Last updated: March 19, 2020
Dozens of cannabis policy reform bills are pending in state legislatures across the country, and several major reforms appeared poised for passage as of early March. However, the coronavirus has resulted in a fluid situation. A number of states paused their legislative sessions in order to promote social distancing to slow the spread of the pandemic. 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:
- Virginia’s legislature passed a bill to decriminalize up to an ounce of marijuana, imposing a $25 fine instead of possible jail time. The governor is expected to sign it.
- Alabama’s Senate and Kentucky’s House of Representatives have approved medical cannabis bills. Both legislatures are still in session, though Kentucky took a brief break and plans to adjourn early.
- In Vermont, the Senate and House approved different versions of S. 54, a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana sales (possession and cultivation is already legal). A conference committee was appointed to harmonize the bills.
- A bill to legalize and regulate marijuana for adults’ use received a committee hearing in Connecticut and is still alive.
In New York, there was hope that legalization could be included in the budget, but the Senate sponsor indicated it is unlikely due to an accelerated schedule in light of COVID-19.
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.
Marijuana Legalization Legislation
States with bills to legalize — and in most cases regulate — marijuana for adults: 22 and the U.S. Virgin Islands
- Arizona (HB 2657)
- Connecticut (Governor's Bill No. 16)
- Delaware (HB 110; the House Revenue and Finance Committee advanced the bill in an 8-3 vote on June 5, 2019)
- Florida (S 1860, H1389)
- Georgia (HB 1150)
- Hawaii (HB 1515, HB 1581, HB 708, SB 606, SB 686, and SB 702; the legislature suspended session indefinitely, effective March 17)
- Iowa (SF 469, HF 2208)
- Kentucky (HB 148, SB 105; the legislature took two days off in mid-March and is working on an expedited schedule)
- Louisiana (HB 626 would regulate sales, but does not seem to remove criminal penalties; HB 546 would put a legalization question on the 2020 ballot)
- Maryland (HB 1400; the General Assembly adjourned three weeks early on March 18 and plans a special session in late May)
- Minnesota (HF 2285, HF 265, HF 465, SF 2840, SF 619, and HF 420; HF 265 and HF 465 propose a constitutional amendment that would go to voters in 2020; the Senate bills were voted down in committee in a 6-3 vote)
- Mississippi (SB 2497)
- Missouri (HB 1978)
- New Hampshire (HB 1648, HB 1663, and HB 481; on January 28, 2020, the House Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee voted 13-7 to recommend passage of HB 1648, which legalizes possession and cultivation, but not sales; it now heads to the House floor)
- New Mexico (HB 160, SB 115; the Senate Public Affairs advanced SB 115 in a 4-3 vote; however, it was voted down 6-4 in Senate Judiciary; the legislature has adjourned for the year)
- New York (A. 1617, A. 9509, S. 1527, and S. 7509; the legislature and governor are hoping to complete the budget earlier than the April 1 deadline, which has reduced the chances of legalization being included)
- Pennsylvania (HB 50, HB 1899, SB 527, and SB 350)
- Rhode Island (H 7171)
- Tennessee (HB 2389, SB 1849; HB 235 and SB 256 would legalize under an ounce of marijuana, without legalizing sales or cultivation; HB 1610 and SB 1898 would legalize marijuana possession statewide and allow local initiatives to legalize and regulate it)
- Virginia (HB 269, HB 87; would have legalized simple possession of marijuana without legalizing sales or cultivation; while the legalization bills did not advance out of committee before the legislature adjourned on March 12, the legislature approved SJ 67, which requests a study of legalization and the impacts of prohibition)
- West Virginia (HB 2331, HB 2376, HB 4195, and HB 4625; these bills did not advance before the legislature adjourned on March 7)
- Wisconsin (SB377, AB 220, and AB 930)
- U.S. Virgin Islands (19-0061)
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. Meanwhile, efforts are underway to put legalization on the 2020 ballot in additional states, including Arizona, Missouri, Montana, and Oklahoma, although coronavirus may complicate efforts.
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.
Bills to Remove Possible Jail Time — Often Imposing a Fine — for Simple Possession (“Decriminalization”)
States with decriminalization bills: 13
- Alabama (SB 267)
- Florida (S 0242)
- Indiana (SB 114)
- Iowa (HF 93)
- Kentucky (HB 221; the legislature took two days off in mid-March and is working on an expedited schedule)
- Louisiana (HB 49)
- New Jersey (S 2101, S 312, A 1897)
- Oklahoma (HB 2614)
- South Carolina (H 3276 and H 4313)
- Tennessee (HB 235 and SB 256)
- Virginia (HB 265, HB 301, HB 481, and SB 2; SB 2 passed the Senate 27-13 on February 11 and the House amended and then passed the bill 63-25 on February 26; after a conference committee reconciled differences, the bill received final approval; it now heads to the governor who is expected to sign it)
- West Virginia (SB 100; this bill did not advance before the legislature adjourned on March 7)
- Wisconsin (AB 1004)
Twenty-six states and Washington, D.C. have decriminalized or legalized marijuana possession.
Effective Medical Marijuana Bills
States with bills to create comprehensive medical cannabis programs: 12
- Alabama (SB 165; on March 13, the Alabama Senate approved the bill in a 22-11 vote; it now heads to the House)
- Georgia (SB 232)
- Indiana (HB 1041, HB 1163, and HB 1216; the legislature adjourned on March 11, and the bills are dead)
- Iowa (SF 104, HF 221)
- Kansas (HB 2163, SB 113, HB 2303, SB 195, HB 2740, HB 2742, and SB 113)
- Kentucky (HB 136, SB 107; the House of Representatives approved HB 136 in a 65-30 vote on February 20; it now heads to the Senate)
- Mississippi (SB 2498, HB 1213, HB 1411, and HC 39; the bills died in committee; however, HC 39 was approved — it places a competing, more restrictive medical cannabis initiative on the ballot, which could jeopardize the odds of either medical cannabis measure passing)
- Nebraska (LB 110; passed the unicameral legislature’s Judiciary Committee on May 10 in a 5-1 vote, with one absent and one present but not voting)
- North Carolina (HB 401)
- South Carolina (H. 3660, S. 366, H. 3081, and H. 3272; S. 366 passed a Senate Medical Affairs subcommittee and is in the full committee; committee meetings in both chambers were scheduled for mid-March but have been cancelled or postponed due to the coronavirus)
- Tennessee (SB 486, HB 637, HB 2741, and SB 2441)
- Wisconsin (AB 750, SB 683, and SB 377; SB 377 would allow both medical and adult-use cannabis)
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. Signature drives are also underway in Idaho and Nebraska, although it is not yet clear how the coronavirus will affect them.
Thirty-three states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands have effective medical marijuana laws.
Don't see your state?
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.