Lawmakers across the country are introducing, debating and voting on more marijuana legislation than ever before.
In 2018, Marijuana Moment tracked 915 bills in state legislatures and Congress concerning cannabis, medical marijuana and hemp. According to our legislative analysis platform, a huge majority of states—92 percent—took up cannabis reform bills of some kind during the year.
This year, legislators in state capitols and on Capitol Hill have already filed more than 350 cannabis-related proposals for 2019 sessions that in most cases began only weeks ago. If 2018 is any indication, this year should see a sizable number of those bills making it to governors’ desks for enactment.
In 2018, a significant percentage of filed marijuana legislation moved forward, with at least 147 bills being signed or enacted in 35 states and the District of Columbia.
Those that made it across the finish line ranged from far-reaching proposals such as the legalization of cannabis possession and home cultivation in Vermont to more modest regulatory measures like Colorado bills concerning marijuana waste recycling and water use for hemp cultivation.
Twenty-eight of the bills that were enacted concerned hemp, while 48 were related to medical cannabis or cannabidiol (CBD).
Others had to do with regulating newly legal markets. Not surprisingly, California had the most legislation passed (26 bills), as the state attempted to implement its voter-approved legalization system. Among the enacted legislation in the Golden State were items touching on issues like medical cannabis recommendations by veterinarians, marijuana advertisements and cannabinoid-infused alcoholic beverages. An additional 29 bills died or were vetoed by Governor Jerry Brown.
Colorado was next, with 18 bills signed and three vetoed.
Hawaii, it turns out, dealt with the greatest volume of cannabis bills overall. Six were enacted but an astonishing 103 additional proposals died in committee, failed or were vetoed. That number accounts for 11 percent of all the cannabis bills we tracked across the country in 2018.
While a few states like South Dakota only had one bill, fourteen individual states dealt with 20 or more pieces of legislation each.
New Jersey saw 57 cannabis-related bills, with only one making it all the way to the end of the legislative process: A measure to create a pilot program to research industrial hemp cultivation.
California lawmakers considered 55 bills, New York weighed 48 and Washington State saw 45 pieces of cannabis legislation filed.
States that dealt with 20 or more pieces of cannabis legislation in 2018:
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, told Marijuana Moment that the organization’s chapters across the country are seeing “increased interest and increased support from lawmakers from every part of the political spectrum.”
“As politicians see the public moving ahead of them, they are rapidly evolving their stance regarding marijuana.”
There is plenty of political resistance remaining, however. A majority of cannabis-related legislation introduced last year—529 bills—failed, died or were vetoed.
Maine was the only state where legislators overrode a gubernatorial veto in order to implement a regulatory system for the recreational marijuana law that the state’s voters approved in 2016.
Meanwhile, Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana via an act of lawmakers as opposed to through a ballot measure. Legislators in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a U.S. territory, followed by passing a legalization bill of their own.
“Last year’s tremendous amount of legislative activity surrounding cannabis, hemp and CBD legislation reflected that elected officials are increasingly getting the message that the harsh criminalization of marijuana in all its forms is misguided and out of step with the the wishes of voters,” Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment.
At the federal level, 2018 marked the first time stand-alone cannabis bills advanced though congressional committees.
In May, the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee approved legislation encouraging the federal government to study the benefits of medical cannabis for military veterans. Then, in September, the House Judiciary Committee passed a bill that would force the Department of Justice to approve new businesses to cultivate marijuana to be used in scientific research.
Neither proposal ended up getting a floor vote, but their historic committee approvals demonstrated momentum ahead of the new 116th Congress, in which advocates are more hopeful than ever before that marijuana legislation could advance to enactment.
An additional 59 cannabis-related congressional bills stalled without hearings or votes, though it is also worth noting that lawmakers approved, and President Trump signed, a large-scale Farm Bill renewal that included language legalizing industrial hemp and its derivatives.
Back at the state level, O’Keefe is optimistic that efforts made in 2018 will pay off in 2019. “Several states saw committee wins or other progress that will help set the ground for eventual passage,” she said.
In New Jersey, for example, Senate and Assembly committees approved a bill to legalize marijuana in November but, due to an ongoing inability to agree with Gov. Phil Murphy (D) on tax rates and regulatory matters, legislative leaders didn’t bring the proposal to the floor of either chamber by the end of the year. Those negotiations are still underway, with advocates hopeful that agreeable language can be worked out early in 2019.
Strekal agrees that this year will be another especially active one for cannabis legislation. “There will be greater numbers of legislation introduced,” he predicts, as well as an increase in those pieces of legislation “receiving hearings, passing committees, being passed by legislative votes and being enacted by governors.”
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