Several states still in play to legalize marijuana through legislatures

Map showing states in play this year to legalize medical or recreational marijuana through legislative action.

(This story has been updated to correct the licensing details in the medical marijuana bill in South Carolina).

More than a half-dozen states remain in play to potentially legalize medical or recreational marijuana through their legislatures this year, with much of the activity focused along the East Coast.

Hundreds of millions of dollars in business opportunities would be generated from the new programs, depending on which state legislatures vote to legalize medical or adult-use marijuana.

Karen O’Keefe, state policies director at the Washington DC-based Marijuana Policy Project, said there’s a strong chance that Rhode Island will pass a recreational marijuana bill, and South Carolina a medical marijuana measure.

Recreational marijuana legalization in Delaware and MMJ bills in Kansas and North Carolina are given medium-to-strong odds by industry experts, while Minnesota, New Hampshire and Pennsylvania are worth monitoring for possible progress in legalizing recreational marijuana.

“High drama” already has occurred in Delaware, noted Jax James, state policy manager for DC-based NORML.

There, a recreational marijuana measure failed by only two votes in the state House of Representatives. The measure required a supermajority for passage because of the bill’s tax provisions.

But activists continue to fight “tooth and nail” to get a measure through this year, James said.

House Democrat Ed Osienski revived efforts in Delaware by filing two separate bills: one that would legalize marijuana possession and a second that would establish a regulated market.

The first is considered to have a good chance to pass and then it might be a question of whether lawmakers want to legalize marijuana without collecting tax revenue through a regulated market, according to James.

Just down the coast in Maryland, lawmakers referred recreational marijuana to the voters in November through a ballot initiative, although voter approval would be just the first step in implementing any program.

Lawmakers would then need to work out details such as licensing and taxation.

In Ohio, lawmakers have until late May to decide whether to place a citizen-initiated recreational marijuana referendum on the November ballot.

Most experts believe they won’t act, which would then require a citizen group, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, to collect another 132,877 verified signatures to get the measure on the fall ballot.

As expected, Mississippi lawmakers earlier this year legalized medical marijuana after the state Supreme Court there voided a voter-approved referendum.

The program, which will be relatively restrictive, could launch by the end of the year.

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Below is a summary of states that are still seeing 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: Under the legislative bills, 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 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 business enterprises. McKee also proposed a 10% excise tax in addition to the current 7% state sales tax.

Legislature adjournment date: June 30

South Carolina (Medical)

Summary: The state Senate passed a restrictive medical cannabis bill, S. 150, and a House committee recently advanced an amended bill to the House floor for a possible vote.

Key business details: The only medical marijuana products allowed would be oils, salves, patches or vaporizers. State regulators would license 15 cultivators, 30 processing facilities and one “therapeutic cannabis pharmacy” for every 20 pharmacies in the state or about 65, according to an MPP bill summary.

Legislative adjournment date: May 12

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.

Vermont is a model for such a two-pronged strategy: Lawmakers there passed a possession and home-grow bill in 2018 and then approved a measure in 2020 to develop a commercial recreational marijuana market.

Osienski’s new bill, HB 372, was assigned to the House Revenue and Finance Committee on March 31.

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

Minnesota (Recreational)

Summary: The Minnesota House of Representatives – where Democrats hold a majority – passed a recreational marijuana legalization bill, HF 600, in May 2021 by a margin of 72-61. But the companion bill, SF 757, stalled in the Senate.

Key business details: The measure would establish an Office of Social Equity, and social equity would account for 20% of the scoring of license applications. License types would include craft cultivators and microbusinesses.

Legislature Adjournment Date: May 23

New Hampshire (Recreational)

Summary: A number of recreational marijuana bills were in play this session, but the Republican-controlled House of Representatives narrowly passed the most restrictive version, House Bill 1598, by a vote of 169-156 on March 31. The bill has been sent to the Senate.

Key business details: Under House Bill 1598, recreational marijuana products could be sold only at stores run by the state Liquor Commission. The commission anticipates it would open 10 stores that also could sell medical cannabis. Such a limited number of retail outlets could constrict a commercial marketplace, and MPP and NORML question whether the measure would pass legal muster because it would require state employees to sell products that are federally illegal.

Legislature adjournment date: June 30

Pennsylvania (Recreational)

Summary: The state Senate Law and Justice Committee held three hearings in February and March on potential adult-use marijuana legalization, but no bills have so far 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.