Next year could see a huge shift in favor of green, and we’re not talking about the environment.
Lawmakers have taken notice of the shift in public opinion on marijuana legalization, and many are no longer afraid that supporting legal weed is political suicide. There are now eight states and the District of Columbia that have legalized marijuana, and four of those laws were enacted in the past year alone.
“As medical marijuana grew, we saw that support for legalization has increased at an accelerating pace,” says David Borden, executive director of StoptheDrugWar.org, which advocates for better drug policy. “People have seen that the sky hasn’t fallen … People are getting used to it.”
Recent legalizations are an encouraging sign that other states could hastily follow. However, all legalization directives up to this point have not come from governing bodies, but instead from statewide referendums and initiatives that appear on voting ballots after citizens have lobbied for them. There are only 26 states that allow residents to choose the initiatives that go on the statewide ballot.
Some states’ efforts are looking more promising than others due to newly elected lawmakers, changing public opinion, and major grassroot movements.
Vermont may be poised to be the first state to legalize marijuana through its legislature passing a law. The legislation has the support to smoothly pass — the only thing standing in the way is Gov. Phil Scott. The governor vetoed the bill when it landed on his desk in May, but he told the legislature he would consider it again once they added stiffer regulations and punishments relating to public safety, including “stoned driving” and use around children.
Even though Borden says he speculates how sincere the Vermont governor is in promising to review the legalization legislation, the approval from the legislature “opens a door” for when lawmakers reconvene at the end of the year or in January, Borden says.
Election Day 2017 had a huge impact on the state of marijuana legalization in New Jersey. The elected governor, Phil Murphy, has been an outspoken advocate for its positive effects on criminal justice reform. Democratic lawmakers have vowed that with Chris Christie on his way out of office, the state legislature can pass legalization within 100 days of Murphy’s term. There’s not much left in their way to stop them from their goal
“With this week’s elections, New Jersey may have bypassed them all,” says Morgan Fox, communications manager at the Marijuana Policy Project.
Michigan is one of the states that lets residents vote on their chosen initiatives, and the ballot for the 2018 Election will likely include one on marijuana legalization. The grassroots organization, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, has spearheaded the effort to get the referendum on the upcoming ballot, and is on schedule to get the required 250,000 valid signatures in time for 2018.
So for Michigan, residents know that the next opportunity for legalization will come in November, 2018. With a majority of Michigan citizens voicing their approval of legislation, the state’s odds look good.
There was an initiative to legalize marijuana on Arizona’s ballot in 2016, but it failed by just a few points. As public opinion slides more and more toward supporting legalization, the state could pass the initiative soon.
It’s worth noting that states that have failed to passing a legalization referendum the first time have approved it the second time. California and Oregon have both legalized marijuana, but in both cases, residents didn’t have enough support on the ballot the first time around.
Lawmakers in Rhode Island have showed a lot of support for legalization. There’s a special legislative committee that was formed to study the implications of legalization, and are due to report back to the legislature in March, 2018.
With how much time lawmakers have had to look over the legalization law and consider it, Borden says it could very easily pass once it’s reintroduced.
“My guess is they’ll come up with a framework and try to pass it within the next year,” Borden says. “It’s not what we wanted to happen this year, but it’s a step forward.”