In the space of a quarter-century, the United States went from having no state where medical marijuana was legal to seeing it become the law of the land in three dozen states. The passage of Prop 215 by California voters in 1996 ushered in an era of rapid expansion of medical marijuana, first primarily via the initiative process, but also increasingly by state legislators attuned to the will of the public.Mississippi became the 37th state to legalize medical marijuana just this month as lawmakers in Jackson and a very cautious governor finally agreed on a bill to enact the will of the people as expressed in a 2020 initiative that was thwarted by a state Supreme Court ruling. But there are still seven states that allow only CBD oil (Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Tennessee, Texas, Wisconsin) and six more states that don't allow any form of medical marijuana (Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Wyoming).
Moves are afoot in nearly all of them to catch up to the rest of the country this year. In some states, it is through the initiative process; in others, through the legislative process. But some states are already a lost cause for the year or face insurmountable odds: Georgia (bills filed, but set to die), Iowa (no bills filed), Indiana (bill never made it out of committee). Texas (no bills filed), and Wyoming (initiative did not qualify, no bills filed).
With a big tip of the hat to Ballotpedia, Marijuana Moment, and NORML, who are all keeping an eye on the action, here's the list of states working to legalize it at the ballot box this year, here are the states where hope still lives for medical marijuana in 2022:
With a state legislature and governor stubbornly against marijuana in any form, the only medium-term prospect for medical marijuana is through the initiative process. One group, Kind Idaho, tried going down that path in 2020 but called off the effort in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. They are back this year with the Idaho Medical Marijuana Act of 2022, which envisions a full-fledged program complete with long lists of qualifying conditions and taxed and licensed cultivation, production, and sales, as well as allowing patients or caregivers to possess up to four ounces. Only patients who qualify for a "hardship exemption" -- financial hardship, lack of access to transportation, lack of a dispensary "within a reasonable distance" -- could grow their own, up to six plants.
But the clock is ticking. The campaign said just last month that it had gathered only 10,000 raw signatures so far. It needs 64,945 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot and the mainly volunteer effort only has until May 1 to come up with them.
The House last year passed a medical marijuana bill, House Substitute for SB 158, and that bill is still alive in the Senate, where it got hearings -- but no vote -- in the Committee on Interstate Cooperation in mid-January. The Senate is controlled by Republicans, who have resisted reform, but so is the House, which got the bill through. And Gov. Laura Kelly (D) also supports medical marijuana.
Legislative Democrats, meanwhile, introduced a pair of constitutional amendments to put the issues of marijuana legalization and access to medical marijuana directly to the voters. Democratic lawmakers next door in Iowa announced a similar move earlier this week. The Democrats are hoping that even if Republicans remains resistant to marijuana reform, they would at least pass the measures and let the voters decide.
Rep. Jason Nemes (R) got a medical marijuana bill passed in the House in 2020, but it died without a Senate vote in the midst of the pandemic. He tried again in 2021, but the bill stalled. After scaling back his bill in a bid to win conservative support, he is back this year with House Bill 136, which also has 40 cosponsors.
Under this year's version of the bill, there would be no home cultivation by patients or caregivers and there would be no smokeable medical marijuana allowed. Patients could consume flowers but would have to vape them. The bill leaves specific rules on qualifying conditions and possession limits up to regulators, but specifies that qualifying conditions will includecancer, epilepsy and seizure disorders, multiple sclerosis, nausea or vomiting and chronic, severe, intractable or debilitating pain.
The bill has a good shot of passing the House and even in the Senate if it is allowed to come up for a vote, but faces an obstacle in the person of Senate President Robert Stivers (R), who has "concerns" and wants "more studies."
After the state Supreme Court invalidated a 2020 medical marijuana initiative because it violated the state's single-subject rule for initiatives, initiative sponsors State Senators Anna Wishart (D) and Adam Morfeld (D) came back this year with a set of three separate initiatives to create a medical marijuana program. One is a constitutional amendment and two are statutory initiatives.
The Medical Marijuana Constitutional Amendment simply states that "Persons in the State of Nebraska shall have the right to cannabis in all its forms for medical purposes, while the Medical Cannabis Patient Protection Act protects patients from arrest for using medical marijuana and the Medical Cannabis Commission Act would regulate medical marijuana businesses that provide it to qualified patients.
An activist group, Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) is in the middle of a signature gathering drive now. It has until July 7 to come up with approximately 86,000 valid voter signatures for the initiatives and 112,000 signatures for the constitutional amendment.
Senator Tom Davis (R-Beaufort) has been trying for seven years to get some sort of medical marijuana bill through the legislature, and just this week, this year's version, Senate Bill 150, saw a medical marijuana bill get a Senate floor debate for the first time ever, and then pass the Senate Wednesday night. Its fate in the House, though, is unclear; whether House Speaker Jay Lucas (R) will let the bill move in his chamber remains uncertain. And Gov. Henry McMaster (R) remains noncommittal on whether he would sign the bill, saying "that would depend on a lot of things."
Honed to advance in the conservative state, Davis's bill is also conservative. It bars the use of smokable marijuana, requires an in-patient doctor's visit and a written treatment plan, and limits the conditions that can be treated to a specified list including cancer, multiple sclerosis, glaucoma. sickle cell anemia and autism. And not only is home cultivation not allowed; possessing the plant form of marijuana would remain a misdemeanor.
State Rep. Jason Powell (D-Nashville) earlier this month introduced a bill that would create a medical marijuana program, House Bill 2458, which awaits committee assignment. Its companion legislation, Senate Bill 2477, has been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Whether these bills will go anywhere remains to be seen. Medical marijuana bills have all died in the past, and last year, the legislature voted down decriminalization. Republicans are in a solid majority in both the state House of Representatives and the Senate, but the year is young.