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World & Nation

As legal weed sales are set to begin in Illinois, what’s ahead for the movement in 2020?

Illinois marijuana
Illinois is set to begin legal marijuana sales Jan. 1. It’s among 11 states that allow legal sales.
(Brennan Linsley / Associated Press )

The movement to legalize recreational marijuana is charging ahead as the New Year approaches.

On Jan. 1, Illinois will begin allowing the sale of legal marijuana to anyone age 21 or over, joining Michigan as the only Midwestern states where cannabis can be used recreationally.

The Illinois measure, which the Democratic-controlled Legislature passed in May, follows a trend tying marijuana legalization to criminal justice reform. The law allows adults 21 and older to purchase about an ounce. Those previously convicted of possessing or selling less than that amount will have their criminal record expunged.

In 2020, several other states are likely to push toward legalization. Here’s a look at where things stand:

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First, how many states allow legal weed?

Since 2012, 11 states, including Illinois, have legalized marijuana. In nine of those states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, Oregon and Washington —voters approved ballot measures legalizing marijuana. Besides Illinois, Vermont has legalized marijuana through a legislative measure passed in 2018 allowing possession and limited cultivation of cannabis.

Is the Tri-state area ready?

Yes.

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In New Jersey, lawmakers earlier this month passed a measure to place the question of legalization before state voters in November. The move comes after a year of legal-wrangling in Trenton, where lawmakers disagreed on areas like taxes and the expungement of criminal records.

Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat elected in 2017 on a platform that included legalizing marijuana, said in a statement that while he’s “disappointed in the Legislature’s inability to legislatively legalize adult-use marijuana, I am optimistic that the people of New Jersey, who overwhelmingly support legalization, will vote to do so.”

“And, when they do, we will take a critical and long overdue step for real criminal justice reform,” Murphy said.

A Rutgers University poll released in October found that 58% of New Jersey residents said they support legalization, while only 37% said they oppose it.

In New York, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has voiced support for legalization. Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Legislature are likely to address the issue in early 2020. Polling in New York is similar to New Jersey when it comes to allowing legal sales.

As in New Jersey, lawmakers in Connecticut this year failed to come to a consensus on a legalization bill. Some state officials, including Gov. Ned Lamont, have called on lawmakers to continue working on legislation in 2020.

A renewed push in the Southwest?

Activists in Arizona want another go at legalization.

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In 2016, Proposition 205, which would have legalized marijuana, failed by a narrow margin. Supporters of legal marijuana in the state have already started organizing to get a similar measure on the ballot in 2020.

New Mexico is also looking into passing legal weed.

Over the summer, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham appointed a working group of bipartisan lawmakers and experts to develop a plan to legalize marijuana in 2020. The group completed its work in the fall and issued a report that recommended a bill that includes, among other things, targeting revenue generated by legalization to subsidize the state’s medical cannabis program and giving local governments authority over where pot dispensaries could be located.

What about the South?

There is traction in Florida.

But a citizen initiative that would legalize recreational marijuana is still far away from gathering enough signatures to get on the 2020 ballot. Make It Legal Florida, which is spearheading the effort, has gathered and verified 190,000 signatures in support of its adult-use marijuana initiative. The initiative must collect roughly 766,000 verified signatures by February to qualify for the November ballot.

Florida is among 33 states that allows medical marijuana.

Is support from presidential candidates helping?

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Yes, and so too is polling.

Nationwide, 67% of Americans support legalization, compared with 32% who prefer to keep marijuana illegal, according to a poll released last month by the Pew Research Center. Nearly eight in 10 Democrats — 78% — say marijuana use should be legal. By contrast, 55% of Republicans support legalization.

On the 2020 presidential campaign trail, talk of marijuana legalization has helped on-the-ground organizing, say activists in states looking to legalize. Unlike in previous years, more and more candidates are voicing support for legal marijuana, citing it as critical to criminal justice reform.

Even as more states legalize marijuana, it remains illegal under federal law. But both the Obama and Trump Justice Departments have taken a hands-off approach and have mostly left the issue up to the states.

In recent years, Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey, a presidential hopeful has introduced federal legislation aimed at ending prohibitions on marijuana and automatically expunge the records of those convicted of federal marijuana use and possession crimes. Booker’s legislation stalled in a Senate committee without a vote.

A separate piece of legislation ending federal prohibition on marijuana, sponsored by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last month. It was the first time a congressional committee has endorsed a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition. The legislation now awaits a vote in the full House but would still need approval from the Senate before being sent to the president.

“This vote is an encouraging indication that federal lawmakers are listening to the majority of Americans who support cannabis legalization,” Steve Hawkins, executive director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group that has worked on legalization efforts in several states, said of the committee vote. “It is time for Congress to take action.”


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