Cannabis is already available for medicinal purposes to more than 230 million Americans an April poll from Pew Research91 percent of residents believe marijuana should be legal for this purpose. Even in states with no medical program like North Carolina and South Carolina, recent surveys have shown that support is over 70 percent.
However, many elected officials have hesitated to follow suit. And even in a year when cannabis boosters have had great, broad-based hits legalizing recreational activities in places like New York and New Jersey, some states that have endorsed the total ban remain firmly entrenched.
“Every state that doesn’t have medical marijuana law has something introduced this year,” said Karen O’Keefe, state policy director for the Pro-Legalization Group’s Marijuana Policy Project. “Most of them died.”
Still, advances in some Republican-controlled state capitals indicate a departure from the tough positions the social conservatives have long held and have fueled the pro-marijuana movement. The last few weeks of legislative sessions could bring more gains for proponents.
Here’s how the medical marijuana legalization proposals are playing out across the country this year – and what that means for the future of medical marijuana legalization efforts:
Medical marijuana holdouts
North Carolina: A bill to establish a medical marijuana program in North Carolina has a strong sponsor: Senator Bill Rabon of the Republican State, chairman of the Senate committee. Its legislation would empower Doctors clarify Patients with “debilitating diseases” – diseases such as than cancer, epilepsy, and glaucoma – to use medical marijuana.
Garrett Perdue, founder of pro-legalization group NC Cann, said Rabon’s support gave the bill a good chance of making it through the Senate – and maybe even the House – at this session.
“If we had had this conversation two weeks ago … I would have told you I thought North Carolina cannabis laws of any kind were three years away,” Perdue said recently. “The problem has the right champion and that’s the only difference.”
However, Senate President Pro Tempore Phil Berger said in early April that the medical law does not have the votes.
The legislative period is to take place until July 2nd.
Alabama: The House passed a law legalizing medical marijuana on Thursday 68-34. The Senate approved the bill in February and quickly approved the changes made by the House of Representatives by sending the bill to the governor’s desk.
While Republican Governor Kay Ivey has signed other limited medical cannabis laws in the past, including one that allows pediatric epilepsy patients to use CBD oil, it is unclear how she stands on wider legalization of medical marijuana. A spokesman for Ivey told the Montgomery Advertiser that the governor “Looking forward to a thorough review” of the bill.
Kansas: Democratic Governor Laura Kelly was a vocal supporter of medical marijuana legalization and pushed for the idea of increasing tax revenues to fund Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and serve 165,000 people.
Medical marijuana legalization has more support from Republican lawmakers than any type of Obamacare hug. A bill legalizing medical marijuana was passed by 78-42 votes on the floor of the house on Thursday.
Although the bill did not cross the finish line at that meeting, the Senate sent the bill to the committee with plans to include it in January.
“It’s not a failure,” said Erin Montroy, co-president of the Kansas Cannabis Business Association. “We’re still in the same race. We just have to get through the last season.”
According to the proposal, the medical marijuana program is slated to start in 2023. Proponents hope that the same timetable will be followed so that implementation is not delayed, even if the bill is not passed until next year.
Medical marijuana expansion efforts
Texas: The House recently passed a bill sponsored by Republican MP Stephanie Klick to expand the state’s limited medical marijuana program and send it to the Senate. Texas has a restrictive medical cannabis program that only allows patients with difficult-to-treat epilepsy to access cannabis products that must contain less than 0.5 percent THC.
The latest bill would raise the THC limit to 5 percent and expand the list of qualifying conditions, including multiple sclerosis, autism, and PTSD.
While proponents acknowledge that the legislation is an improvement, many lawmakers have called for the THC cap to be removed altogether. They also believe the Senate bill has a good chance, citing previous medical marijuana bills by Klick that received support in that chamber.
The legislature is to be postponed on May 31st.
Minnesota: There is widespread bipartisan support for expanding the medical program in Minnesota. The biggest possible change would be the end of a ban on flower products, the smokable part of the cannabis plant.
Proponents of this change argue that the shortage of flower products has made prices too high for consumers and stifled enrollments with fewer than 35,000 attendees.
“Flower is definitely the holy grail in this bill,” said Maren Schroeder, policy director for Legalization Advocacy Group Sensible Change Minnesota.
Despite widespread support for adding flower products and other tweaks to the program, it is uncertain whether legislation will make it across the finish line. That’s because it could get caught up in what is likely to be ugly budget negotiations between the Democratic-controlled House and the Republican-controlled Senate.
The legislature is to be postponed on May 17th.
Louisiana: Louisiana also appears poised to add flower products to its medical program. A bill is supported by House Speaker Pro Tempore Tanner Magee and has cleared this chamber with 73-26 votes. A separate invoice subjects flower products to the state sales tax of 4.45 percent. This is a break with the current policy of not taxing medical marijuana products.
The fate of both bills in the Senate is unclear as neither of them took action. One big reason activists are optimistic that the bills will reach the finish line in Baton Rouge: The powerful Louisiana Sheriffs’ Association, which strongly opposes the legalization of recreational activities, has not spoken out against the bill for medicinal flowers.
“From then on, the odds are very good,” said David Brown, a longtime lawyer and legalization attorney in Louisiana.
Efforts to legalize medical marijuana have failed in Kentucky this year, despite a successful floor of the house voting on a medical marijuana bill last year. However, there was a lack of support from the Senate leadership, which is why the proponents of cannabis look to the next year.
A medical marijuana bill has stalled in South Carolina too. While the bill made it to the Senate, it’s pretty low on the priority list. If there isn’t a vote before next Thursday’s legislature is adjourned, lawmakers can take it where it left off next year instead of going through the committee process again, O’Keefe told the Marijuana Policy Project.
Then there is Tennessee, where lawmakers were considering a bill to decriminalize medical marijuana. A House committee killed the move with one vote, but supporters and opponents quickly came together on a watered-down version of the bill. While medical marijuana supporters have expressed serious reservations about the proposal – the federal government would have to remove marijuana from Appendix I in order for the state to advance its own medical cannabis program – they admitted it was better than nothing.
The compromise would decriminalize cannabis oil with less than 0.9 percent THC for patients with one in nine diseases. However, you have no way of accessing these products without traveling to another state or entering the illegal market.
A medical marijuana bill is being promoted in Nebraska, but with fierce opposition from Republican Governor Pete Ricketts, there is little chance it will succeed. Proponents say they will try to include the issue in the 2022 vote if lawmakers fail to act this year.
Activists in Wyoming and Idaho are also considering possible medical marijuana election initiatives for 2022. Idaho Legislation made it harder to qualify for the vote by asking organizers to collect signatures in all 35 districts instead of 18 districts. This will prove costly to any base effort to qualify for the vote. Lawyers in Wyoming face similar challenges as the state has very high signature thresholds in addition to geographic distribution requirements, which is a difficult task given the size of the state.