18 Legal Marijuana States By 2020?

Four states and the District of Columbia have already legalized weed and plans are already afoot in several more for this year or next, either by voter initiative (where that option is available) or through the legislature.


But which states will be next, and how fast will the dominoes fall? After all, we're unlikely to see the end of federal pot prohibition until a lot more than four states have legalized it, so how long is it going to take to reach that critical mass?

The Marijuana Policy Project, one of the main players in pot law reform, thinks that 12 more states will have legalized it by 2020. But ArcView Market Research, a company that seeks to hook up investors with pot-related businesses, has a more expansive vision. It's not all rah-rah cheerleading; In a new report, ArcView researchers have crunched the numbers, and here's what they've come up with.

Legal By 2016

ArcView sees the following states going green by 2016: Arizona, California, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Rhode Island, and Vermont.

The three Western states are all initiative states, as are Maine and Massachusetts. They are likely to legalize it via the popular vote in 2016, but in any of them, the notion of the people setting pot policy could inspire the legislature to act to avoid that dire prospect. The states where the existence of the initiative option is most likely to impel action at the state house are Maine and Massachusetts.

Of the remaining 2016 states—Delaware, Maryland, Rhode Island, and Vermont—all but Delaware have already decriminalized pot through the legislature, and Delaware saw a decrim bill introduced just last week. The push is on for legalization in Maryland, where advocates held a press conference last Friday to crank up the pressure.

But the two states that could actually be the next to legalize it are Vermont and Rhode Island. Vermont Gov. Pete Shumlin has said he favors the notion, a RAND study of legalization impacts was commissioned last year and has already been completed, and state Sen. Peter Zuckerberg says he is going to introduce a legalization bill any day now. Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo has said she thinks legalization is coming, House Speaker Nicholas Mattielo says the legislature will look "comprehensively" at the issue this year, and last year, 29 of 75 House members cosponsored a legalization bill.

Legal Between 2017 and 2020

ArcView sees the following states joining the legalization list between 2017 and 2020: Connecticut, Hawaii, Montana, New Hampshire, and New Jersey. (The Marijuana Policy Project is more skeptical about Connecticut, Montana, and New Jersey.)

Only one—Montana—is an initiative state, which means that legalization in any of the others is going to have to come through the legislature. Hawaii was the first state to legalize medical marijuana legislatively, but while it probably won't be the first to legalize recreational weed, it could well do so by 2020.

Of the others, only Connecticut has already decriminalized pot; although a decriminalization has been introduced again this year in New Hampshire. In any of these states, legalization is a few years down the road, and the futher away we get from the present, the fuzzier predictions become.

Dark Horses

Readers may have noticed that there are distinct regional patterns associated with legalization prospects: All the action appears to be in the West and the Northeast.

If we're going to get around to ending federal pot prohibition, some states in the South and/or the Midwest are going to need to get in on the action. ArcView doesn't see any doing so by 2020, but there are a couple of outside shots. The Marijuana Policy Project is bullish on Texas (!), and this writer thinks Missouri, where local activists have been very impressive, and which has the initiative process, could be another surprise.

And there are three other initiative states worth mentioning: Michigan, Ohio, and New Mexico. Any one or more of them could surprise us by getting an initiative on the ballot in 2016, 2018, or 2020—and then actually winning at the polls.

How valid are these predictions? You'll have to pay attention for the next few years to find out. 

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