After an incredible year of progress for nationwide marijuana legalization, medical marijuana is likely to expand to several additional states in the coming year.
Following this November’s election, more than half of the states in the U.S. have passed comprehensive medical marijuana laws. Lawmakers in several states without laws have already introduced medical marijuana bills for the 2017 session, indicating that even after such a monumental year for cannabis policy, legalization is likely to continue to expand in the coming year.
In particular, four states – Kentucky, Missouri, Texas and North Carolina – have good chances of legalizing medical marijuana in 2017.
With a supportive governor and legislation already introduced, Kentucky has a strong chance of passing comprehensive medical marijuana policy in the coming legislative session. As of now, Kentucky has implemented a medical CBD bill, a highly-limiting law that allows patients with intractable epilepsy and a written recommendation from a physician to get access to CBD oil.
However, Gov. Matt Bevin has acknowledged that “there is unequivocal medical evidence” that medical marijuana is therapeutically beneficial and that “it should be prescribed like any other prescription drug.” In December, Kentucky State Senator Perry Clark pre-filed the Cannabis Compassion Act for the 2017 legislative session. The bill would override the current law and establish a comprehensive system for medical cannabis, giving more patients access to full medical marijuana.
A 2013 Kentucky Health Issues Poll found that 78 percent of Kentuckians support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Missouri voters were almost given the opportunity to decide on medical marijuana in the past election, but the New Approach Missouri bill fell short by just 23 signatures needed to make it on the ballot.
The chances for medical cannabis reform this year, however, are already looking promising. Before 2016 came to an end, two lawmakers filed proposals to legalize medical marijuana. Senate Bill 56, sponsored by Sen. Jason Holsman, would allow for the use and cultivation of medical marijuana. Senate Bill 153, sponsored by Sen. Rob Schaaf, would legalize medical marijuana but not allow for patients to cultivate cannabis at home. On January 5, Republican Representative and physician Jim Neely introduced House Bill 437, which would add marijuana to the state’s “Right to Try Act” and give terminally ill patients legal access.
“Missourians fighting for their lives don’t have time to wait for the FDA to approve investigational treatments that contain cannabis,” said Neely, who lost his daughter to stage four cancer in 2015.
A Public Policy Polling survey conducted last July found support for medical marijuana legalization among Missouri voters to be at 62 percent.
The historically conservative state of Texas currently has some of the harshest marijuana laws. However, lawmakers did pass the Compassionate Use Program in 2015 to legalize low-THC cannabis oil for patients suffering from intractable epilepsy and recent developments suggest that the state could expand the program to allow for full strength marijuana in the coming year or two. In a recent radio interview, Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo voiced support for cannabis law reform and said he believes the state will have a “rigorous review” of the medical benefits of cannabis.
“I think you’ll have a really spirited but well-informed discussion, and at some point I could really foresee, in the future, marijuana and some other oils being legalized for medicinal purposes; it will probably be the first step in Texas,” Acevedo said.
Marijuana Policy Project is currently working to draft and earn support for a bill that would amend the current law to allow access for patients suffering from other debilitating conditions, remove the limitations on THC cannabis, and help protect doctors by allowing them to recommend rather than prescribe medical marijuana. The marijuana policy reform organization expects to have the bill introduced sometime this year.
On the first day of bill filing for the 2017 legislative session, Texas State Sen. José Rodriguez introduced Senate Joint Resolution 18, which proposes a constitutional amendment to authorize and regulate the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana for medical use. If the measure makes it way through the legislature, it will be presented to voters on the November 2018 ballot.
A February 2016 Texas Tegna Poll found that 71 percent of Texas voters support expanding medical marijuana treatments for patients suffering from other health problems.
The chances of medical marijuana being legalized in North Carolina are slimmer, but legislators have consistently been introducing bills, suggesting that a new policy will come eventually. In 2015, Rep. Kelly Alexander introduced comprehensive medical marijuana legislation, but the House Judiciary Committee voted against the bill. House Bill 1220, a CBD only bill, was approved into law in 2014, giving patients with intractable epilepsy access to low-THC extracts, and it’s expected that new legislation will be introduced in the new session.
A Public Policy Polling survey conducted in April 2016 found that 74 percent of North Carolina voters favor legalizing medical marijuana, which marks an all-time high for support.
The cannabis industry itself is expected to continue its burgeoning growth in 2017. Read about what we foresee ahead on our “What the New Year will Bring for the Cannabis Industry” article.
Read about the states we believe have a good chance of legalizing recreational marijuana, here.