2020 has been a challenging year for most as we all adapt to the changes in our daily lives. Fortunately, 2020 has also brought good news in respect to changes within marijuana policy by way of legislation in several states across the nation. Recent polls show that 67% of Americans support making marijuana use legal, and roughly 90% believe medical marijuana should be permitted. Many Americans are waking up to the reality that their state’s current marijuana laws do not represent the change in the public’s perception of the drug, and its effectiveness in providing real relief in treating certain physical and mental ailments. While the coronavirus has put a pause on some legislative sessions, several states are listening to their constituents and have introduced or have fully ratified changes to their policy on marijuana.
States Move Towards Decriminalization, Legalization Of Marijuana
- The Virginia legislature passed — and on May 21, 2020 Gov. Ralph Northam signed — a bill to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana (up to an ounce), and also levied a $25 fine instead of possible jail time.
- In Vermont, the Senate and House approved different versions of S. 54, a bill to legalize and regulate marijuanasales (possession and cultivation is already legal). A conference committee was appointed to synchronize the competing bills. The legislature will continue toward ratifying the bill when they reconvene in August.
- In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), for the second time in as many years, proposed including legalization in the state’s budget. Unfortunately, the final budget did not include it. It is unlikely — but possible — that legalization will be taken up later this year.
- In Connecticut, the Governor sponsored a bill for legalization for the first time in 2020. The legislative session was put on hold due to coronavirus precautions but is scheduled to resume later this year.
- Alabama’s Senate and Kentucky’s House of Representatives both approved medical cannabis bills but were also delayed due to the pandemic.
- The New Jersey Assembly approved a marijuana decriminalization bill in June. The legislation would make possession of up to two ounces of cannabis a civil penalty punishable by a $50 fine and no jail time.
Marijuana At The National Level During Election Year
This year will also mark a new presidential election, with a possible change in administration at the national level. With 78% of democrats in favor of ending the prohibition on marijuana, there is a strong chance that with a change in the white house, we may also see change in federal marijuana legislation. Similarly, with criminal justice reform and race relations at the forefront of American politics, decriminalization and legalization of marijuana has become a hot button issue as many of our jails are full of nonviolent drug offenders.
Further, the most current data on racial disparities within the criminal justice system indicate that there is a disproportionate number of people of color being jailed or otherwise involved in the criminal justice system when compared to whites. In sum, there appears to be a consensus on both sides of the political landscape that change is needed and it’s just a matter of time until that change becomes reality.