Cannabis is already legal for adult use in 21 states, D.C., and three territories. It’s on the ballot in Oklahoma in March. And now, it’s up for debate in nearly a dozen legislatures, too.
If even a few bills squeak through, pressure will build on Congress to address the reality that more than half of the United States has fully legalized something that remains prohibited under federal law.
Many of the bills don’t stand a chance of passage, as they are up against Republican-controlled legislatures, Republican governors, or both, and cannabis reform efforts often face the highest hurdles in red states, as Cannabis Wire has reported. In Indiana, for example, lawmakers haven’t even agreed to allow for medical cannabis, and are therefore unlikely to advance adult use legislation on the table.
But in at least one state, Minnesota, legalization is all but a done deal. As Cannabis Wire recently reported, this is because Democrats gained control of both legislative chambers, and the governor is on board. In two other states where the Dem governors are eager for adult use legalization – Pennsylvania, where medical cannabis is already legal, and Wisconsin – the legislative makeup has shifted in favor of reform, but not enough to create a clear path to passage. No cannabis bills have yet been proposed in either state this year.
It’s worth highlighting that support for legalization doesn’t always come down to party. Delaware Gov. John Carney (D), for example, is opposed, while Republican lawmakers are increasingly – albeit at a snail’s pace – putting forth proposals for cannabis law reform. As Cannabis Wire has reported, Americans for Prosperity is focused on these GOP-led efforts at the state and federal levels.
Cannabis Wire rounded up some noteworthy bills in states where adult use legalization and regulation efforts are underway. (And, while medical cannabis has already reached the legal tipping point, we included a few efforts to establish regulated medical cannabis industries, too.)
Lawmakers in Delaware are considering a pair of bills that address legal possession and regulation: HB 1 and HB 2, respectively. These bills would, if passed together, create a taxed and regulated adult use industry, as Cannabis Wire recently reported. The bills are Dem-led but have some Republican support. Democrats control the legislature, but, as noted above, the governor remains opposed.
While there are a handful of bills that would legalize cannabis for adults, the bill in the spotlight is Rep. Jeanné Kapela’s HB 237 (and its companion SB 375). The new governor, Josh Green (D), is more favorable toward legalization than the previous governor, so the chances of passage have increased. Democrats control the legislature.
“We all know, and Hawaii’s people know, that it is high time to legalize recreational cannabis use for adults in Hawaii,” Kapela (D) said during a press conference last month alongside groups like the Marijuana Policy Project and American Civil Liberties Union.
“Legalizing cannabis is not just a matter of money. It is a matter of morality,” Kapela continued, adding that the industry should meet “needs of Hawaii’s people, not the profits of multi-state corporations.”
So far, only one bill, HB 17, has been proposed, by a Democrat, to legalize cannabis for adults. Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) has not expressed support for adult use, but he has signed smaller reform bills, such as decriminalization of simple possession, and bills to expand the state’s medical cannabis program. Republicans control the legislature.
Adult use bill HF 100 is making its way through the legislature, as Cannabis Wire recently reported, and has a clear, albeit winding, path to passage now that Democrats control the legislature. Gov. Tim Walz (D) has long championed adult use cannabis legalization.
Among the adult use efforts in the state, which is surrounded by states (and Canada) with legal cannabis, one bill is in focus: HB 639.
Reps. Jason Osborne and Matt Wilhelm, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, came together for a bipartisan push, as Cannabis Wire reported, and the bill’s backers range from Americans for Prosperity – New Hampshire to The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire. Gov. Chris Sununu (R) has remained generally opposed to legalization, and Republicans have a slight majority in the legislature (four seats per chamber).
Lawmakers have put forth both a joint resolution and legislation on adult use. The joint resolution, HJR 21, has 11 sponsors from both parties, while only Democrats have introduced bills. Chances of passage are slim, as Republicans control the legislature and Gov. Jim Justice (R) remains opposed to legalization. He did, however, say back in 2021 that he’d consider signing a bipartisan bill if lawmakers managed to bring it to his desk (a big “if”).
ADULT USE AND MEDICAL USE
Several bills have been introduced for medical and/or adult use. Rep. Jake Teshka’s (R) HB 1039, for example, would legalize and regulate both, but only once cannabis is rescheduled federally. Another bill, HB 1263, from Rep. Jim Lucas (R) focuses just on medical cannabis legalization and regulation. Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) does not support any legalization.
Lawmakers held a rally in support of cannabis law reform at the start of the legislative session in January, with Teshka calling the state an “island of prohibition” because it borders states like Illinois and Michigan.
The state currently only has a limited “medical cannabidiol” program with five shops in the state, so the chances are slim for a Democrat-led bill like SF 73, which would legalize cannabis for adults. Republicans control the legislature and Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) opposes legalization. However, a study bill, SSB 1113, would slightly expand the medical program and also allow patients to access cannabis flower products.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) has long urged the Republican-controlled legislature to legalize medical cannabis, with no success. In November, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time, he signed an executive order to protect patients’ legal right to possess cannabis, but there is still no means of legally buying regulated medical cannabis in-state.
The Republican-controlled legislature is likely a non-starter for the adult use bills, like HB 22, which so far only Dems have introduced. And, it will still likely be an uphill climb for medical cannabis, though both Democrats and Republicans have put forth bills, including HB 107 and SB 47, respectively.
Nebraska’s path toward reform has been filled with twists and turns, as Cannabis Wire has reported. Advocates got legalization on the ballot in 2020, only to see it stripped by the Supreme Court before Election Day. They couldn’t collect enough signatures to qualify in 2022. And, in between, the Republican legislature has remained opposed.
Nonetheless, medical cannabis (LB 588) and adult use (LB 634) are both before the legislature. The new governor, Jim Pillen (R), like Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) before him, is opposed to both.
Both medical cannabis legislation, such as the Tennessee Medical Cannabis Act, and adult use legislation, such as the Free All Cannabis for Tennesseans Act – both of which have Democrat and Republican sponsors – are unlikely to pass the Republican-controlled legislature, but they are nonetheless up for debate.
Gov. Tim Lee (R) does not support medical cannabis beyond the state’s limited CBD program.
Texas currently has a limited medical cannabis program in which patients can access non-smokable low-THC products in three shops. As Cannabis Wire has reported, the program has expanded slightly over the years, but efforts to establish a broader program have hit a wall.
Bills in both the House and the Senate, introduced by Democrats, are aimed at an expanded medical cannabis program (HB 1200, for example) and at adult use (HB 1831, for example).
Adult use is unlikely to get through the Republican-controlled legislature, or the support of Gov. Greg Abbott (R), but an expansion of the medical program might.
The legislature will yet again consider medical cannabis, and so far SB 135 and SB 171 are up for debate. Gov. Laura Kelly (D) has for years called on the Republican-controlled to pass medical cannabis legislation, as Cannabis Wire has reported.
SB 3, also known as the North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, already has 13 sponsors, both Democrats and Republicans. The Republican-controlled legislature poses a hurdle. But Gov. Roy Cooper (D) supports cannabis reform, and back in 2020 he convened a Task Force for Racial Equity in Criminal Justice that recommended decriminalization, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time.
Last year, the Senate passed the South Carolina Compassionate Care Act, as Cannabis Wire reported at the time, but that’s as far as it got by session’s end. Sen. Tom Davis (R) is trying again with S. 423. Republicans control the legislature, and Gov. Henry McMaster (R) has been lukewarm about medical cannabis legalization.
Editor’s note: this story has been updated to reflect that three, not two, U.S. territories now have legal adult use.