US Going Green? More Than a Dozen States Could Consider Marijuana Legalization Next Year

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The market for legal marijuana could expand well beyond Colorado and Washington very soon.

As in next year.

Lawmakers in Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont have already promised to introduce marijuana legislation in 2013. And leading cannabis groups think it’s possible that 10 additional states could follow a similar path.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) says we could see legalization proposals or ballot initiatives in a total of 13 states: Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, Oregon and Virginia in addition to the five states listed above. The Marijuana Policy Project estimates a similar number but adds Michigan and Missouri to the list of potential states. More might move in this direction as the year plays out and the marijuana movement gains momentum.

Most of these states currently have medical marijuana laws on the books, which could make it easier to pass general cannabis legalization.

To be clear, though, NORML and MPP are not predicting that we’ll see a dozen or so states legalize marijuana next year. Some proposals might never materialize, while others will most certainly die at the hands of politicians and voters (Minnesota’s governor, for instance, says he won’t support any type of marijuana legalization).

But there’s a chance at least one or two of these states will muster up enough support to legalize marijuana, which would be a boon for the cannabis industry.

The market for cannabis will vary by state depending on population, how marijuana-friendly its residents are and whether the law allows retail sales. But the potential is huge, ranging from as little as $100 million in small states like Alaska and Vermont to $1 billion or more in states like Arizona, Massachusetts and Virginia (and much, much more if the nation’s largest population centers like New York and California eventually legalize marijuana).

Legalization in more states would also send another convincing message to the federal government about the population’s changing views of marijuana. And it could benefit the entire medical marijuana industry in an indirect way: The feds might be too consumed with fighting marijuana legalization to pay much attention to medical cannabis dispensaries.

Looking further out, we’ll likely see marijuana legalization measures on the ballot in the next couple years – particularly in 2016, as a greater number of people in general – as well as those with lenient views of marijuana  – tend to vote in a national election. Several states could also legalize medical marijuana in the coming years as well, including Illinois and New York.