Cannabis investors have no doubt been keeping an eye on US marijuana legalization to see which states will join the 10 states that have fully legalized recreational marijuana.
The possibility of more jurisdictions joining the movement became even more plausible after Congress introduced bipartisan legislation that empowers each state to make its own decision in regards to legalizing marijuana.
The legislation, which is known as the STATES (Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States) Act, won't make cannabis legal across the US but will protect each states' right to enact its own cannabis policies without federal interference.
What's more, the House Financial Services Committee voted 45 to 15 in favor of the updated Secure and Fair Enforcement (SAFE) Banking Act, which would allow commercial banks to provide banking services to cannabis companies that have been legalized at the state level and protect them from federal regulatory penalties.
Of those not-yet-legal US states, New York and New Jersey were pegged as the next two to join US marijuana legalization. However, that hope was squashed after both states shelved plans to move forward with legislation.
New Jersey Likely to Pass Legalization Decision Over to Voters
Despite backing from New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and strong public support, New Jersey won't be joining US marijuana legalization anytime soon.
The legalization bill was scheduled for a vote in March in both the state Senate and Assembly. However, it was called off hours before the scheduled meeting after Democratic leaders came up one-to-three votes short in support of the bill.
The bill was dubbed as the most progressive marijuana legislation presented in the entire country, setting up a five-member regulator commission, calling for a tax of $42 per ounce, and expediting expungements to people with cannabis-related offenses.
This barrier has led New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney to abandon his efforts to have the state pass a bill to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, despite feeling strongly about it. The decision to legalize marijuana in New Jersey will now likely be passed to voters in November 2020 as a ballot initiative.
Now that marijuana legalization in New Jersey is more or less off the table, with a self-imposed deadline of May 31, the state will be moving forward with two related bills that will expand its medical cannabis program and expunge the criminal records of New Jersey residents who have past convictions for possession for small amounts of marijuana.
New York Shifts Focus to Medical Marijuana Efforts
The efforts to legalize recreational cannabis in New York state have also gone flat after Governor Andrew Cuomo bailed on the movement, saying it didn't have the legislative support to pass. Cuomo previously said that the budget was the best chance the legalization efforts would have.
However, after failing to include legalized recreational marijuana in its budget earlier this year, it seems that New York's plan to join the US marijuana legalization movement has lost momentum. With another six weeks left in New York’s legislative session, there's still a chance that marijuana legalization could break through. However, there are still a number of unresolved issues that need to be addressed before that could happen.
Instead of hoping for the best with the current plan, two influential lawmakers in New York State are introducing a new bill that they hope will have better luck at becoming law. The bill includes the establishment of a single, streamlined government entity that will be responsible for managing and regulating all cannabis-related products, including hemp and CBD products and derivatives.
It also includes a social equity provision that will allocate a significant portion of the tax revenue from the sale of cannabis products to communities that have been negatively affected by mass incarceration related to marijuana possession.
It will be interesting to see what happens in the last few weeks of the legislative session and whether or not the new bill will be approved.
US Marijuana Legalization: Where is it Heading Now?
Now that legalization plans in New Jersey and New York have been halted, investors will likely be looking out for other states moving closer to legalization. However, there are no models for what these two states are trying to do, as Vermont was the only one of 10 legalized states that achieved it through legislation rather than by ballot initiative.
Vermont's recreational marijuana laws are fairly restrictive in comparison to other legalized states, as it allows residents to grow their own at home but doesn't allow commercial sales of recreational marijuana.
Despite the lack of legislation being passed in support of recreational marijuana, Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker said last week that he has reached an agreement with key lawmakers to legalize recreational marijuana by Jan. 1, 2020.
It will be exciting to see if Illinois will become the next state to legalize recreational cannabis or if other states will join the US marijuana legalization movement.
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