Four years ago, it seemed like cannabis legalization was a foregone conclusion for New England. Both Maine and Massachusetts legalized adult-use that year, and then in 2018 Vermont became the first state to legalize possession through the legislative process. Given their proximity, many thought that the three remaining states would sooner legalize than lose out on tax revenue from residents crossing the border to source legal weed.
Yet, Vermont still has not legalized commercial sales, Massachusetts’ recreational rollout has been plagued with delays, and Maine is just now accepting applications for recreational facilities.
It seems that the region may finally see some momentum in 2020 after last week saw three key bills progress in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Vermont.
Last Thursday was also a big day for cannabis legislation in Connecticut, where a governor-backed legalization bill was introduced by top lawmakers. The bill would allow for adults 21 and older to possess and purchase up to one and a half ounces of cannabis from a licensed retailer. The legislation also includes broad social equity provisions, including the establishment of a “Cannabis Equity Commission” tasked with “promoting and encouraging participation in the cannabis industry by persons from communities that have been disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition and enforcement.” The bill also includes automatic expungement of low-level possession offenses and mechanisms for petition-based expungements for a range of other cannabis offenses.
Last Thursday also saw the passage of the aptly named SB 420 in the New Hampshire Senate, which allows for homegrow for the state’s medicinal patients and caregivers. Home cultivation is currently a felony offense. The bill will now proceed to the House of Representatives for consideration.
Last week, the Vermont Ways and Means Committee approved S 54, a bill to fully legalize, regulate, and tax cannabis sales. The Vermont Senate passed a similar bill last year, but it died in the House. The bill is expected to receive a vote in the full House this month, and if successful, would proceed to a conference committee, where members of the House and Senate would work to draft a final version of the bill for the Governor’s approval.
Feeling the pressure from surrounding states, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo said she was looking more closely at legalization efforts in 2020, noting “Our hand is being forced by all of our neighbors.”
Editor’s note: This article is an editorial contribution from the Last Prisoner Project. Learn more at LastPrisonerProject.org.
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