New England

Peter Lewis

Following cannabis’ successful legalization in Massachusetts, Vermont, and Maine and decriminalization in New Hampshire, the last few states in New England are beginning to realize that legalization may be inevitable simply due to geography, according to recent developments in Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, and New Jersey.

New York

Lawmakers in New York have been working towards cannabis legislation for the last year since Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) commissioned a study by the state’s Department of Health. The report determined that the benefits of legalized cannabis outweighed the risks.

Since then, a working group in the legislature has been tasked with drafting a bill following dozens of “listening sessions” held across the state for public input. Gov. Cuomo is expected to present on the issue today in New York.

New Jersey

Neighboring New Jersey has also felt the pressure to legalize, due at least in part to New York’s movement on the issue. Legislators in NJ were originally tasked with passing major cannabis reforms by Gov. Phil Murphy (D) by the end of 2018.

Issues between versions of the bill drafted by lawmakers and Gov. Murphy — largely contention over the exact tax rate and regulatory structure — are the only things holding legalization back. While lawmakers are no longer optimistic about meeting the end-of-year deadline, there seems to be consensus on legalizing in 2019.

Connecticut

Connecticut is also on the road to possible legalization or decriminalization in 2019. Both proponents and opponents to cannabis reforms agree that incoming Gov.-elect Ned Lamont (D), who favors cannabis legalization, will force a consensus on the issue.

Said state Rep. Vincent Candelora (R), “I would think it would pass. Many of those opposed to legalization have left the Legislature.”

Candelora said he assigns the likelihood of legalization to Connecticut’s financial woes. “Revenue is driving this debate,” he said. “If Connecticut did not have this budget crisis, I’m not sure we’d be having this conversation.”

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is also being pushed toward legalization due to pressure from surrounding states. The state currently has a medical cannabis program that some lawmakers think could easily be converted to adult-use as well.

Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) has also said that costs associated with enforcement will increase if surrounding states legalize, making yet another reason to pass significant cannabis reforms.

Due to midterm election results, social justice issues, and simple peer pressure, by this time next year it’s entirely possible that all of New England will have legalized or at least completely decriminalized cannabis.

2019 may well be a banner year for cannabis with federal legalization also a distinct possibility.

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