To date, more than half of the United States — including the District of Columbia — have adopted laws that allow the consumption of marijuana for recreational and/or medical purposes. On Election Day, eight U.S. states approved laws that would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of cannabis or expand the use of medical marijuana, making 2016 — as Time put it — "a watershed for weed."
It would seem the trend will continue to blaze across the nation, with organizations like the Marijuana Policy Project working to end marijuana prohibition in eight more states by 2019. Look to the following states to carry the green torch over the next few years:
In February, the Vermont Senate voted 17-12 to pass S.B. 241, which would have allowed adults ages 21 and older to use marijuana and regulated a tax system for marijuana-based products. The measure failed in the House, but according to the Marijuana Policy Project, Vermont might reconsider legislation in 2017, encouraged by neighboring states such as Massachusetts and Maine passing legislation this year. This could convince new Republican governor Phil Scott to support legalization next year, as researchers found the state could potentially rake in up to $75 million annually in taxes by regulating cannabis.
2. Rhode Island
New England will again be at the center of the marijuana debate in 2017. This time, the Rhode Island Senate will reconsider approving a bill to regulate and tax marijuana for adult use. Though it is illegal for adults to use marijuana in the state, Rhode Island is one of the 20 U.S. states that have decided not to incarcerate individuals for possessing small amounts of the plant, according to the Marijuana Policy Center.
Although a recent poll by the University of Delaware's Center for Political Communication found that 61% of residents are in favor of legalization, the discussion has not reached the legislature. But a coalition of advocates is hopeful state Sen. Margaret Rose Henry's plans to file a bill to regulate cannabis in the state will encourage lawmakers to favor laws that can generate tax revenue from marijuana sales and regulation.
Michigan passed a medical marijuana measure in 2008, but it did not establish regulations for the businesses that make medical marijuana available to patients and caregivers. The Marijuana Policy Project is working with state advocates to fully legalize marijuana for adults in 2018.
Missouri voters did not see medical marijuana on their Election Day ballots due to an insufficient number of valid signatures. But marijuana advocates in the Show Me State are looking to regroup in 2017 and get a measure for the use of medical marijuana on the ballot the following year.
A bill to tax and regulate marijuana did not pass during the 2016 legislative session in Maryland, but cannabis supporters are encouraging state legislators to reconsider such reforms next year. State polls show that 61% of Maryland residents want to expand measures to regulate marijuana use.
Legislators in the Lone Star State filed several requests to decriminalize marijuana Nov. 5, the first day of bill filing for the 2017 legislative session. Once state legislators reconvene in January, they will reconsider the reduction of charges for marijuana possession, replacing them with a $250 fine rather than jail time.
8. North Carolina
North Carolina legislators proposed House Bill 983 this year to expand medical marijuana access, but it did not receive further consideration. As the new session gears up to begin in January, marijuana advocates are calling residents to action by urging state legislators to legalize marijuana.
Several cities in Ohio — including Bellaire, Logan, Newark and Roseville — decriminalized marijuana possession on Election Day. Columbus and other municipalities are expected to consider changing misdemeanor laws and charges.
Memphis and Nashville have reduced penalties to those possessing cannabis. Following these measures, state legislators are working on a bill to legalize medical marijuana once the 2017 legislative season begins.