Coronavirus Pandemic Impacts Marijuana Legalization Efforts

One result of the coronavirus pandemic is that it has pushed other issues to the backburner. In the case of marijuana legalization, that could mean voters have to wait another year or two before having a chance to make it legal in their state.

As 2020 started, groups in many states planned to put medical or recreational marijuana legalization on the November ballot. Those states included Arkansas, Arizona, Montana, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Idaho and Nebraska. Two of those states (Idaho and Nebraska) wanted to legalize medical marijuana, while groups in the other states wanted to put recreational marijuana legalization on the ballot.

As things stand, all those efforts have stalled. While that could change, the odds don’t look good for legalization efforts in 2020. As New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, the odds of legalization in his state are “not likely,” adding “Too much [to deal with], too little time.”

All this is somewhat ironic, as marijuana sales have jumped during the pandemic and some states have deemed cannabis dispensaries an essential business.

Medical Marijuana in Kentucky

Kentucky made news earlier this year by being the one of the few states in The South to consider legalizing medical marijuana. However, the pandemic outbreak has put that legislation on the backburner.

A hearing on the bill in the state House of Representatives ended up getting canceled as the numbers of COVID-19 cases began to expand.

In Alabama, another southern state seemingly on the verge of legalizing medical marijuana, a legalization bill has stalled in committee as lawmakers deal with coronavirus. The bill’s sponsor, Sen. Tim Melson, told Cannabis Wire: “It definitely is in limbo. Unfortunately, low priority due to [coronavirus]. No idea of percentage of chance it will come back up.”

Much the same has happened in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont, where organizers had hoped to get recreational marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Marijuana Legalization Could Have Had a Banner Year in 2020

Before the pandemic, marijuana proponents felt 2020 looked like a banner year for legalization. However, the coronavirus caused two main issues. Because of social distancing, organizers cannot go door-to-door to gather the signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. Second, as demonstrated by what happened in Kentucky and Alabama, state lawmakers have shifted  priorities to dealing with the coronavirus.

There is still a chance in a few states. The grassroots campaign in Arizona had already collected 300,000 signatures before the outbreak, more than enough to qualify for the ballot. However, the state must first go through the process of verifying the signatures .

And voters in New Jersey will consider recreational legalization in November, as lawmakers decided to place it on the ballot late last year. In Mississippi, voters will consider two proposals to legalize medical marijuana.

Still, it will not be the year marijuana advocates expected. Some cannabis supporters, such as those in Idaho and North Dakota, have already said they are focusing their marijuana legalization efforts on the 2022 ballot.

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