Last updated: May 6, 2020
This year, dozens of cannabis policy reform bills were introduced in state legislatures across the country, and several major reforms appeared poised for passage as of early March. However, the coronavirus derailed most of the bills that had not already passed. A number of states paused their legislative sessions in order to promote social distancing to slow the spread of the pandemic, and many adjourned early. The National Conference of State Legislatures is doing excellent work tracking legislatures that are pausing or adjourning sessions, allowing remote voting, or otherwise modifying their schedules and procedures in times of the virus.
The below lists states where bills have been introduced to adopt new laws to legalize marijuana for adults, to adopt effective medical marijuana laws, or to replace possible jail time with fines for marijuana possession. Click on the state names below to learn more about efforts in your state and to take action in support of marijuana policy reform.
Of particular note:
Only 23 states allow citizen-initiated ballot initiatives, meaning in most states the only way to reform marijuana laws is via the legislature. With polls showing that 67% of Americans support making marijuana use legal and around 90% support allowing medical marijuana, lawmakers are increasingly getting the message that constituents want them to act on sensible and humane marijuana policies.
In times of this pandemic, it is all the more apparent that finite government resources shouldn’t be wasted on cannabis prohibition. And states could use the economic growth and tax revenue that come with marijuana legalization in these challenging times.
States with bills to legalize — and in most cases regulate — marijuana for adults: 22 and the U.S. Virgin Islands
In addition, the New Jersey Legislature placed legalization on the November 2020 ballot, and a voter initiative to legalize and regulate cannabis has qualified for the ballot in South Dakota. In Arizona, a legalization campaign is close to the needed signatures and is engaged in litigation asking to collect them electronically. Other campaigns were also in the works when coronavirus derailed signature drives.
Ten states have already passed laws to legalize and regulate marijuana similarly to alcohol: Alaska, California, Colorado, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon, and Washington. All but Illinois were by ballot initiative. An 11th, Vermont, allows adults to possess and cultivate marijuana, but does not yet allow regulated sales. Vermont’s S. 54 — which has passed both the House and Senate in different forms — would allow and regulate commercial cultivation, product manufacture, and sales.
States with decriminalization bills: 13
Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C. have decriminalized or legalized marijuana possession.
States with bills to create comprehensive medical cannabis programs: 12
In addition to states where legislatures are considering medical marijuana, some states’ voters will have the opportunity to consider the issue themselves. Medical marijuana initiatives have qualified for the November 2020 ballot in South Dakota and Mississippi. Advocates in Idaho and Nebraska aim to complete signature drives to put medical cannabis measures on the ballot.
Thirty-three states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have effective medical marijuana laws.
If you live in a state that still prohibits marijuana and no lawmakers have taken the lead to change that, send your state legislators a note to ask them to stand up for humane and sensible marijuana policies. Take a few moments to email them in support of medical marijuana, decriminalization, or legalizing and regulating marijuana. And wherever you live, please ask your member of Congress and U.S. senators to support legislation to protect individuals who are complying with state medical marijuana and legalization laws.