Posted by Dave Kaplan
9 months ago / December 14, 2020
6 States That Could Legalize Recreational Cannabis in 2021
Although federal legalization might still be years away in the US, 2021 is shaping up to be another hallmark year for cannabis reform at the state level. Today, we’re looking at six states that could legalize recreational cannabis over the next 12 months.
At this time last year, it appeared as if New York would be a lock to legalize recreational cannabis in 2020. Unfortunately that didn’t happen due to disagreements in the State Assembly over how and where cannabis tax revenue would be allocated. Despite the setback, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) remains as determined as ever to get it done in 2021. Even with federal stimulus relief, the state will be in desperate need of funding and tax revenue, and legal cannabis sales would help immensely with that. In the interim, any potential cannabis tax revenue that New York could have made by legalizing in 2020 will likely go to neighboring New Jersey—the thought of which is sure to rattle at least a few cages in the Empire State. In case you were wondering, experts believe that New York would average between $150-$300 million in cannabis tax revenue annually if the plant was legalized for recreational purposes.
The FOMO—fear of missing out—on cannabis tax revenue is one of the main reasons why so many states are making strides toward legalization in 2021. That’s certainly the case in Connecticut, where rec cannabis legalization would generate between an estimated $784-$952 million in tax revenue over the first five years of sales alone. A proponent of legalization, the state’s incoming House Speaker, Matt Ritter (D), recently said there’s a 50/50 chance that Connecticut will pass a legalization bill in this year’s legislative session legislation. The bill would certainly have the support of Connecticut’s residents, 64% of whom purportedly favor cannabis legalization.
Rhode Island may be best known for clam chowder and Quahog, the fictional town where Family Guy is set, but that won’t be the case for much longer if legalization efforts in the state continue at their current pace. Rhode Island recently made industry headlines when one of its Senate financing committees met in November to hear aspects of a budget proposal from Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) that included provisions on the legalization of adult-use cannabis through a state-run model. There doesn’t appear to be much opposition toward cannabis legalization in Rhode Island’s General Assembly. Newly elected House speaker Joseph Shekarchi (D) believes the chamber is very close to having majority support. What could derail a 2021 legalization bill are fundamental disagreements over whether the legal cannabis market should be state-run or privatized. To date, no states have instituted government-run recreational cannabis models. Rhode Island would be the first.
New Mexico made a valiant effort toward recreational cannabis legalization in its last legislative session but the bill was ultimately stalled in a senate judiciary committee that nitpicked at certain language and phrasing used. Optimism for new cannabis legislation in 2021, however, hasn’t wavered; if anything it’s increased as a result of Arizona recently voting to legalize recreational cannabis, the Democrats picking up seats in the New Mexico’s state Senate and the ongoing support of governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D). Hear it from Senate Majority Leader Peter Wirth (D): “We have an opportunity to take advantage of a new industry that can help diversify our economy and bring lots of jobs, especially on our borders. So the timing is important, because the longer we wait, the more economic impact we lose as our sister states move forward.”
You wouldn’t expect Virginia to be making strides toward recreational cannabis legalization given that the state only decriminalized simple marijuana possession earlier this year. But Virginia’s is starting to make impressive strides toward cannabis reform, embodied best by its Governor, Ralph Northam (D), who isn’t only determined to legalize cannabis in 2021 but also to lead the cannabis legalization movement in the South by creating a legal sales model that will serve as a guide for neighboring states. That landscape for legalization in Virginia has never been more optimal, with purportedly enough pro-cannabis votes in the state’s House and Senate to pass legislation. Virginia’s Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission reported in November that legalization would lead to an 84% reduction in cannabis-related arrests, create upward of 11,000 jobs within five years, and generate between $150-300 million in tax revenue annually if taxed at a rate between 25-30%.
Maryland’s General Assembly is scheduled to convene on January 13th and legislators in the state are expected to discuss cannabis legalization when they do. The state is also in dire need of tax revenue and funding after Gov. Larry Hogan and the Maryland Board of Public Works cut $413 million from Maryland’s budget in July due to COVID-related economic downturn. Some experts believe that Maryland would gross $425 million in its first year if it legalized rec cannabis and up to $1.2 billion by year 4. Massachusetts did roughly the same amount of sales in its first 12 months and generated $70 million in tax revenue. Cannabis Maryland’s House and Senate both skew heavily democratic, and the prevailing sentiment among legislators is that it’s more a matter of when, than if, Maryland comes online.
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