6 States That Could Legalize Cannabis By 2020

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While the pro-pot movement is gaining steam across the country, not every state is positioned to tackle legalization in 2017.

That doesn’t meant these states won’t seriously consider recreational cannabis in the near future; they are simply not ready for it this year.

Last week we touched on 8 states that could realistically legalize cannabis 2017. In this article we’ll look at 6 more states that are openly exploring legalization and could very well approve it by 2020, if they overcome legislative hurdles in the way.

1) Pennsylvania

This state seems headed in the right direction towards legalization. Last year Pennsylvania legislators approved medicinal marijuana. A bill was reintroduced this year to legalize recreational pot under a state-run system similar to Colorado.

Democrat Governor Tom Wolf seems open to legalization. During a Twitter Q&A with voters earlier in March he Tweeted this in response to cannabis questions: “I want to learn from the experience of other states that have full legalization and I welcome discussion on this issue with the Legislature.”

While that’s an optimistic outlook, the operative word in Wolf’s Tweet is “learn.” Like other governors, he’d rather wait and watch states that have already legalized before moving forward in is own state. This watch-and-see approach could allow Pennsylvania to avoid pitfalls that occur in early-adopter states.

Wolf’s spokesman J.J. Abbott confirmed as much in a recent statement: “the governor wants further study of the impact and implementation of full legalization on other states like Colorado before proceeding with that approach in Pennsylvania.”

That statement was in response to a call from Auditor General Eugene DePasquale for recreational legalization. DePasquale believes that should Pennsylvania delay, then “not only are we going to miss out on the business opportunities, we’re going to be an outlier.”

Pennsylvania is facing a projected $600-700 million deficit in their next budget. DePasquale believes legalization could close $200 million of that immediately. But with a governor who seems to prefer prudence to brashness, Pennsylvania will have to wait a bit longer for recreational pot.

2) New Jersey

Chris Christie’s political career has taken a turn for the tragic in recent years, but until his term expires in January 2018 he’s still New Jersey’s governor. And as an outspoken opponent of legal pot — Christie has even expressed regret over New Jersey approving medicinal marijuana before his first term — his governorship means the state has zero chance of legalization until 2018 at the earliest.

At which point things might move fast. Multiple east-coast states in addition to Massachusetts and Maine may have legalized by 2018. New Jersey will look to keep up. Its Senate President Stephen Sweeney has called legal cannabis a “game-changer” and has vowed to seek legilzation as soon as Christie is out of office.

Sweeney and other New Jersey politicians recently took a trip to Colorado to view the legal industry firsthand. They were impressed. “The sky hasn’t fallen,” said Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D-Union) in an nj.com news article. “These are neighborhoods you would be proud to say you represented or lived in.”

Of course, the wrench in the plan for fast approval could be the next New Jersey governor thinking negatively of pot. That much remains to be seen. But should voters elect a pro-cannabis governor, then look for swift movement towards legalization.

3) Texas

Surprisingly enough, there’s a lot of noise in Texas these days for legal cannabis.

The state in 2015 voted to allow low-THC cannabis oils as treatment for certain epilepsy patients. A bill to legalize marijuana was defeated last year, but a poll carried out in 2016 by the University of Texas and Texas Tribune found that 83% of respondent approved of legalizing some form of cannabis. A total of 53% said they’d support recreational pot, in line with national figures, as well as statistics in states where voters approved such a measure by ballot.

In response Texas lawmakers introduced 17 separate cannabis-related bills this year, covering everything from legalization to broader medicinal access.

The latter point is important: Texas still lacks a broad medicinal marijuana program. And it’s unlikely the state would jump straight into full legalization before first testing the waters with a medicinal market.

Further complicating matters is the staunch resistance from Texas Governor Greg Abbot. He’s been on record saying: “Texas [should not] open the door for conventional marijuana to be used for medical or medicinal purposes and as governor I will not allow it.” Like Christie, his term is up in 2018.

4) New Hampshire

When it comes to pot, New Hampshire is well behind its neighbor to the north. In 2017 the Granite State is still fighting to decriminalize pot.

This month the New Hampshire House of Representatives overwhelmingly approved decriminalization. The house has passed similar measures eight times since 2008, and all have failed in the Senate. House Representatives, however, believe the shifting national attitude towards pot — plus Maine and Massachueetts approving legalization — gives them their best chance yet in the Senate.

While this effort is obviously a positive step, it represents how far away New Hampshire is from legalization.

The state does have a strict medicinal marijuana market, however. It’s among those that treats only the most severe cases: cancer, glaucoma, HIV, etc. Legislators this year are attempting to add PTSD and chronic pain to the list of acceptable conditions. Again, progress, but also evidence that the state is years away from seriously considering legalization.

5) New York

This is a tricky state to read. Bills are ready to hit the floor in both the House and the Senate to approve legal marijuana. And New York is a well known as a politically liberal state, like its neighbor up north, Massachusetts, which just approved legalization and now threatens to steal potential cannabis tax revenue from New York.

All signs should point towards legalization — right?

The problem, like in other states, is the governor. Democrat Gov. Andrew Cuomo isn’t as outspoken against pot as the Republican governors of New Jersey and Texas, but is not exactly supportive, either. It’s tough to tell exactly what he thinks about cannabis.

On one hand Cuomo is behind an effort to decriminalize marijuana in New York, citing a “dramatic shift in public opinion” towards pot across America. Yet, at the same time, Cuomo recently told reporters, “There’s two sides to the argument, but I, as of this date, I am unconvinced on recreational marijuana.”

Our guess? The governor wants to wait and see what happens in Massachusetts and Maine before committing more to legalization. If those two east-coast states can successfully implement recreational markets, then the tide may shift sooner than later in New York.

6) Wyoming

There are efforts underway in Wyoming to legalize cannabis. Some more successful than others.

A drive to gather the necessary 25,000 signatures in time to put legal pot on the 2018 ballot was unsuccessful. But in Wyoming’s capitol there have been five separate bills put together than range from approving a broader medicinal market (Wyoming allows only for non-psychoactive CBD oil for certain medical uses) to decriminalization to full legalization by government approval or voter referendum.

That so many bills are attempting different forms of legislation should tell you how far away this state is from recreational pot. Momentum seems to be growing in Wyoming, but there are many steps to go before its currently strict laws against cannabis can be lax enough to allow serious consideration for full legalization. With growing support for the movement, however, success before 2020 is not out of the question.

Kyle Swartz is editor of Cannabis Regulator. Reach him at kswartz@epgmediallc.com or on Twitter @kswartzz. Read his recent piece 8 States That Could Legalize Cannabis In 2017.