The National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws released a report celebrating unprecedented cannabis reform in 2021 across several states in the U.S. In more than 25 states, legislators enacted more than 50 laws easing cannabis policies, so individuals can hit the bong without the possibility of ruining their lives. It seems clear that American attitudes around marijuana are changing.
“State lawmakers took unprecedented steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” said NORML’s Deputy Director Paul Armentano.
Currently, eighteen states which comprise nearly half of the U.S. population have laws regulating adult-use marijuana retail sales and production. Connecticut, New York, New Mexico, New Jersey, and Virginia regulated retail cannabis markets and legalized adult-use marijuana possession. Louisiana lawmakers decriminalized the possession of up to 14 grams of cannabis. Alabama’s governor signed legislation to legalize medical cannabis in the state. In past years, significant changes to cannabis laws were enacted primarily through citizens’ initiatives. In a (pleasantly) surprising turn, legislators are now taking the lead in marijuana reform.
Numerous other states enacted legislation that expands medical cannabis access. California hospitals will now be required to allow certain patients to use medical cannabis. Texas patients with post-traumatic stress disorder or cancer can now qualify for low-THC marijuana products.
In a step toward social equity and justice, many states have facilitated the sealing of past marijuana convictions. Expungement of prior marijuana convictions was approved in Colorado, Delaware, New Mexico, and Virginia. Colorado’s governor signed a bill to double the cannabis possession limit for adults in the state and directed state law enforcement to identify those with prior convictions, which he may pardon given the new limit. An estimated 2.2 million marijuana convictions have been vacated during 2021.
Equity awareness is sparking change in other states. Illinois passed a bill to create additional marijuana licensing lotteries to expand business opportunities. Michigan’s Governor Whitmer signed a bill that no longer disqualifies those with a cannabis-related felony or misdemeanor conviction from obtaining a medical cannabis business license.
Many states are already preparing legislative proposals for 2022. One Kentucky lawmaker announced she is pre-filing bills for the 2022 session to legalize home cultivation, possession, and limited sales of marijuana. The South Dakota leadership panel has formally recommended a cannabis reform bill to the state legislature for the upcoming session. Oklahoma activists have filed 2022 ballot initiatives legalizing adult-use marijuana and rebuilding the state’s existing medical cannabis program. The Indiana Democratic Party is already beginning a push for marijuana legalization and calling state lawmakers to enact reform in 2022. New Hampshire lawmakers’ strategy involves proposing a constitutional amendment for the 2022 ballot.
It seems clear that, despite Congress’s reluctance to end federal prohibition, the movement toward legalization will continue state-by-state. Where marijuana reform was traditionally spurred on through citizen initiatives, it’s now being enacted through efforts of state legislators and governors.
“As we approach the 2022 legislative session and the elections next November, it is important for lawmakers of all political persuasions to recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability,” said Armentano. “These policies are popular among voters, regardless of political party.”