We’ve watched the cannabis industry grow steadily for the past few years. With each passing term, we see more and more efforts to expand legalization. In 2022, a number of states passed and voted on legislative movements to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. Some were successful, some were not, but even as some states take steps back, we see a promising future for cannabis use around the country.
Here, we’re recapping everything that happened in the cannabis movement in 2022 and covering the successes and setbacks for the industry.
Successful Cannabis Legalization
Let’s start with the positives: successful movements for cannabis legalization. Three states passed adult use and recreational marijuana laws this year, expanding access for people living in these states. One additional state—Mississippi—legalized medical marijuana in an exciting advancement for cannabis access in southern states.
Adult Use & Recreational
The following three states successfully voted to legalize adult use and recreational marijuana sales and possession. 21 states, and counting, now allow adult recreational marijuana use.
Maryland passed Question 4, which permits individuals over 21 to purchase, consume, and possess marijuana. Prior to passing Question 4, Maryland’s laws restricted marijuana use to medical patients. Question 4 passed with 67.2% voting in favor of the amendment.
Missouri passed Amendment 3, which permits adult recreational marijuana use, and legalized the delivery, manufacture, and sale of cannabis products. Amendment 3 also allows individuals convicted of nonviolent marijuana-related offenses to apply for release from incarceration or for expungement to clear their records of previous offenses. Amendment 3 passed with 53.1% voting in favor of the amendment.
Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee (D) enacted the Rhode Island Cannabis Act, which legalizes adult recreational use and sets personal allowances for possession. The new bill will also enable those convicted of a misdemeanor or felony marijuana possession to appeal for expungement.
37 states now have passed medical marijuana access laws, with Mississippi joining the ranks this year.
Mississippi voters passed the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act with 69% voting in favor of the program. The program will allow patients with qualifying conditions to access medical cannabis products.
Kentucky did not pass a medical cannabis bill, but Governor Andy Beshear (D) has signed an executive order mandating access to cannabis for patients with qualifying conditions. Beshear has also vowed to continue placing pressure on the Kentucky legislature to create a comprehensive medical marijuana bill within his term.
Other Protections for Cannabis Users & Businesses
Legalizing recreational marijuana use is a huge step for many states, but legalization only does so much. Expansion of expungement programs, criminal justice reform, and changes to cultural and professional approaches to cannabis use are the next step.
In 2022, a number of states made movement toward improving protections for cannabis users and cannabis businesses.
Expungement Bills & Criminal Justice Reform
Expungement and criminal justice reform movements attempt to rectify the enormous injustice fueled by the so-called “War on Drugs.” More than 40,000 people are currently incarcerated in the U.S. for cannabis-related offenses. Black, Indigenous, and Latinx communities are disproportionately affected by restrictive cannabis laws and represent the majority of cannabis-related arrests in the U.S.
Thanks to organizations like The Last Prisoner Project, efforts are being made to stop cannabis-related incarceration, and help those who have already been impacted by prejudiced laws and legal practices.
California passed legislation that will require records processing for cannabis-related offense expungement to occur within a certain timeframe. Yet another law went into effect that will require child protective services and social workers to treat marijuana use the same as alcohol use. Previously, marijuana use was considered more serious and detrimental to child welfare than alcohol use.
Colorado passed a similar bill to fast-track expungement. This piece of legislation will also prevent the courts from denying expungement requests on the basis of a positive result on a marijuana drug test.
Illinois also passed a bill that would allow expungement applications to proceed despite a positive drug test result.
Louisiana will no longer allow law enforcement to justify searching a person’s home or belongings without a warrant solely on the basis of smelling the odor of cannabis.
President Biden has also made statements regarding broad expungement for Federal marijuana convictions and has urged governors around the country to do the same at the state level.
Workplace Drug Testing Reform
Despite widespread legalization, many employers still require employees to submit to drug testing and discriminate against cannabis users.
California, Louisiana, Utah, and Washington D.C. enacted laws preventing employers from discriminating or taking punitive action against employees who test positive for cannabis.
Medical Cannabis & Research
Kentucky has established a cannabis-research program at the University of Kentucky to facilitate research into the benefits and risks of cannabis. This is an exciting step forward in a state with some of the strictest cannabis laws in the country.
Louisiana will now allow nurses to recommend medical cannabis treatment and permit out-of-state medical patients to access dispensaries.
California enacted a law that will expand access for medical marijuana patients. Despite the statewide legalization of cannabis, some municipalities still block cannabis businesses from establishing themselves or conducting business (i.e. deliveries.) The new laws will prevent municipalities from blocking cannabis businesses, making it easier for patients in these areas to access cannabis products.
Colorado removed restrictions preventing individuals with prior marijuana convictions from gaining professional licensures.
Maine struck several provisions from its books that prevented individuals with prior drug convictions from working in the cannabis industry.
Massachusetts passed a similar law that will work to advertise participation in the cannabis industry to individuals with prior drug convictions.
Washington D.C. passed legislation allowing adults 21+ and non-residents to self-certify themselves as medical marijuana patients. This will help to expand cannabis commerce in D.C., and increase general access.
California revised cannabis tax laws to make the industry more accessible to new businesses while removing incentives for illicit operations.
Maine legalized cannabis delivery for adult consumers.
Failed Cannabis Legalization
Arkansas voters rejected Issue 4 with 56.25% of voters electing against a measure that would have legalized adult cannabis use for people over the age of 21.
A Delaware cannabis legalization bill was struck down by Governor John Carey (D). The bill would have legalized possession and gifting of cannabis, but not sale or distribution.
Hawaii legislature attempted to pass two bills in 2022. One would legalize cannabis for adult use, while the other would work as a safeguard by expanding decriminalized possession limits. Both bills failed to advance for approval.
Despite the Kansas House of Representatives voting to legalize medical cannabis in 2021, the Senate put a halt to the motion. Murmurs of further attempts to bring the issue before the Senate are set to take place in 2023.
55% of North Dakota voters elected not to legalize recreational cannabis.
52.9% of South Dakota voters elected not to enact Measure 27 which would have legalized recreational cannabis.
What Can We Expect for Cannabis in 2023?
Around 88% of adults agree that marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use. With such overwhelming support and legislative action already on the way, we can expect to see more states broadly legalizing marijuana in 2023. We can expect states like Minnesota, Oklahoma, and Hawaii will be among the next to make the move towards legalization.
On the federal front, many believe that President Biden will push for the decriminalization of marijuana before the end of his first term. Having already pardoned thousands of individuals with prior federal cannabis convictions, the White House has been hinting at decriminalization and legalization for some time.
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