The U.S. cannabis legalization movement – and thus the industry to which it gave birth – will continue to grow this year and next, almost certainly via a combination of state markets opening, ballot measures forcing cannabis legalization into state law, and state legislatures that decide it’s time to allow medical or recreational marijuana.
The only real question is how much it will grow, how quickly and where.
“We could potentially see pretty significant growth in the next few years. I predict we’ll have at least a couple more states in the next year and at least a few more the year after that,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies at the Marijuana Policy Project.
O’Keefe said she’s optimistic that sales may even begin in Maryland later this year, though some observers don’t expect a start date until 2025, following the victorious recreational cannabis ballot measure in November last year.
But she also cautioned that many legalization campaigns – particularly state legislative bills, as opposed to ballot measures such as the Maryland and Missouri victories in November – are multiyear efforts that require “a lot of handholding with individual legislators.” Victory in any given state is never guaranteed, she emphasized.
O’Keefe said she’s bullish on the legalization odds in Hawaii and Minnesota, but not very optimistic about bills in the Indiana, Tennessee, and Texas legislatures, for instance.
“Most states without legalization will have something introduced, and most will die without even getting out of committee,” O’Keefe acknowledged. “It’s not hard to put a bill in. It’s a lot harder to pass it.”
Here’s a rundown of which states are poised to join the growing national cannabis trade, and which could be embracing marijuana within the next two years.
One of two cannabis legalization ballot measure campaign victories last year, Maryland will stand up its recreational marijuana market, with the primary question being when. That’s up to the legislature, which will have to approve an implementation bill. Some observers predict sales won’t start for another year or two. MPP’s O’Keefe, however, said she “wouldn’t be surprised” if it happens in 2023.
The second of the two ballot measure victories from last year, Missouri sales are expected to start on Feb. 6, immediately after the state begins awarding permits. While most of the licensed medical cannabis companies applied starting in December for permission to sell recreational cannabis, it’s not yet clear how many of those the state will grant or exactly when.
Mississippi, which legalized medical marijuana last year and as of late December was only waiting on testing labs to give the all-clear for sales to begin, could actually beat Missouri to the starting line, according to SuperTalk Mississippi News. The news outlet reported in December that MMJ sales could begin “within the next few weeks.”
U.S. Virgin Islands
A Caribbean territory of the United States, the U.S. Virgin Islands in January passed a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, and it was quickly signed into law by Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. The territory legalized medical marijuana in 2019, but an industry was never implemented. The timeline for when the adult-use industry may launch also isn’t clear, as regulations must still be promulgated and business permits awarded, but the islands are the latest to officially join the cannabis trade.
Ballot Measure Campaigns
There’s a statewide ballot initiative in the works to legalize adult-use marijuana in Florida, but the earliest it’ll appear on the ballot is November 2024. Florida-based multistate operator Trulieve is bankrolling the campaign, putting roughly $15 million into the effort to date, but the campaign has a long way to go to reach the 891,589 signatures necessary by February next year to make the general election ballot that year. As of December, the campaign had only gathered 53,982 signatures.
Ohio activists have forced the state legislature to take a stand on a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana, and if lawmakers don’t adopt it in the next four months during the legislative session, it’ll go to the voters in November. To get to the ballot, the pro-cannabis campaign would have to gather about 150,000 more signatures, the Statehouse News Bureau reported.
Sooner State residents will get to decide in a special election on March 7 whether they want to legalize adult-use cannabis. State Question 820 was originally intended to be on the November 2022 ballot, but technical delays prevented that, and the governor placed the measure on the March calendar for voters.
Lawmakers in the island state recently unveiled a new effort to legalize recreational marijuana, and this time, it reportedly has the governor’s support, a solid indicator that the state has a good chance to join the adult-use cannabis club. Because the bill has not yet been officially introduced, there are scant details, but O’Keefe said Hawaii is a top prospect for legalization in 2023.
At the opposite end of the spectrum sits conservative Indiana, where three different bills to legalize recreational marijuana have already been introduced, including one by a Republican – H.B. 1248, H.B. 1039, and S.B. 308. Republicans, however, have a super majority in both chambers and also control the governor’s mansion. Gov. Eric Holcomb has been openly hostile to the possibility of cannabis reform. O’Keefe puts Indiana in her long-shot column.
A Democratic-sponsored bill, S.B. 73, has been introduced in the Iowa Legislature to legalize adult-use cannabis, but both of the legislature’s chambers are dominated by Republicans, a sign that the measure will likely die quickly.
