Predictions on What 2016 US Cannabis Laws Might Look Like

Given the landscape of cannabis in 2015, it looks like 2016 could be a historic year for cannabis as recreational and medical marijuana initiatives potentially arrive on the ballots of numerous states and decriminalization efforts likely spread at the local level. It’s expected that at least 10 states will vote on whether to legalize cannabis to some degree. Federally, Congress will consider medical marijuana legislation and there are 2016 presidential candidates calling for the de-scheduling of marijuana.

Numerous efforts are underway to get enough signatures to put recreational marijuana legislation on state ballots for the November 2016 election. Nevada has already acquired enough signatures to put their initiative in front of voters and ColoradoAlaskaWashingtonOregon, and Washington D.C. have all established recreational marijuana legislation. By the end of 2016, the number of states with recreational marijuana laws could reach double digits.

States Likely to Legalize Recreational Cannabis in 2016

Based on the advancement of particular initiatives and the changing social attitudes regarding marijuana use, it’s expected that California, Nevada, Maine, and Arizona have the best chances of passing measures this year.


After California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, it looks like 2016 will be the year it finally embraces legal, recreational use with at least four recreational marijuana measures vying for a spot on the November 2016 ballot. Looking strongest is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), under which marijuana would be regulated, taxed, and treated similarly to alcohol.

The campaign has already raised $1.25 million, and it has the support of the state’s Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsome, former Facebook President Sean Parker, Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, Students for Sensible Drug PolicyCalifornia Cannabis Industry AssociationLaw Enforcement Against Prohibition, and the Marijuana Policy Project. A June 2015 survey by the Public Policy Institute of California revealed that a record-high 54 percent of California residents favor legalizing marijuana, while 44 percent are opposed.


Voters in Nevada will have the opportunity to vote on Initiative Petition 1, or the Nevada Marijuana Legalization Initiative, which would regulate and tax recreational marijuana like alcohol. The measure is already on the ballot and, if passed in November, it will remove legal penalties for possession of up to one ounce of marijuana for adults 21 years of age and older. In addition, adults will be able to make purchases from licensed retail marijuana stores. Those who do not live within 25 miles of a retail store will be allowed to grow up to six plants. The measure’s petition was filed in April 2014 with nearly double the 102,000 required signatures.


It looks like voters in Maine will get to choose whether to legalize recreational marijuana with the Maine Marijuana Legalization Initiative. The initiative, backed by the Marijuana Policy Project and Legalize Maine, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, including concentrate. Additionally, they would be allowed to cultivate six mature flowering plants and 12 non flowering plants over two feet tall, and an infinite amount of non flowering plants below two feet tall provided they are grown out of public view. An October 2015 poll by Critical Insights found that 65 percent of Maine voters support adult recreational marijuana use.


The Marijuana Policy Project of Arizona is sponsoring the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol in the state of Arizona. The initiative, already filed with the Arizona Secretary of State, would legalize recreational use and possession of marijuana for adults and allow them to grow up to six plants. The initiative needs over 230,000 signatures by July 7 (it had collected 125,000 as of January 20, 2016) to be placed on the ballot. The June 2015 Rocky Mountain Poll found that 53 percent of Arizonans favor legalizing marijuana for personal use.

States Eyeballing Recreational Cannabis in 2016

While recreational marijuana legalization is more difficult to achieve in these states, healthy campaign efforts could bring about significant initiative and legislative changes in 2016.


A Suffolk University and Boston Herald Poll found that 53 percent of voters support marijuana legalization, and the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has filed an initiative with the state attorney general’s office. After a review, they’ll need to collect at least 64,750 signatures from Massachusetts voters to put the initiative on the November 2016 ballot.


About 56 percent of voters endorse marijuana legalization in Michigan, and both the Michigan Cannabis Coalition and MI Legalize are competing with separate initiatives. Each respective group is currently working to collect the 252,000 signatures they need from Michigan voters to quality for the 2016 ballot.


Efforts for a 2016 ballot initiative are underway in Ohio, with Legalize Ohio 2016 currently in the final phase of signature gathering.

Rhode Island

In Rhode Island, after an unsuccessful legislative push in 2015, Regulate Rhode Island has introduced the Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act, a bill that will potentially be considered in 2016.


While no initiative has been introduced yet, the state of Vermont looks to be moving toward marijuana legalization. Last August, House Speaker Shap Smith announced his support for marijuana legalization and in September 2015, a poll by Castleton Polling Institute found that 56 percent of Vermonters support the idea.

New York

New York has a slim chance of recreational marijuana legalization after Senator Liz Krueger (D-NY) authored and cosponsored the Marijuana Regulation and Taxation Act.

Medical Marijuana Expected to Expand in 2016

The expansion of medical marijuana legislation is expected to continue nationwide as a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the CARERS Act is expected to take place sometime in 2016. The bill is a comprehensive piece of legislation on medical marijuana and would allow states to legalize medical cannabis without federal interference, and would reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug. Further, more states are looking to build off of the existing legislation in 23 states and Washington D.C.


There are currently two different groups with campaigns to legalize medical marijuana: Floridians for Freedom and United for Care. They’re collecting petition signatures for ballot initiatives they hope to present to voters in November 2016.


A campaign effort called New Approach Missouri has filed a petition with the secretary of state’s office to legalize medical marijuana and will need to gather 160,000 signatures from registered voters to get it on the ballot.


A medical cannabis bill passed Pennsylvania’s Senate in May of 2015 and the House is expected to vote on the bill. However, they have to first consider over 100 tacked on amendments to the bill.


The Marijuana Policy Project is expected to launch an initiative to establish medical marijuana in the state of Ohio. The proposal will likely be focused on giving patients suffering from serious medical conditions, like cancer, access to cannabis and allow them to cultivate cannabis at home.

The Implications

Without a doubt, the legalization of marijuana in any form in the US has far reaching implications both domestically and internationally. Not only could it benefit states that are in the red, financially speaking, it could also dig into the profits for Mexican drug cartels who have long tried to capitalize on the illegal trafficking of marijuana into the US.

Staying informed while all of these political changes take place is instrumental in understanding exactly what’s happening in 2016. Thankfully, we’ve curated a lot of content to keep you up to speed on everything marijuana. Be sure to check out our other researcheditorialsnews, and political content on MJNA.

Image Credit: Wikipedia

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