Ohio became the 24th state to legalize adult-use cannabis and three other states could make recreational pot legal in 2024.
Voters legalized recreational cannabis in Ohio through a ballot measure on November 7, making the Buckeye State the 24th in the U.S. where adults 21 and older can possesses marijuana legally.
Ohio became the third state to legalize this year after Delaware and Minnesota. The state already has a robust medical cannabis market, which is expected to hit $520 million in sales this year, according to industry data firm BDSA. The adult-use market is slated to launch by the end of 2024 and could generate $1.65 billion in sales by 2027, according to BDSA.
With “ruby red” Ohio flipping to green, more than 50% of Americans live in a state where marijuana is legal, even though the federal government still outlaws the drug and considers it as dangerous as heroin. Paul Armentano, deputy director of nonprofit marijuana legalization advocacy group NORML, believes Ohio legalizing adult-use is a tipping point. “For the first time since the federal government initiated cannabis prohibition in 1937, more people now live in a place where marijuana is state legal, than reside somewhere it’s illegal,” says Armentano.
And he is not surprised that a conservative state like Ohio passed a cannabis legalization ballot measure with 57% of the vote. “When voters have the opportunity to go to the polls and decide whether they want marijuana legal, or whether they want to maintain prohibition, virtually every time they choose in favor of expanding freedom and civil liberties to responsible adults,” he adds.
Currently, 24 states and Washington, D.C., have legalized recreational use for adults 21 years and older, while 38 states have legal medical marijuana programs. Cannabidiol (CBD), another active ingredient in cannabis that is associated with some medical benefits but does not get users high, is federally legal and an additional 10 states passed laws to permit the use of products containing CBD and small amounts of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the compound found in marijuana responsible for getting people “stoned.” That leaves only two states—Idaho and Nebraska—that do not allow for any kind of state-sanctioned marijuana use.
In one of the most significant steps toward cannabis law reform, President Joe Biden announced in October 2022 that he would pardon all U.S. citizens convicted of federal marijuana possession and also asked the Department of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General to review “expeditiously” how marijuana is scheduled under federal law. Currently, cannabis is classified as a Schedule 1 drug, along with heroin and LSD, a category reserved for narcotics with a high potential for abuse and no medical value. “Too many lives have been upended because of our failed approach to marijuana,” Biden said in a statement. “It’s time that we right these wrongs.” In late August, HHS recommended that the Drug Enforcement Administration should recategorize marijuana as a Schedule III drug, meaning it has a low to moderate potential for abuse. The DEA is expected to announce its decision this year.
But what that decision will be is anyone’s guess. In a research paper published in April, analysts at TD Cowen wrote that federal legalization is not on the horizon. “We continue to believe federal legalization will not occur in 2023,” the paper reads.
No matter what the feds do or do not do, the majority of Americans currently support legalization, no matter their political leanings. Seven in 10 Americans say marijuana use should be legal, according to the latest Gallup poll conducted in October. Eighty-seven percent of Democrats think weed should be legal, while 55% of Republicans agree. Only 29% of U.S. adults think pot prohibition is a good policy. In 1969, Gallup found that only 12% of Americans supported legalization.
With the 2024 presidential election a year away, lobbyists and politicians believe President Biden’s support of cannabis legalization can help him attract more voters while current polling shows him trailing behind former President Donald Trump in most battleground states.
No matter who becomes president, three additional states could vote to legalize recreational cannabis next year. Here’s where the cannabis map could expand in 2024.
Home to the nation’s largest medical market, advocates collected more signatures required to get a ballot measure put in front of voters, but the state’s Attorney General has challenged the measure’s language in court. A legal battle is currently under way and the outcome will decide whether Floridians will see a ballot measure in 2024.
In Hawaii, where medical marijuana is legal, Gov. Josh Green is on record in favor of legalizing adult use. “I think that people already have moved past that culturally as a concern,” Green said during a debate. The senate passed a bill that would legalize adult-use this year, but the House did not schedule a vote. Hawaii’s attorney general said that she would work with elected officials to help move marijuana legalization along.
Governor Chris Sununu issued a statement in early May about how he is “ready to sign” a bill with the “right policy” and “right framework.” New Hampshire is the only state in New England that has not legalized recreational marijuana.
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