8 States That Could Legalize Cannabis In 2017

Editor’s Note: This piece originally ran on our new legal cannabis news website, CannabisRegulator.com.

Election Day 2016 was triumphant for the pro-pot movement. Four states voted to legalize cannabis, doubling the number that have passed such laws.

Will 2017 be another year of progress?

While the federal government remains decidedly anti-legalization, there are signs that more states will soon join California, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska, Massachusetts and Maine in allowing recreational marijuana.

1) Connecticut

As Massachusetts goes, so does Connecticut.

The smaller state regularly follows in the footsteps of its neighbor to the north. And with Connecticut contending against budget defects, politicians there will likely look at tax revenue generated in legal-pot states and consider it a way out of annual financial shortfalls.

Several bills with bipartisan support are already working their way through Connecticut’s General Assembly. But the roadblock may be the governor.

Cannabis has received little support from Connecticut’s Governor Dannel Malloy, a Democrat. He’s been on record as calling legalization in Massachusetts a “mistake” for being done in haste. Malloy has also opined that Connecticut should “should hit the pause button and watch how it works in [Massachusetts]” before moving forward.

On the other side of the aisle, Len Fasano, the Connecticut Senate Republican President Pro Tempore, is also anti-pot. Despite a projected $1.7 billion deficit in the new budget, Fasano was recently quoted as saying “that we don’t sell our soul to fill our coffers. In my view, that’s what we’re doing [with cannabis]. I think my caucus is against it. It’s not a fiscal issue. It’s a social policy issue.”

Democrats have control of both houses in Connecticut’s General Assembly. And cannabis has the support of Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney (D-New Haven), who sponsored one of the legalization bills, based on Colorado’s system.

Unlike Governor Malloy, cannabis tends to poll well in Connecticut. And his own party is behind the legalization effort, with an eye towards closing the state deficit. That may force the governor’s hand sooner than later.

2) Rhode Island

For seven consecutive years, Rhode Island legislators have proposed bills to legalize cannabis. Many state politicians, led by two Democrats who’ve offered up another bill, hope that 2017 will be the year that pot passes.

Especially now that Massachusetts to the north has legalized cannabis. The fear in Rhode Island is that residents will cross the border for their legal marijuana needs. That’s tax revenue that could instead go into Rhode Island coffers.

Like in Connecticut, the governor remains cautious. Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (a Democrat) has said she’s in no rush to legalize. This is perhaps because legislators in Maine and Massachusetts have delayed implementing legalization after its approval by ballot.

Further complicating matters, Rhode Island’s Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a Democrat, is outspokenly anti-pot. So much so that last week he announced a public campaign against legalization in the state.

Still, a recent poll found that 3 in 5 Rhode Island residents support recreational cannabis.

3) Vermont

Vermont politicians have proposed two legalization bills in 2017.

One would allow possession of small amounts of marijuana, and plants, without creating a regulated market (like in Washington D.C.), while the other would create a legal and taxed market similar to other states.

In response to both bills, Vermont’s Republican Governor Phil Scott echoed his counterparts in Connecticut and Rhode Island. He prefers caution, especially since there remains no reliable way to detect cannabis in drivers. “We have to be able to measure in some way,” Scott was quoted as saying. “We don’t have a way to detect and measure that impairment . . . I think there needs to be work on a measure.”

4) Delaware

Elsewhere on the east coast, Delaware decriminalized small amount of cannabis in 2015, having approved medicinal pot in 2011. State politicians last year promised to explore full legalization in 2017. While they appear delayed in their efforts, there’s no reason to doubt the honesty of their intentions.

Which is important, because Delaware does not allow voter referendums. Approval would have to come from the state government. They’d seemingly be carrying out the will of the people: a recent University of Delaware poll found that 61 percent of state residents supported legalization.

Democrat Governor John Carney supported decriminalization, but has publicly argued for caution regarding legalization. “We should continue to wait and see how Delaware’s decriminalization law continues to be implemented, and monitor progress in other states, before taking any additional steps,” he said in an article.

5) Arizona

If at first you don’t succeed . . . try another avenue.

State residents voted down a proposal in 2016 that would have legalized cannabis. Referendum defeat was narrow: 51% nay to 49% yay.

A year later, pot proponents will turn from voters to legislators in an attempt to secure legalization. State Representative Mark Cardenas (D-Louisville) has already filed a bill for the 2017 legislative session that would create a state-run cannabis market nearly identical to those of existing pot-legal states.

Meanwhile, there is already effort underway to put legalization back on the Arizonan ballot in 2017.

6) Hawaii

Politicians from the Maui Waui state have proposed legalization.

The Democrat State Senator who’s filing the bill, Kalani English, has unsuccessfully offered up similar legislation for the past decade. Still, he remains hopeful.

“I don’t think people were quite ready to move it forward in the past, mainly because other states hadn’t legalized it and the social policy wasn’t established in the U.S.,” English said in an article. “Right now more than half the states have legalized or decriminalized some form of marijuana.”

7) Maryland

Democrat legislators in Maryland are pushing for it to become the first state in the Midwest to legalize recreational marijuana. Like in other states, their bill is based on the law in Colorado.

The same legislators are also trying to get recreational pot on the Maryland measure for 2018. A Washington Post-University of Maryland poll held last year found that 61% of state residents support legalization — up from 49% in 2014.

8) New Mexico

Democrats are also behind efforts to legalize cannabis in New Mexico, having just won back control of the State Senate in 2016. They also control the House.

A poll carried out by the Albuquerque Journal last year found that 61 percent of likely voters would support legal pot for adults age 21 and older.

However, Republican Gov. Susana Martinez, formerly the state’s attorney general, has spoken out against legalization.

What About Other States?

Other states are considering legalization initiatives in 2017. But these states are unlikely to approve anything this year due to different factors.

Some states face too large and tricky a legislative hurdle to realistically approve anything in 2017 (Texas, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania, Wyoming). Others must first successfully pass proposed medicinal laws (Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri). And another state has ample and outspoken Congressional support for pot, but also a governor who’s intractably against legalization (New Jersey).

A future article from the Cannabis Regulator will dig deeper into those 9 states, what’s holding back legalization and what it would take for them to approve recreational pot in the next five years. In the meantime, keep a close eye on the eight states above in 2017 for the next step in the national movement to legalize.

Kyle Swartz is editor of the Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz

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