788 has proposed an additional measure, Question 812—which was not protested—that would decriminalize cannabis and free those convicted and jailed for nonviolent cannabis offenses.)
An earlier version of the other adult use measure, Question 807, backed by the New Approach PAC, drew criticism from those who felt it would negatively impact the state’s medical cannabis industry. In response, Question 807’s backers withdrew their initial ballot proposal, Question 806, for revision. Attorney Melanie Wilson Rughani of Crowe & Dunlevy, the law firm contracted to write both versions of the proposed amendment, told Cannabis Wire that the updated version—now under attack by Tay—addressed those concerns.
None of the campaigns were allowed to gather signatures once Oklahoma declared a state of emergency on March 15, which the state legislature later extended into June. Once their legal challenges are resolved and the coast is clear, each campaign will have to collect 177,958 signatures.
Two more cannabis initiatives supported by the New Approach PAC will appear on South Dakotans’ ballots on November 3, as Cannabis Wire reported. One, Initiated Measure 26, would legalize medical cannabis in South Dakota. The second, broader initiative, Constitutional Amendment A, would not only legalize medical cannabis, but would also legalize adult use. According to the South Dakota Board of Elections website, if two initiatives with conflicting provisions pass in the same election, the one that received more “Yes” votes will override the other.