An Overview of Recent Marijuana Legislative Developments From Around the United States

A lot is happening on the legislative front this month, with nearly two dozen states across the country considering cannabis-related measures to some degree.

Here’s a sampling of some of the bigger legislative developments – both positive and negative – and related polls on attitudes toward cannabis from around the US:

Alabama: A House committee vetoed a measure to legalize medical marijuana earlier this month by a wide margin (12-2), dashing hopes that Alabama will go green this year. The move isn’t surprising, given the conservative leanings of local lawmakers. Medical cannabis backers are now setting their sights on 2013, but it could be years before MMJ stands a real chance in Alabama.

Arkansas: The state attorney general rejected the wording of a proposed medical marijuana ballot initiative last week, saying it contains too many ambiguities. Supporters – who are hoping to get the measure certified for next year’s election – will now have to tweak the wording and try again. If they can get the measure on the ballot, Arkansas has a real shot at becoming the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana: A similar initiative lost by a very narrow margin in the 2012 elections.

Hawaii: Earlier this month, the chairman of a House committee killed a bill calling for the legalization of marijuana for adult use after determining that it didn’t have enough support to pass. Hawaii already allows the use of medical marijuana (though not dispensaries). Despite strong support from voters – a recent poll found that 57% support cannabis legalization – some key lawmakers remain vehemently opposed.

Iowa: A poll released last week found that 58% of voters support medical marijuana vs. 38% who oppose it. While that’s good news in general for MMJ efforts, support is actually down 6 percentage points from 2010. A medical marijuana bill is currently pending in the Senate, but it faces stiff resistance from the governor and the House, where a subcommittee killed a similar MMJ measure last month. So don’t expect medical cannabis legalization this year in Iowa. As a side note, just 29% of residents support marijuana legalization for recreational use, according to the recent poll.

Kentucky: A survey released this month found that 60% of voters in Kentucky support medical marijuana vs. just 31% who oppose the idea. It also found that 65% support legalized industrial hemp. An MMJ bill has been introduced. But it’s unlikely that Kentucky will legalize medical marijuana this year, as there are concerns that the measure might not even make it to a hearing. A bill to legalize hemp production for industrial use, however, has a much better chance. It passed in the state Senate and has moved to a House committee for further debate.

Florida: A group trying to get a medical marijuana measure on the 2014 ballot released a poll showing overwhelming support for such an initiative. Roughly 70% of respondents said they back the legalization of medical cannabis in Florida, while just 24% oppose the idea. The group has its work cut out for it, though, as it’s very difficult to get a measure on the ballot in Florida. A state senator plans to introduce medical marijuana legislation this year, but it’s doubtful lawmakers will approve such a measure.

Idaho: In an odd move that underscores the challenges for MMJ in the state, the Senate advanced a measure saying that Idaho should never decriminalize or legalize marijuana for any use. Idaho, therefore, won’t join the medical marijuana club anytime soon. On the bright side, lawmakers rejected a bill calling for the federal government to crack down on states with MMJ and marijuana laws, saying they support states’ rights.

Maine: A lawmaker introduced a bill last week that would legalize marijuana for adult use and set up a regulated system governing cultivation operations and retail cannabis stores. The measure also would tax marijuana sales, bringing the state an estimated $13 million in annual revenues. Maine already allows the use and sale of marijuana for medical reasons, and eight dispensaries currently operate in the state. There’s a good change Maine will take that a step further and become the third state in the national to legalize recreational cannabis.

Maryland – A state delegate unveiled a measure last week that would legalize, tax and regulate cannabis for recreational use. Retail marijuana shops would be allowed, and the state would collect an excise tax of $50 per ounce. Support among lawmakers is mixed, but in general the proposal faces an uphill battle.

Michigan: In the wake of a damaging Supreme Court ruling that threatens the future of the state’s MMJ industry, a lawmaker has introduced a bill that would allow cities and counties to allow dispensaries within their boundaries if they so choose. It’s a sorely needed piece of legislation, but a fair share of lawmakers are opposed to dispensaries.

New Hampshire: If you’re thinking about placing bets on the next state to legalize medical marijuana, consider going all-in on New Hampshire. The state held a hearing last week on a medical marijuana legalization bill. There’s no question of the level of support: Lawmakers have approved MMJ bills twice in recent years, only to see them die at the desk of former Gov. John Lynch. The new governor, however, has said she is open to the idea of MMJ legalization, meaning there’s a good chance the state will finally pass medical marijuana laws this year.

Nevada – A state Senator has introduced a bill that would pave the way for dispensaries under tight regulations and strict oversight by the Gaming Control Board. The measure calls for using Arizona’s regulatory structure as a model. Nevada currently allows patients to possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes, but its MMJ law does not allow for dispensaries. The bill faces many challenges, but the outcome is anything but certain.

North Carolina: Lawmakers in this conservative Southern state recently killed a medical marijuana bill, saying they were being “harassed” by MMJ supporters and want to be done with the issue. The only real shot for MMJ legislation in North Carolina in the near future will be through ballot measures, and even that will be a huge challenge.

Oklahoma: A Senate committee sunk a bill calling for the legalization of medical marijuana in the state, though the measure’s sponsor said even getting a hearing on the issue was a huge victory. It will be at least two more years before a medical cannabis bill can be introduced, per Senate rules.

Rhode Island: The House Judiciary Committee will hold a hearing Wednesday on a bill to legalize marijuana for adult use and tax cannabis sales. The state already allows medical marijuana and is in the process of setting up a dispensary program. There’s a reasonable chance Rhode Island will legalize cannabis for recreational use this year.

West Virginia: On Feb. 15, a state delegate introduced a bill to legalize marijuana for medical use. Similar bills have not made it to a hearing in each of the past two years. But this one could be different, given growing support for MMJ in the state. A recent poll found that 53% of local voters back medical marijuana legalization compared to 40% who oppose it.

Federally: On Monday, Rep. Earl Blumenauer introduced a measure in the US House of Representatives that would tax marijuana sales and allow states to legalize medical cannabis without fear of federal intervention. Rep. Jared Polis is also introducing a similar measure that would regulate marijuana like alcohol. The chances are slim-to-none that these bills will pass, but at the very least they elevate the debate.