After a string of years in which voters rapidly increased the number of states with legal marijuana, state legislatures seemed ready to follow suit in a number of states in 2019. However, things have not turned out that way.
Most famously, Illinois, New Jersey and New York have failed to join the ranks of states with legal marijuana. Other states that looked to be on the verge of legalization have also changed course, instead opting to decriminalize cannabis.
The website Politico argues that much of this has to do with Democrats, who have led the movement to legalize marijuana but couldn’t stop tripping over themselves in 2019. The website noted that “in state after state, proposals encountered significant turbulence, and the clock is running out on the legislative season.”
What Happened in 2019
Three big states seemed on the verge of passing recreational legalization and joining the growing list of states with legal marijuana. But it hasn’t happened in any of them as of mid-May.
In New Jersey, a highly publicized bill to make recreational marijuana legal failed to be brought to a vote in the state Senate due to a lack of support. Many lawmakers in the state questioned whether the bill adequately allowed for minorities to participate in the marijuana industry. Conservative and moderate lawmakers also were not fans of a provision that allowed some convicted criminals to expunge past marijuana arrests.
In New York, Latino and African American lawmakers did not support legalization because they felt more criminal justice reform needed to be included in the bill. They also want more provisions to ensure minority participation in the marijuana industry.
Those same issues also have plagued legalization in Illinois, although that state is likely the closest to passing a legalization bill, according to Politico. Lawmakers there hope revenues from marijuana taxes and fees can help the state put a dent in the massive amounts of debt it is currently carrying.
Decriminalization Over Legalization
Hawaii recently joined a list of states that have chosen to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana rather than legalization. This decision came after the state’s lawmakers could not agree on a legalization bill.
New Mexico had followed a similar path earlier in the year, with lawmakers deciding to decriminalize rather than legalize. Minnesota, Missouri and North Carolina have followed similar paths.
It’s interesting to note that while voters around the country have been quick to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use, lawmakers have not. However, Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, said that it’s not that surprising.
She told Politico, “I’ve worked in marijuana policy for 15 years, and having Democratic majorities in both chambers hasn’t even made it easy to pass medical marijuana. Elected officials tend to be way behind the public on this issue.”