A few states could still legalize marijuana through legislatures this year

A map showing states in play to legalize medical or recreational marijuana through legislation.

(This story has been updated to include legislative successes so far this year.)

A handful of states remain in play to legalize medical or recreational marijuana through legislative action in 2022, but other efforts have faltered in recent weeks as some legislatures wrap up their work for the year.

Rhode Island remains the most likely to legalize recreational marijuana, while Delaware (recreational), Kansas (medical) and North Carolina (medical) are considered as having a moderate to strong chance of passing bills.

Those states, if they legalize, would generate hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana and ancillary business opportunities down the road.

Earlier this year, Mississippi lawmakers legalized medical marijuana, and Maryland’s Legislature referred recreational marijuana to the voters in November.

A restrictive medical marijuana measure in South Carolina was seen as likely to pass when, in a stunning action last week, the House leader killed the bill, saying it included an unconstitutional tax increase.

The bill’s longtime sponsor is scrambling to see if he can get something done before the Legislature adjourns on Thursday, such as attaching the measure to another bill.

Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, wrote to MJBizDaily she isn’t ready to give up on South Carolina.

She noted the measure passed by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in the Senate, and “we are confident that if the issue is given an up-and-down vote in the House, it will pass there, too,” O’Keefe wrote in an email.

“With 70% popular support and such a thoroughly vetted, conservative proposal, it is outrageous that it still hasn’t gotten a vote on the merits in the House floor.”

A recreational marijuana effort in New Hampshire is all but dead – except for a possible home grow measure – after the Senate rejected an adult-use legalization bill.

In Minnesota, activists acknowledge there’s little chance that recreational marijuana will be legalized anytime soon because of opposition from Senate Republicans.

In Kentucky, medical cannabis legislation died, but Gov. Andy Beshear is considering taking executive action to make MMJ accessible.

Ohio, which would constitute a huge recreational marijuana market, is more complicated. A combined ballot initiative and legislative process remains up in the air.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol coalition collected a first round of signatures to put adult-use legalization before Ohio lawmakers, and on Jan. 28 the Secretary of State transmitted the referendum for consideration by the Legislature.

Legislative leaders have indicated that they won’t act on the measure to legalize recreational marijuana before the May 28 deadline.

If they do nothing, the coalition would have 90 days to collect enough additional signatures to place the measure on the November ballot.

But a flurry of emails in January between the lawyer for the House speaker and the state Attorney General’s Office questioned whether the proposed referendum met the requirements to be considered this year.

The coalition submitted its initial petition on time on Dec. 20, 2021.

But the Secretary of State’s office declared a deficiency in the number of valid signatures.

The coalition collected enough additional signatures within a prescribed time, but leading lawmakers now say that was too late for the measure to be considered this year.

The coalition has filed two lawsuits in Franklin County.

One asks the court to declare that the petition is proper and the other accuses House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman of blocking the ballot issue.

“We’re going to court to protect the rights of the over 200,000 Ohio citizens that signed our petition and called for the Legislature to take action,” Tom Haren, a cannabis law attorney and spokesman for the coalition, said in a written statement after the first suit was filed.

Below is a summary of states still expected to see legislative action this year on marijuana legalization bills:

EXPECTED TO PASS THIS YEAR

Rhode Island (Recreational)

Summary: Lawmakers introduced in March a pair of identical adult-use legalization bills, S 2430 and H 7593, as part of a negotiated agreement among key legislators.

The Senate Judiciary Committee and House Finance Committee held public hearings on the bills, but committee votes haven’t been taken.

Gov. Dan McKee has proposed his own recreational marijuana proposal as part of his fiscal year 2023 budget.

Key business details: The state’s 60-plus existing medical cannabis cultivators would control the market for at least the first two years.

The legislative measures also envision 24 retail licenses, with six going to social equity applicants and another six to worker-owned cooperatives, according to a bill summary by MPP.

A 10% retail excise tax would be imposed in addition to the current state sales tax of 7%, plus a 3% local excise tax.

Under the governor’s proposal, 25 retail licenses would be issued per year for three years, with at least 20% set aside for minority-owned businesses.

McKee also proposed a 10% excise tax in addition to the current 7% state sales tax.

Legislature adjournment date: June 30

The learning curve for entering the cannabis industry is steep. Start with the fundamentals.

MJBiz Cannabis 101 Email Course

A 10-part email course designed to educate new hires and aspiring professionals on the key fundamental areas of the legal cannabis industry, including:

  • History of legal cannabis in America
  • Overview of plant-touching + ancillary business sectors
  • Cannabis finance and investing
  • Cannabis marketing and brand building
  • Employment + hiring opportunities
  • And much more!

Gain a comprehensive understanding of this complex industry with this free resource.

POSSIBLE PASSAGE THIS YEAR

Delaware (Recreational)

Summary: Newark House Democrat Ed Osienski continues to push legalizing adult use this year after his earlier bill failed by only two votes.

Osienski filed two separate bills: one that would legalize marijuana possession, and a second that would establish a regulated market.

The state House last week passed the bill legalizing marijuana possession by a 26-14 margin. It now goes to the Senate.

The companion bill, HB 372, which would create a regulatory structure, cleared one House committee and is expected to get a full House vote in the coming weeks, according to NORML.

But passage would require a three-fifths majority because the legislation includes a tax provision in the form of a 15% sales tax.

Key business details: HB 372 would permit 30 retail store licenses, including 15 for social equity applicants; 30 processor licenses, including 10 for equity applicants and 10 for microbusinesses; and 60 cultivation licenses, including 20 for equity applicants and 20 for microbusinesses.

Existing medical cannabis operators could apply for adult-use licenses. A municipality could prohibit recreational marijuana operations in its jurisdiction by ordinance.

Legislature adjournment date: June 30

Kansas (Medical)

Summary: Senate lawmakers introduced a medical marijuana legalization measure, Senate Bill 560, on March 11, and hearings were held in the Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee in mid-March.

But votes haven’t been taken. Gov. Laura Kelly, a Democrat, said she supports medical marijuana.

Key lawmakers from both chambers reportedly have been working on a legislative compromise, which could become part of an amendment to an unrelated bill.

Key business details: The director of Alcohol and Cannabis Control would license cultivators, processors, distributors, dispensaries and testing laboratories.

The bill would require each dispensary to designate a “pharmacist consultant” who would audit medical cannabis recommendations to patients.

Legislature adjournment date: May 20

North Carolina (Medical)

Summary: The North Carolina Compassionate Care Act, Senate Bill 711, moved through several committees last year before being placed on the back burner in favor of more critical state budget and redistricting issues.

But the legislation is seen as having a chance of passing this year.

Key business details: Regulators would issue 10 medical marijuana “supplier” licenses.

Each license holder could open up to four dispensaries, with at least one in a county designated as economically disadvantaged.

Activists argue that the measure would favor multistate operators.

Legislative adjournment date: June 30

WORTH WATCHING

Pennsylvania (Recreational)

Summary: The state Senate Law and Justice Committee held hearings in February and March on potential adult-use marijuana legalization, but no bills have  been introduced in this legislative session.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has shown impatience with the lack of progress, especially now that neighboring New Jersey is about to launch an adult-use market.

“Pennsylvania is ready and waiting for legalized marijuana. Let’s get it done,” the governor tweeted in February.

Legislature adjournment date: The Legislature is in session through much of the rest of the year.

Jeff Smith can be reached at jeff.smith@mjbizdaily.com.