Is legal weed coming your way?
The answer to that question, in most places, is a big, solid “probably.” But full legalization will reach some places sooner than others; four states already allow legal use of pot for recreation, another 10 or so are on a short list of likely candidates, and at least a few of those are likely to act in 2016.
So where will legalization land next? The business news website 24/7 Wall St. answered that question, publishing a list of the 11 states where full cannabis reform is a good bet over the next few years. Are you on it?
The Golden State was the birthplace of medical marijuana in America, and it stands on the cusp of full legalization next year. Why California? For one thing, MMJ has been very successful, despite complaints about the lack of rules. For another, marijuana was decriminalized in 1975, so possession of small amounts means a $100 fine, no more. If legalization makes the ballot in 2016 (not yet certain), polls show it stands a good chance of passing.
Voters here will decide whether to legalize next November. This is one of the most libertarian states, so reform is a good bet. Nevada decriminalized cannabis long ago and now imposes a maximum penalty of $600 in fines for simple possession. MMJ is popular, and the first legal dispensaries opened last year.
The Bay State imposes a top fine of $100 for possession of small amounts of grass, and it has a low arrest rate for cannabis offenses. Medical weed passed in 2012 and, despite bumps, has been a hit. But Massachusetts voters want more. A poll last year found 53 percent of residents favor legalization while just 37 percent oppose it. A bill to legalize is already in the works, and the issue could wind up on the ballot next year.
Maine, like Massachusetts, is a contender to bring the first legal pot to the East Coast. Activists here are pushing to get the issue on the ballot in 2016, and many observers predict success. Groups that were once pushing competing ballot initiatives have joined forces, a hint that conflict in other states, namely California, can also be resolved before Election Day 2016.
New York State has an exceedingly high arrest rate for minor marijuana offenses, but the drug is technically decriminalized. Those lucky enough to make use of that legal protection are subject to a fine of no more than $100 for simple possession.
Thankfully, New Yorkers strongly favor reform, and local officials have moved in recent months to dramatically cut the arrest rate. Legalization will probably come, if it does, in the form of a bill already circulating in the state Legislature. Medical cannabis is just getting off the ground, but change is likely to accelerate.
Vermonters smoke an awful lot of pot, and the state is fairly forgiving about it. Possession of small amounts for personal use carries a maximum fine of $200, and police arrest relatively few potheads on simple charges. MMJ is widely accepted here, and the state’s intensely liberal politics bode well for the future of marijuana law.
The Connecticut Legislature is already considering multiple bills to legalize the recreational use of cannabis. MMJ has been a success, and public support for legal pot is strong. Simple possession, which has been decriminalized, comes with a top fine of $150.
Maryland probably isn’t at the top of this list, but it’s still closer to legalization than most states. Lawmakers have enacted medical cannabis laws and decriminalized small amounts of weed for personal use, so full reform isn’t much of a stretch. Presently simple possession is punishable by a maximum $100 fine.
The good people of Rhode Island have the distinction of using more pot per capita than anyone else in the United States. Roughly 20 percent of adults say they toked in the past month. No one else comes close. What’s more, decriminalization means a fine of no more than $150 for possession. As in other states on this list, MMJ is already cemented in Rhode Island law and culture.
The price for simple possession is steep here, with a maximum fine of $575. The state’s marijuana arrest rate is also relatively high. But support for legalization is strong, and local politics are favorable. Legal cannabis will likely reach other Northeastern states first, but Delaware may not be far behind.
Efforts are underway to legalize weed in Michigan, but many observers, including the folks at 24/7 Wall St., think Minnesota is a better bet for reformers who want a Midwestern victory. Legalization may not happen here in 2016, but it stands a good chance over the next few years and could be reality by 2020. That would open the door to legalization in Illinois, Michigan, and other Midwestern states that aren’t quite ready to pull the trigger yet.