Cannabis laws and regulations change almost every day. With no federal legality or guidance, states are left to determine their own laws, which can be increasingly difficult for marijuana businesses selling to different states.
Which States Have Legalized Marijuana?
As of July 2022, 38 states have legalized the medical use of cannabis to varying degrees, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws: Alaska, Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia. In addition, the District of Columbia and the territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands and the US Virgin Islands have all legalized medical marijuana.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized the adult use of marijuana for recreational purposes: Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Nevada, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and Washington. Marijuana is also legal for medical purposes in all these localities. In addition, recreational cannabis is legal in Washington, DC, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands.
The 19th State to Legalize Recreational Cannabis
Rhode Island became the 19th state to legalize recreational marijuana back in May, 2022. The Rhode Island Cannabis Act allows adult Rhode Islanders age 21 and up to possess (up to one ounce in public or up to 10 ounces at home), home-cultivate (up to six plants, no more than three mature), and purchase limited amounts of cannabis. The Act also includes provisions for re-investing tax revenue from cannabis sales into those communities that were previously most harmed by prohibition, as well as programs to aid social equity applicants seeking to enter the market.
Brian Vicente, Founding Partner and Executive Board Member of Vicente Sederberg LLP, says that the state is hoping to allow dispensaries to start selling recreational cannabis on December 1 of 2022. “This is a remarkable development, and now they are the 19th state to legalize recreational cannabis. There are some great immediate effects, but it is also a fairly aggressive timeline for sales,” Vicente said.
If you are looking to capitalize on this growing market, Vicente says that pre-existing medical dispensaries will definitely have a leg up when it comes time to sell recreational cannabis. Rhode Island dispensaries have been selling medical marijuana for 10 years, so businesses will have the option to just flip the switch and automatically begin selling recreational cannabis. While new marijuana businesses will be allowed to come into the space, they will be a little behind those who have been around for a while.
Medical Marijuana Legalization Squashed for North Carolina
A Senate-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina is effectively dead this session, with House Republican lawmakers reportedly deciding not to allow it to advance further following an internal caucus vote, according to Marijuana Moment. The legislation from Sen. Bill Rabon (R) cleared the Senate earlier in June 2022 in a strongly bipartisan vote, but questions were already being raised about its prospects in the House, where GOP leadership had been consistently signaling that they were reluctant to move the legislation this year.
Oklahoma Cannabis Legalization on the Horizon
Oklahoma activists have submitted what they say are more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the November 2022 ballot. The Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) campaign announced in early July 2022 that it had turned in over 164,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office. They need 94,911 of the submissions to be valid in order to qualify, according to Marijuana Moment.
The initiative would allow adults 21 and older in the state to possess and purchase up to an ounce of cannabis and grow a limited number of plants for personal use. The campaign, which is being backed by the national New Approach PAC, is one of two citizen efforts to put legalization on the ballot, with another one still in the process of signature gathering for its own pair of complementary initiatives.
“This is very exciting. November will be an enormous event for cannabis reform with the elections,” Vicente said. “Oklahoma, South Dakota, Missouri, and Maryland will most likely be on the ballot, and there is a 50/50 chance we will see Arkansas and Nebraska, as well. It could be a big night.”
South Dakota Joins the Medical Marijuana Club
Of the 247 new laws taking effect in South Dakota on July 1, 2022, 23 of them deal with the regulation of the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry. Of these 23 laws, seven apply directly to the possession or use of cannabis, while the rest deal with defining and regulating the industry.
Attempts to delay the implementation of the medical marijuana program to January 2022 failed due to disagreements in the South Dakota state legislature, but now medical marijuana is legal in the state. Prior to then, cannabis was fully illegal, with South Dakota being the only U.S. state which outlawed ingestion of controlled substances.
Missouri Cannabis Market Beginning to Mature
Missouri legalized the use of medical cannabis on December 6, 2018. Compared to many other states, Missouri’s definition of what constitutes medicinal use is more tightly defined. For example, most medical cannabis states allow “anxiety” as an acceptable condition for a prescription, while Missouri does not. According to Cannabis Industry Journal, Missouri is now locked in a battle to legalize adult use cannabis, with the group Legal Missouri 2022, among others, working hard to put the measure on the ballot this year. At the same time, Representative Ron Hicks (R) is pushing to legalize recreational purchases with his Cannabis Freedom Act.
Marijuana Regulations Underway in Maryland
The Maryland House Cannabis Referendum and Legalization Workgroup held its first hearing in mid June since a pair of bills were enacted to put cannabis legalization on the November ballot and implement certain initial rules if voters approve the reform. They discussed licensing and regulatory issues at the meeting, with members hearing expert testimony on the current marijuana policy landscape to help inform their approach in the future.
Medical marijuana has been legal in Maryland since 2013, but adult-use has yet to be legalized. Those provisions discussed in the workgroup mostly concern issues such as penalties and expungement — leaving questions about how the legal cannabis market will be structured and regulated up to future decisions by lawmakers in the 2023 and 2024 sessions, according to Marijuana Moment.
Arkansas and Nebraska Recreational Marijuana Initiatives
The Arkansas Recreational Marijuana Initiative is officially not on the ballot as of July 17 in Arkansas as an initiated constitutional amendment on November 8, 2022. This measure would have legalized marijuana use for individuals 21 years of age and older, regardless of residency. While medical marijuana is legal in the state, recreational use is still illegal.
The Nebraska Marijuana Legalization Initiative is also not on the ballot in Nebraska, as of July 13, 2022. The initiative would have amended the Nebraska Constitution to legalize the use of marijuana for recreational purposes. Medical marijuana is legal and the possession of small amounts of cannabis has been decriminalized in the state, but recreational use is still illegal.
Potential State Changes if the MORE Act Passes
If the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act finally passes, Vicente thinks that there are some states that would open up research opportunities more broadly, so there could be some concrete changes. It would also be symbolic if we removed federal criminal penalties associated with cannabis, which would be a strong signal to the states to be more thoughtful around addressing prohibition on certain communities of color. The MORE Act is also proposing a five percent federal tax, so that could also have some impact on persuading state laws to lower their own taxes so as to not push consumers to seek out their marijuana from the black market.