Coronavirus Could Delay Marijuana Legalization Along East Coast, And in Other States

Several states were on track to marijuana legalization in 2020, but those efforts have been sidetracked with a new prioritization on combating the new coronavirus.

Efforts to contain and combat the coronavirus across the country will likely set back marijuana legalization attempts in many states. Moving into 2020, nearly 20 states had active campaigns to legalize cannabis in some form.

Among those were New York, now the epicenter of the coronavirus in the United States. The coronavirus pandemic has forced several state legislatures to temporarily shut down, including ones that are looking at recreational cannabis legalization measures.

Several states are in the process of attempting to legalize marijuana through a legislative process, while others are moving forward with ballot initiatives. Those legalization efforts could suffer while state leaders shift focus to the containment and the fall out of the coronavirus.

Groups seeking access to marijuana through ballot initiatives, like those in Nebraska, have been hit hard with delays in signature gathering and petition drives. With strict state deadlines, some cannabis advocates may inevitably face a prolonged effort to gain legalization in their state.

East Coast Marijuana Legalization Efforts During Coronavirus

New York: On Monday, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) said that he expects lawmakers to move forward with plans to legalize adult-use marijuana even during efforts to address the coronavirus pandemic. During a briefing on the state’s health crisis, Cuomo was questioned about his legislative priorities for the upcoming state budget.

With the April 1 deadline to get the budget passed quickly approaching, Cuomo remarked that the legislature should still pursue the policy initiatives he proposed, including cannabis legalization.

“We will pass a budget and address the policy items that we laid out and we discussed because it’s not just about passing a budget and the numbers,” Cuomo said. “There are many policy initiatives that I laid out back in January, and we’re going to pursue all of them.”

Cuomo has pledged to legalize recreational marijuana in 2020. However, the odds of passing marijuana legalization are unclear. The New York session was postponed earlier this month for state lawmakers as two assembly members tested positive for COVID-19 and are recovering.

Along with New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, and Vermont all have potential movements to legalize marijuana in 2020. New York was in line to enjoy the biggest financial boom of any of the states with the potential of new marijuana access in 2020.

New Jersey: Lawmakers in New Jersey have already placed a recreational marijuana legalization measure on the upcoming November election ballot, creating a much more hopeful outlook on legalization in the state. New Jersey voters will have a chance to legalize recreational marijuana use for residents 21 years of age and older, but it’s yet to be seen whether the impacts of the coronavirus could last until November and the role it may play in voter turnout.

Connecticut: Earlier this month, Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont (D) and his administration made known their efforts in pushing forward recreational cannabis legalization. According to a local news report, during a testimony hearing, Lamont’s administration delivered a 108-page blueprint for establishing a regulated market for recreational marijuana by July 1, 2022.

Those who testified included the former Hartford police chief who oversees the Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection. While the governor was not in attendance, he offered written testimony.

“We can no longer stick our heads in the sand,” Lamont wrote. “Cannabis is currently, and will be increasingly available to residents of Connecticut.”

The coronavirus has shut down Connecticut’s General Assembly until at least March 30.

Vermont: In Vermont, the state’s House and Senate passed a recreational marijuana legalization bill, but are not in agreement on the tax rate. The legislative session has since been postponed due to the coronavirus.

According to Matt Simon, Marijuana Policy Project’s New England political director, the House and Senate did form the conference committee to hash out the differences in the bills before adjourning and were set to work on finalizing the measure during the break.

“We’re still confident that the bill will proceed to the governor’s desk when the legislature reconvenes,” Simon wrote to Marijuana Business Daily.

Even if the legislature comes to an agreement, it’s still unclear if the state’s governor, Phil Scott (R) will sign the bill.

Other Impacted Marijuana Legalization Efforts

Arizona: In Arizona, advocates for the Smart and Safe Arizona Act reportedly have collected enough signatures to place their recreational cannabis initiative on the November ballot. However, those signatures must be verified by the state.

Mississippi: In the deep south, Mississippi voters will get a chance in November to approve an initiative to legalize medical marijuana. But some state lawmakers have their own agenda, and it is seen by many as an attempt to “kill” the measure by splitting the vote.

With social distancing caused by a fear of spreading the coronavirus, advocates may not have a chance to release information on the separate ballot measures. The confusion could hinder the passage of the medical marijuana initiative come November.

Montana: A group called New Approach Montana sent two complimentary 2020 ballot initiatives to Montana’s Secretary of State. The first statutory initiative would establish a regulatory system for legal cannabis and allow individuals 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana. The second initiative is a constitutional amendment that would change the legal age of cannabis consumption to 21, similar to alcohol.

The group is still gathering signatures to qualify for the upcoming election ballot. With a June 19 deadline, the coronavirus pandemic could derail signature-gathering efforts, postponing legalization for another year.

Nebraska: Efforts for a medical marijuana petition drive in Nebraska, have been suspended. In response to the coronavirus, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana suspended its signature-gathering efforts. The group hoped to get a medical marijuana initiative on the ballot this fall.

Ohio: An effort to put an adult-use cannabis initiative on the November ballot is underway in Ohio. The group called Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol awaits state Ballot Board and attorney general’s office approval of ballot wording before starting the signature-gathering process.

The group would need to collect and submit 443,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 1. On March 22, Ohio officially went on lockdown.

More on Marijuana

Eleven states plus the District of Columbia have legalized both recreational and medical cannabis and 33 states have legalized medical marijuana only. Take a look at which states have cannabis legalization by visiting our Where Is Marijuana Legal? page.

Learn more about the coronavirus’ impact on the cannabis industry, and check back in at our cannabis news page for the latest developments in cannabis policy, business, and scientific research.