Kansas lawmakers from both parties have plans to support legislation this year that would legalize medical marijuana. It’s still unclear what chances such a bill would have in the GOP-dominated legislature after a close-but-failed legalization attempt in 2022, when the state House passed a bill that died in the Senate. A bipartisan committee on MMJ legalization was formed, which held its last meeting in December. A bill will be introduced in coming weeks. Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly is also a vocal supporter of MMJ legalization, having identified it as one of the top five priorities for her second term in office, and that may be enough to tip the scales.
There’s a new Democratic push in the Kentucky state legislature to create a statewide referendum on medical marijuana legalization. If the bill succeeds, it would lead to a ballot question for Kentucky voters in the November 2024 election. Like Kansas, the state has a pro-cannabis Democratic chief executive, Gov. Andy Beshear, who issued an executive order in November allowing residents to possess medical cannabis and has called on the legislature to legalize MMJ. But politics could still be a hurdle, since Republicans control both chambers of the legislature.
The Land of 10,000 Lakes is another top prospect for legalization in 2023, according to O’Keefe, where a 243-page bill to legalize adult-use cannabis has already been introduced. But despite a lot of attractive provisions in the measure – such as low state taxes and a prohibition on cities and counties banning marijuana companies – it also has drawbacks. Still, Minnesota is definitely a state to watch.
Another stubborn midwestern state that has tried and failed for nearly a decade to legalize medical marijuana is Nebraska, but activists refuse to give up, promising another attempt in the legislature this coming year. Legislative Bill 88, from Democratic State Sen. Anna Wishart, would do just that. But once more, it’s a Democratic bill in a GOP-dominated legislature, which automatically shrinks such a bill’s odds of success. Nebraska Gov. Jim Pillen has also spoken out against legalizing cannabis, whether medical or recreational, without approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, so he represents a likely veto of Wishart’s bill.
The state whose motto is “life free or die” will again consider legislation to legalize adult-use cannabis this year, and some backers are hopeful they can reach a bipartisan agreement. The state Senate has acted as the primary hurdle for various reasons, but since last year’s election, the makeup of the chamber has shifted. That has given some stakeholders hope that 2023 could be the year New Hampshire joins the rest of New England and legalizes cannabis.
North Carolina is yet another Republican-controlled legislature where medical marijuana legalization has made slow but steady political gains over the years, with a bill to do so making it through the state Senate last year before dying in the House. While a bill to legalize MMJ has not yet been formally introduced, it is expected to be a hot topic in this year’s legislative session.
The Keystone State is another big possibility for 2023, but a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis has not yet been formally introduced. It’s also unclear how much support the issue has among lawmakers, but the state’s newly-sworn-in Gov. Josh Shapiro has endorsed legalization, which has cannabis advocates excited about the state’s prospects. The legislature is also split, with Republicans controlling the Senate and Democrats holding the House, but there was a bipartisan attempt last year at legalizing recreational marijuana that could be replicated this year.
A pair of bills to legalize medical cannabis were pre-filed in December by South Carolina state lawmakers, indicating that MMJ legalization could be a major push this year. But standing in the way of either would be Gov. Henry McMaster, a vocal cannabis opponent.
Another long shot state legislative attempt to legalize medical marijuana is in Tennessee, where Democratic lawmakers have introduced legislation in the GOP-dominated legislature. Top Republicans vow to fight the bill. O’Keefe put Tennessee on her list of states where legalization is least likely to succeed this year.
Democratic lawmakers in conservative Texas have filed at least five bills so far this year to legalize both medical and recreational marijuana, but once more, it’s an attempt in a GOP-controlled legislature with a governor who is no friend to cannabis consumers. O’Keefe was also pessimistic about Texas.
Virginia is an odd duck in the legalization movement. While the state technically already has legalized both medical and adult-use cannabis, the latter move required follow-up enactment legislation in order for an operational industry to get going. One Republican bill to do so has been introduced this year after last year’s attempts were stalemated, but it’s unclear whether the new bill can pass the Democratic state Senate. Regardless, recreational sales are slated to begin in 2024, whether lawmakers get a regulatory regime approved or not. The primary question now is whether the divided legislature can agree on a framework for the industry and whether Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin will support it.
A Democratic lawmaker introduced a bill to legalize adult-use cannabis in West Viriginia, H.B. 2091, but it appears to face long odds in the GOP-controlled state government. Republicans hold the state House, Senate, and governor’s mansion. And as Benzinga reported, the state legalized medical marijuana in 2017, but the first dispensary didn’t open until 2021.
The midwestern state, sandwiched between several others that have already legalized either medical or recreational cannabis, appears poised to legalize MMJ this year, since top Republican officials have gone on the record supporting the move. But they are stopping short of backing recreational legalization, which Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has called for.