With rapidly-changing policies regulating the use of medical marijuana and more and more states opting to legalize the use of marijuana for medical purposes, while a smaller number opt to decriminalize marijuana use and a smaller number still voting to legalize recreational marijuana use, it will only be a matter of time before the rest of the states fall in line and outright legalize the use of marijuana – especially since the majority of Americans are now in support of marijuana legalization.
Colorado and Washington legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington D.C. passing legalization legislation in November 2014. But all of this policy reform has happened at the ballot; state legislatures have historically not been the vanguard of marijuana policy reform.
Which state legislature will be the first to end the so-called “Pot Prohibition”?
It looks like it will be Rhode Island. Rhode Island is poised to become the first state in U.S. history to pass an adult use legalization bill through its state legislature, a historic shift in policy reform from voter-led legalization to the legislative process. The Marijuana Policy Project and regional grassroots campaign Regulate Rhode Island have had great success at the State House and will likely clinch the deal this year, in the wake of voter-led legalization campaigns in other states and D.C. as well as the not-insignificant promise of upwards of $82 million in tax revenue for the cash-strapped state that also happens to have the highest reported percentage of marijuana users. (For reference, Washington and Colorado are expected to see at least $800 million in extra revenue over the next few years thanks to marijuana sales, and Colorado quite literally is making so much money from recreational marijuana taxes it is going to have to start giving some back.)
If Rhode Island does succeed in breaking the taboo around adult use legalization at the legislative level, it could mean a watershed moment in the widespread legalization of marijuana throughout America. While the handful of above-mentioned states have been able to pass marijuana policy reform legislation through state ballot initiatives, roughly half of the states have no ballot initiative process at all, and of those that do the legislature still has a role in shaping policy. Simply put, while outliers like Colorado and Washington might have found success in legalization efforts, without the active support of the state legislature it will likely still be a long time before other states follow suit.
Thus, the State of Rhode Island’s actions could end up being the sea change in the marijuana policy reform legislation coming from voter-elected officials rather than the voters themselves.