2018 was a big year for pot in the United States, with two additional states decriminalizing the drug and bunch of others passing measures to allow medical use. Currently, a total of 33 states plus the District of Columbia have made steps to legalize marijuana. With this trend clearly in motion, 2019 will probably see many more states joining in.
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo once called weed a “gateway drug,” but last year he said it was time to legalize it for recreational use among adults. Cuomo says one of his top priorities for 2019 is to end cannabis prohibition, and he’s created a task force to draft legislation for legalization. Now that Democrats have taken control of the New York state Senate in 2019, the roadblocks to legalization that have traditionally been set in place by Republicans have been removed.
Minnesota’s new Democratic governor, Tim Walz, is taking over for an outgoing Democrat who has consistently opposed marijuana legalization. “We have an opportunity in Minnesota to replace the current failed policy,” said Walz during his campaign, “with one that creates tax revenue, grows jobs, builds opportunities for Minnesotans, protects Minnesota kids, and trusts adults to make personal decisions based on their personal freedoms.”
Illinois is now looking at legalization after its neighbor, Michigan, made pot legal in 2018. Incoming Illinois governor J.B. Pritzker made it clear during his campaign that marijuana reform was a goal of his, promising that he’d work on getting cannabis legalized for adult use “right away” in the new year.
Unlike some other states, New Hampshire has an incoming Republican governor who strongly opposes marijuana legalization. Governor Chris Sununu says he’ll veto any legislation that goes beyond the basic decriminalization law that passed in 2017. Despite this, Democrats have taken control of both the state House and Senate, and House speaker Steve Shurtleff says they’ll have enough power to override any veto from the governor. “It’s going to pass,” he told reporters, which are strong words coming from someone who voted against legalization in the past.
Of all the states working toward legalization, New Jersey tops the list of likely candidates to make the move in 2019. Democratic Governor Phil Murphy was elected in 2017 and he’s been working with lawmakers to iron out the details of legalization. While they’ve encountered some disagreements regarding the specifics of regulation and taxation, the Senate and Assembly have now moved forward with legislation for 2019. In a town hall discussion last October, Murphy said their state would legalize weed “sooner than later.”
In the meantime, it’s important to keep in mind that marijuana possession and use in these states is still punishable by law. According to Sherry Cross, a criminal defense lawyer in Los Angeles, “The consequences of weed possession in many states can still be quite severe, ranging from six months in jail for simple possession of less than 50 grams of pot, to up to 18 months in jail and a $25,000 fine for more than 50 grams.”