The Next States to Legalize Marijuana

Marijuana has been illegal for 78 years now. With legalization and big tax revenue being generated in states like Colorado and Oregon though, the trend is beginning to catch on. It’s looking more and more like marijuana will finally be legal at the federal level before too much longer.

It’s currently legal to purchase marijuana for recreational use in 4 states – Alaska, Colorado, Oregon & Washington. The District of Colombia has also passed legislation that allows for recreational use. The researchers who conducted this study examined the laws in states where recreational and medical marijuana is already legal and penalties for carrying the drug are minimal. Based on this information and legal trends they compiled a list of the states that they see as being most likely to legalize marijuana some time in the next 12 – 24 months.

1. Massachusetts

Due to a 2008 law passed to decriminalize possession of small amounts of the marijuana. The impact of decriminalization has been dramatic. There were over 10,000 marijuana-related arrests in 2008 and that number had already decreased by two thirds in 2009.

Democratic State Representative Dave Rogers and Democratic State Senator Patricia Jehlen also introduced a bill to to legalize marijuana use recreationally for adults. The bill is to be voted on in November 2016.

2. Nevada

Nevada also recently decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Though no one found in possession of under an ounce of the drug can face incarceration or felony charges, Nevada’s penalties for possession are among the harshest of all the states that have decriminalized.

Despite the harsher penalties, next year Nevada could become the fifth state to legalize marijuana for recreational use. State residents will have a chance to vote on an Initiative to Tax and Regulate Marijuana in November 2016. If passed, legalization is sure to have a dramatic effect on arrest rates and police resources. As of 2012, there were about 8,500 marijuana-related arrests in Nevada, the 14th highest arrest rate in the country.

3. California

A lot of people didn’t recognize this and it went under the radar, but in 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation that reclassified the crime of marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction. Basically a mail in ticket. Despite the fact that California was the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use in 1996 efforts to legalize recreational use have fallen flat.

There are currently two bills working their way through California’s state legislature and either or both will come up for a vote in November.

4. New York

New York was one of the first states to decriminalize marijuana back in 1977. However, according to the Marijuana Policy Project, law enforcement agencies have used “public view” to arrest more people than they probably should. By NY laws possessing a small amount of the drug in the privacy of one’s home results in a fine, while possession in a public place can be a misdemeanor. Supporting this claim is New York’s extremely high marijuana-related arrest rate, which was the highest in the country in 2013 at 577.24 per 100,000 people. Recently elected Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in 2014 that the city would no longer be enforcing this loophole.

There are currently two bills to legalize and tax marijuana in the New York legislature, so chances are good it will be legal there by the end of the year.

5. Vermont

According to a Rand research study on marijuana legalization, Vermonters consumed between 15 to 25 metric tons of marijuana, worth between $125 million and $225 million, in 2014. Which is what you’d probably expect from the state that gave us Phish, Ben & Jerry’s and Bernie Sanders.

In Vermont possessing under an ounce is basically a fine. As of right now there are no visible state bills to legalize for recreational use.

6. Minnesota

Minnesota doesn’t have a huge movement towards recreational marijuana yet but we have seen the boundaries being broken down for medical. This is always the first stepping stone on the path. Minnesota’s first medical marijuana dispensary opened on July 1, 2015.

7. Connecticut

Connecticut  decriminalized marijuana use in 2011. The law they past says that any possession of up to a half of an ounce would have a maximum penalty of a $150 fine is not be punishable by jail time.

Currently, the state also has several bills working their way through the legislature that would legalize marijuana use for adult residents and regulate the industry.

8. Maryland

Maryland adopted medical marijuana and their first dispensary opened in June 2015.

With D.C. recently legalizing for recreational use the likelihood is high that Maryland as a state will follow suit. Governor Larry Hogan recently signed a bill supported by marijuana legalization advocates and the general trend is towards legalization, tax and regulation.

9. Rhode Island

Rhode Island has the highest usage rate per capita of any state in the union. (HIGH FIVE GUYS!!!) An estimated 20% of Rhode Islanders aged 12 and up used the drug at least once in 2012. No other state in the country had wider use.

Out of all the states where marijuana is still illegal, Rhode Island’s laws are among the most relaxed. Possession of up to an ounce is a civil violation punishable by a maximum fine of $150. First time offenders do not face jail time or risk a criminal record. However, possession of amounts in excess of an ounce carry criminal penalties and potential jail time.

There is currently a bill to legalize recreational pot up for review in Rhode Island’s state legislature.

10. Maine

Maine has a relatively high rate of marijuana use, with an estimated 16.24% of residents 12 and older having smoked pot at least once in 2012, the seventh highest rate in the county. In 2013, Maine passed a law making possession of up to 2.5 ounces of the drug fineable but not punishable by jail time.

The state also legalized medical marijuana in 1999 during a state ballot initiative — the measure passed with 61% of the vote. Possession of a “usable amount” of the drug with a doctor’s notice is legal. In 2009, another initiative passed to allow for legal medical dispensaries.

11. Delaware

A 2014 survey conducted by the University of Delaware asked people if “the use of marijuana should be made legal.” and 56% agreed. Delaware was the 20th state to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana.

There were 2,912 marijuana-related arrests in 2012 in Delaware, the 12th highest rate of all states per capita, but progressive laws should help enable legalization in the near future.

The trend is definitely continuing towards federal legalization. 2016 is all set to be a great year for marijuana advocates but we’ll see what happens come November.


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