I remember when California declined to legalize the adult use of recreational marijuana under Proposition 19. There were a few debatable points that kept the proposed bill from being ideal but when it failed, there was a feeling akin to a vacuum. How many years would we have to wait for another bill to have a shot at passing a popular vote? It took 6 years and a couple other states beating us to the punch. But some states in the Northeast aren’t content to simply wait around for another shot at the polls. Despite the looming presence of a loud and proud prohibitionist attorney general, several states in the northeastern U.S. are fast tracking marijuana reform through legislative means.
Vermont Legalization Bill Passes House and Senate in Historic First
On May 10, 2017, Vermont made history by becoming the first U.S. state to pass a recreational cannabis bill through both their House and Senate. This doesn’t mean that Vermont has officially legalized the adult use of marijuana. The bill’s passage still relies on the signature of Governor Phil Scott who has spoken on record as seeing cannabis legalization as a low priority matter. Instead, Scott feels that matters such as traffic safety, edible regulation, and standards of impairment need to be settled prior to authorizing legalization. At this point, Scott has 3 options: kill the bill, pass it, or allow the bill to gradually become law without his signed approval. It’s still uncertain how he will choose to proceed (if he will proceed at all). The bill is officially on Scott's desk as of this morning and he has 5 days to act. But even if Scott were to sign the bill today, the people of Vermont would be waiting until July 1, 2018 which some feel is plenty of time to put proper regulations in place.
New Jersey Eyes Long Term Legislation for Marijuana Reform
New Jersey is attempting to navigate a similar path to marijuana reform although with a different tactic. The bill, set in motion by Senator Nicholas Scutari, stands no chance of making it beyond the desk of Governor Chris Christie, a politician well known for his outdated and baseless accusations of cannabis. Since Christie shows every sign of going down with the ship, backers of the New Jersey legalization bill are prepared to wait him out. Christie’s term ends in January 2018 and the chances that his successor will have the same unwavering zeal for prohibition is slim. While the bill is garnering some controversy in its early days, Scutari has acknowledged a willingness to further tailor the bill to make it more palatable.
New Hampshire Decriminalizes Through Legislature
Of course, marijuana reform isn’t just about legalization as New Hampshire is illustrating. The state is on the verge of using legislation to decriminalize marijuana, a feat attempted 8 previous times without success. While the state Senate killed the bill each time, changing attitudes prevailed and the Senate voted 17-6 in favor of decriminalizing cannabis. While both Vermont and New Jersey are contending with governors who lean toward blocking marijuana reform, New Hampshire’s Governor Chris Sununu has already said he will sign the bill, declaring, “I want to thank the legislature for passing common sense marijuana reform.”
Many states have a vested interest in fast tracking cannabis legalization through legislation; chief among them the obvious economic stimulus of tax revenue. While certain states are content to play a longer waiting game for a popular vote, it seems the latest trend in the northeast is for the lawmakers to speed up the process through legislation, taking into account the demand of their residents. While it still remains to be seen whether an official recreational use legalization will pass through legislation alone, history is being made on a daily basis.