Which States Will Legalize Marijuana Next?


The 2016 Election was a watershed year for marijuana reform, with four more states legalizing adult use and three more legalizing medical use. The Gallup Poll shows 60 percent of Americans support legalization of marijuana and 89 percent support medical marijuana. We’ve had marijuana on the state ballot in every biennial election since 2010 (as well as the odd-year 2015 election). It seems reasonable to believe the states will legalize marijuana in upcoming elections as well.

So, which states will legalize marijuana next?

It’s instructive to note that the states that pioneered medical marijuana and legalization are all states that have the power of the citizen initiative. Not every state does; in fact, most states in the Midwest, South, and East Coast can only pass laws through their legislatures.

Otherwise known as the low-hanging fruit states.

The eight states that have passed marijuana legalization so far are all initiative states and, coincidentally, are all states that voted Democratic* in the 2016 presidential election. In reform circles, we call these the “low-hanging fruit states”, because they are strongly in support of marijuana legalization and have the initiative process to do something about it.

Of the twenty-eight states that now have medical marijuana, you can match up the initiative states pretty closely with the medical states that have access to whole plant marijuana that patients can grow for themselves. As medical marijuana was taken up in states that don’t have initiatives, the statutes became much more restrictive in order to gain legislative votes.

So will that be the pattern henceforth for the legalization of marijuana in the non-initiative states? With conservative Arizona posting the only marijuana reform loss in the 2016 election, have we gone as far as we can with legalization by initiative? Here are the states I see on the horizon for marijuana reform by 2020.

Arizona: The narrow loss for legalization in 2016 has activists there itching for another shot at the ballot. Medical marijuana reform may be up for a vote in 2018. Activists are likely to hold off on a legalization push until 2020, given the conservative nature of the Arizona electorate.

Idaho: Activists in Idaho are committed to putting medical marijuana on the ballot, despite the state senate voting three years ago that marijuana shall never be legalized for any reason. The state’s highly conservative voting base makes deciding on 2018 or 2020 less important than most states.

Michigan: Activists in Michigan were kept from the 2016 ballot by signature gathering requirements that spoiled thousands of the signatures they collected. There is strong support for legalization in Michigan and the financial support and activist base are ready to go for 2018.

Missouri: Hearts were broken in Missouri when their initiative for medical marijuana fell short by just 23 signatures from one district in St. Louis. Whether they aim for 2018 or 2020 as their next attempt is dependent on the ability to raise funds for another run. Should they make a run at medical marijuana again, it is very likely the state will pass it.

Oklahoma: The Sooner State could have been on the ballot with medical marijuana for 2016 except for missing some ballot-printing deadlines. The initiative may be carried over to the 2018 election. Passage of medical marijuana in neighboring Arkansas bodes well for the chances of passage in Oklahoma.

Rhode Island: The legislature in Rhode Island has been considering their own legalization statute, maybe as early as the 2017 session. Activists there are ready to pressure the lawmakers in 2018.

Texas: There is no initiative process in Texas, but a state senator has proposed both a legalization and a medical marijuana constitutional amendment referral**. If two-thirds of both chambers of the legislature approve, the measures would be placed on the 2017 ballot for citizens to decide.

Vermont: Liberal Vermont is the home of Bernie Sanders. Like Rhode Island, the legislature there has been examining the possibility of passing its own legalization measure.

Wyoming: Like North Dakota, only a few thousand signatures are necessary in Wyoming to put medical marijuana on the ballot. Polling is sparse in Wyoming, as it as in North Dakota, but passage of the latter state’s medical marijuana by such a wide margin in 2016 makes a successful push for a 2018 or 2020 measure more probable.

* Except for one district in Maine, which assigns its Electoral Votes by congressional district.

** Every state except Delaware allows the legislature to propose amendments to be referred to the voters.

Updated to correct references to Vermont and Rhode Island

Russ Belville
About Russ Belville 199 Articles
Russ Belville - or "Radical" Russ, as he is known on-air - hosts The Marijuana Agenda, a live news and talk radio program for the cannabis community, weekdays at 3pm Pacific on MJAgenda.com.  The show is based in Portland, Oregon, but "Radical" Russ has traveled over 300,000 air miles in the past five years, bringing his show to report live from hundreds of cannabis conferences, marijuana expos, hemp festivals, and legalization events in over 70 North American cities.