The year 2018 saw significant victories for advocates of marijuana legalization. For example, voters in Utah and Missouri approved medical cannabis initiatives, and recreational marijuana became legal in Vermont and Michigan. More victories seem likely in 2019 because the midterm elections were the first in which several candidates for governor (all Democrats) campaigned and won on a legalization platform.
Connecticut and Illinois
In Connecticut, Ned Lamont won the governor’s office after saying that legalization is “an idea whose time has come” and that it was preferable to “the black market controlling marijuana distribution in our state.” A poll found that a solid majority of Connecticut’s voters approve of legalization. After getting elected, Lamont said that legalization was a priority. The president of the state Senate also supports legalization, and several opponents of legalization have left the legislature.
Another state in which a candidate won on a promise of legalization is Illinois, where J.B. Pritzker campaigned on these words: “The path forward for Illinois is clear: we need to legalize marijuana…There is an abundance of evidence that shows we can legalize marijuana in a safe way. It would have real benefits for Illinois, including reducing opioid overdoses and bringing in much needed revenue from taxation.” One economic report indicates that Illinois could gain as much as $525 million in tax revenue from legalization and $1 billion in total economic benefit. Pritzker is reportedly already in talks with legislators on a legalization bill.
In Minnesota, Tim Walz won on a pro-legalization platform, but he may lack support in the legislature. The Democratic leader of the House has said that “it’s too early to say” if legalization is possible this year, and the Republican leader of the Senate has said he needs to study Colorado’s experience with legalization and that “My gut is that it’s probably not good for the state.” Similarly, in New Mexico, incoming governor Michelle Lujan Grisham campaigned on legalization, and she has support in the lower house of the legislature, but the more conservative Senate may stand in the way.
New Jersey and New York
Two states that seem likely to legalize in 2019 are New Jersey and New York. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy won on a promise to consider legalization, which has support in the legislature. A bill is being prepared, making New Jersey a contender to become the first state to legalize this year. Murphy has said that he wants a bill on his desk for signature in his first 100 days in office. One issue that remains to be resolved is the rate of taxation; Murphy wants a higher tax rate of 25%, while the legislature is preparing a bill with a 12% tax rate. In New York, incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a former opponent of legalization, announced that he would consider it after voters showed support. In both states, voters and politicians also showed support for laws that would take steps to redress the wrongs of racially disparate enforcement and provide expungement or reduced records for prior marijuana convictions. Bills are being readied in both states to provide for expungement.
Whatever state legalizes in 2019, the year is likely to mark a first in which states legalize via their legislatures rather than voter initiative.
What do you think? Will New Jersey be the first? What other states will legalize in 2019? Leave a comment below.