“A Prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.” Abraham Lincoln”Abraham Lincoln
Benefits of state legalization
Beyond the obvious medicinal and recreational advantages offered to consumers through marijuana legalization, cannabis legal states are also experiencing other benefits, including:
- Increased tax revenues – In 2022, legalization states generated more than $3.77 billion in cannabis tax revenue from adult-use sales
- Employment growth – states that have legalized recreational marijuana have experienced “statistically significant increases” in their overall employment growth rate
- Lower criminal justice expenditures – reduces the costs of enforcing criminal laws and the incarceration of minority cannabis users
- Fewer residents with criminal records – this has a dramatic impact on future prospects and can lead to integration into criminal networks
- Increased public safety – a reduction in violence and trafficking (associated with the illegal drug trade) reduces the power and wealth of cartels and drug gangs, and allows law enforcement agencies to focus on more serious and victim-related crimes
The desire for marijuana legalization sweeping across the United States goes above and beyond the quest for recreational freedoms; it’s a shared pursuit of a safer, healthier, and more harmonious society. As more states embrace this trend, the evidence suggests a multifaceted transformation with lasting positive implications for the economy, individuals, and society at large.
Big wins in state cannabis law in 2023
So, let’s take a closer look at the states that experienced the most positive change in cannabis law in 2023.
Recreational cannabis officially went on sale in Missouri & Connecticut
Missouri’s voters approved legalization for non-medical use in November of 2022 and the following February saw the first recreational sale within the state. Less than two months after this first sale the state reports an increase in jobs in the industry by the thousands and $126 million in sales.
The start of the year saw Connecticut’s first sale of non-medical marijuana and many pre-existing medical marijuana stores granted hybrid licenses to sell recreationally to adults as well as for medical purposes. Connecticut’s governor, Ned Lamont, said that this was a huge Turning point for the state with regards to the war on drugs and the unregulated, underground marijuana market.
Delaware became 22nd state to legalize recreational use
Following rejection of proposals to legalize in 2022, Delaware made significant progress when the governor permitted two legalization measures in 2023. Firstly, legalizing marijuana and secondly, establishing a regulatory sales system within the state.
As of April 2023, those over the the age of 21 are now able to purchase up to an ounce of cannabis from a licensed retailer.
However, cultivation of cannabis remains illegal in the state.
Maryland became 23rd state to legalize recreational cannabis
In July of 2023, existing Maryland medical dispensaries started selling cannabis to adults for recreational use. Under the new adult use legislation, anyone over the age of 21 is allowed to buy, use, and grow cannabis.
This change generated over 10 million in sales of products in the first weekend alone, furthermore, in December, the state reported a tax revenue of over 12 million during the first 3 months of sales. This is a prime example of the benefits of legalization when done effectively.
Ohio became 24th state to legalize cannabis for recreational use
Ohio became the 24th state to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes. As of November 2023, Ohio’s citizens over the age of 21 can now possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 15 grams of concentrate. The general assembly passed a citizen-initiated bill to legalize cannabis for medical use in Ohio in June 2016, following polls showing 90% of voters were in favor. It took over two and a half years for the infrastructure to be in place and the first dispensary opened in January of 2019.
Kentucky passed a bill to legalize medical use
Kentucky also passed a bill to legalize medical use of cannabis in April 2023, but these changes won’t be fully implemented until 2025.
Medical use underway in some areas of North Carolina
Lawmakers in North Carolina passed a bill to legalize marijuana in 2023, however, following months of no movement in the house, it was declared dead for the year. In the following months the Eastern band of Cherokee Indians made their own movements to legalize in the state.
Following a vote in which 70% of the tribe voted in favor, this became the first jurisdiction to legalize in the state, despite reported threats from lawmakers in North Carolina. The first legal medical marijuana cards were distributed by the tribe in October and further progress is expected to be made in the coming year.
Setbacks experienced in Indiana & Oklahoma
Unfortunately, both Indiana and Oklahoma failed to pass bills to legalize recreational cannabis in 2023.
Indiana is now surrounded on 3 sides by recreational marijuana states, and yet the substance remains illegal for all purposes in the state. Some citizens of Indiana feel left behind as they watch the states around them create markets for the cannabis industry. They put the lack of forward-movement within the state down to the fact that voters aren’t allowed to bring forward a ballot-initiative and lawmakers are not discussing the issue on the floor for people to bring forth discussion around topics like public health and economic revenue. Indiana is expected to introduce another bill to legalize during next season.
In Oklahoma, more than 60% voted against legalization for recreational purposes and therefore it remains legal for only medical purposes. Despite this, unions and criminal justice agencies are pushing for further legalization.
Will 2024 see changes made in Wisconsin & Florida?
Wisconsin lawmakers have proposed bipartisan legislation to decriminalize possession of medical marijuana. Furthermore, Democratic lawmakers in the state have introduced a new bill which would legalize use and possession of up to five ounces for over 21 year olds. This bill would also enable regulated distribution, production and sale of marijuana products, potentially creating a 10-15% tax revenue for the state. Both of the above pieces of legislation are expected to come to the forefront in Wisconsin during 2024.
In Florida, a petition has been signed by many citizens to propose a constitutional amendment to include marijuana legalization on Florida ballot papers in 2024.
Marijuana legalization by state
State vs federal law
The mismatch between state and federal law remains at large in the US. Cannabis is still technically illegal at a federal level and remains a Schedule I substance.
Biden has pardoned certain marijuana-related crimes and encouraged other governors to do the same. The DEA is also considering the recommendation to reclassify marijuana as a Schedule III substance. However, a complicated web of state and federal legislation means that arrests and prosecution for marijuana-related “crime” continue and Americans are often left confused and uncertain about where they stand.
During the course of 2023, we saw many changes in cannabis legislation across the USA. In particular, Ohio, North Carolina, Delaware, Maryland, Connecticut and Kentucky saw significant progress regarding various laws and legislation, making it yet another successful year for the progress of marijuana.
It’s clear to see that, as this forward motion continues, legalization provides many benefits with regards to: tax revenue, employment growth, the war on drugs, the criminal justice system, and public safety.
According to the National Conference of state legislators, Idaho, Kansas and Nebraska remain the only states with no public programe whatsoever.
With studies showing that almost 70% of Americans are in support of cannabis legalization, the future of legalization will certainly be an interesting one which will undoubtedly have a big role to play in the upcoming 2024 elections.
www.ncsl.org. (n.d.). Cannabis Overview. [online] Available at: https://www.ncsl.org/civil-and-criminal-justice/cannabis-overview#undefined [Accessed 3 Jan. 2024].
Oshin, O. (2023). Record 7 in 10 support legalized marijuana: Gallup. [online] The Hill. Available at: https://thehill.com/homenews/state-watch/4299759-record-7-in-10-support-legalized-marijuana-gallup/ [Accessed 3 Jan. 2024].
American Civil Liberties Union. (n.d.). A Tale of Two Countries: Racially Targeted Arrests in the Era of Marijuana Reform. [online] Available at: https://www.aclu.org/publications/tale-two-countries-racially-targeted-arrests-era-marijuana-reform.