A handful of states’ cannabis laws take effect Thursday as a wave of weed legislation continues to sweep across the U.S.
Adult use is now legal in Virginia and Connecticut. South Dakota’s medical bill kicks in as well.
New Mexico and New York also legalized weed this year, for a total of 19 states across the country.
The unprecedented shift in state legislation is hopefully a sign that federal reform is on the way, says Steven Hawkins, executive director for advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP).
During MPP’s virtual conference Thursday, he estimated half of the states could adopt full adult-use by the end of the year.
“It speaks to the momentum that’s taking place,” he says, noting eight states in eight months have passed cannabis legislation either through legislative victories or ballot initiatives.
MPP has been a driving force behind much of the legislation.
Virginia first southern state to legalize
Adults over the age of 21 in Virginia can have up to one ounce of cannabis and cultivate up to four plants in their homes.
Legal sales are to start up no earlier than Jan. 1, 2024.
Celebrations marked the moment prohibition ended in the state.
Cannabis prohibition in Virginia ends in about 15 minutes! We're on the Key Bridge to celebrate! pic.twitter.com/vcZRxEahIf
— Virginia Marijuana Justice (@VAMJ2019) July 1, 2021
Independence Day came a little early. @NORML founder Keith Stroup got to light his first legal joint at home in Virginia just as legalization goes into effect. #Murica #LegalizeIt pic.twitter.com/juIsV3IFlc
— NORML (@NORML) July 1, 2021
Provisions to redress the disproportionate impact of cannabis prohibition are part of the state laws.
This includes sealing low-level cannabis offences, dedicating 30 per cent of tax proceeds to a Cannabis Equity Reinvestment Fund and creating a social-equity program to help communities hardest hit by cannabis prohibition enter and thrive in the industry.
South Dakota softens approach but recreational future unknown
South Dakota went from having some of the harshest weed laws to becoming the first state to adopt medical and recreational cannabis legislation at the same time, says Matthew Schweich, MPP deputy director. He was one of the leaders of the 2020 South Dakota campaign
Medical use of cannabis is now allowed but recreational use is in the hands of the state’s Supreme Court due to a lawsuit spearheaded by Gov. Kristi Noem.
If the court greenlights recreational use, it will be allowed immediately after the official decision.
The state has until Nov. 18 to begin issuing medical cannabis patient ID cards.
“It’s been a difficult task to get clear guidance from the state, but if have less than three ounces and you can demonstrate you have a written certification from a doctor and that recommendation complies with state law, you will not be arrested,” Schweich says, adding the state will respect valid non-resident cards too.
Lincoln and Minnehaha counties, which represent about 25 per cent of the state’s population, won’t arrest anyone for small amounts of cannabis even if they don’t have a medical card, “so we’re seeing quick changes taking effect,” he adds.
Connecticut laws emphasizes social equity
Recreational use is now allowed for adults over 21 in Connecticut. They’re able to have up to 1.5 ounces of weed on them and can have five ounces secured at home or in a locked trunk.
Legal sales are expected to start by next May, and adults will be able to cultivate at home as of July 2023.
“Today marks the end of a multi-year fight for equitable cannabis reform and the start of the work to dismantle the effects of the devastating war on cannabis in Connecticut,” says DeVaughn Ward, MPP’s senior legislative counsel, in a statement. “In addition to creating a safe, well-regulated marketplace where adults can make their own decisions about consumption, this law allows for those convicted of cannabis offences to erase their records at no cost and live their lives with a clean slate.”
Half of new cannabis business licences in the state will go to social-equity applicants.
Hints of more states legalizing weed
Hawkins believes several more states are on the cusp of legalization.
He points out Rhode Island and Maryland could legalize before the end of the year, and there has been movement in Delaware and Minnesota. States with ballot initiatives, like Nebraska and North Dakota and Ohio, are all within reach, he adds.
Despite states adopting new laws, Hawkins stresses there are still hundreds of thousands of Americans arrested for cannabis every year.
“Tonight, thousands of Americans will sleep behind bars, away from their families, over a plant that is safer than alcohol. As we applaud Virginia and Connecticut’s progress, we call on the states that have not yet acted to heed the cry of their voters. It’s past time every state and the federal government replace marijuana prohibition with equitable legalization and regulation.”