New state laws: Marijuana, big cats and an Obama holiday

New state laws: Marijuana, big cats and an Obama holiday
© Getty Images

Tens of millions of Americans can now legally purchase and use marijuana for recreational purposes. Millions more will have to show their identification when they go to the polls. And former President Obama’s birthday will be officially recognized by his home state. 

Those are just a few of the tens of thousands of new laws that took effect in states across the country on New Year’s Day.

California on Monday became the sixth state to legalize the use and sale of marijuana for recreational purposes, thanks to a ballot measure the state’s voters approved in 2016. Adults in Maine and Massachusetts will be able to use recreational pot later this year. 


A handful of new measures aimed at countering the Trump administration’s crackdown on illegal immigration also took effect in California. One prevents local law enforcement officials from cooperating with federal immigration detainer requests, unless the immigrant in question is convicted of a serious crime. Another prohibits landlords from reporting tenants’ immigration status, and a third bars employers from cooperating with immigration raids without a court order. 

New voter identification laws have started in West Virginia and Iowa, where voters will be required to show identification the next time they head to the polls. And in Texas, where the Supreme Court ruled against a strict identification law, voters will be allowed to sign an affidavit affirming they were unable to obtain a form of identification to cast a ballot.

In South Carolina, residents will no longer be allowed to own big cats, nonnative bears or apes — though presumably owning a native bear remains legal. A new law that took effect in Nevada bans the possession or sale of body parts of rare animals like rhinoceroses, sharks, elephants, hippopotamuses and tigers.

Washington state on Monday became the seventh state to mandate paid sick leave for employees. Rhode Island will become the eighth state to do so later this year. In New York, workers will now be allowed to take eight weeks of paid family leave, at half their salary; that ratchets up to 12 weeks at two-thirds of their average salary by 2021. And in California, employees of small businesses will be allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave.

In Vermont, employers will be prohibited from asking their employees for passwords to social media accounts.


Gun rights advocates in Tennessee will be allowed to carry their weapons when they visit the state legislature — though they will not be allowed to bring hand-held signs declaring their support for guns or anything else, according to a new policy implemented by state legislative leaders.

Gun-control advocates scored their own wins in Oregon, where a judge will be able to block someone who is a danger to themselves or others from owning a firearm, and in California, where gun owners must purchase ammunition through a licensed vendor. By next year, Californians will be required to pass a background check in order to obtain ammunition.    

California is also experimenting with free college, increasingly a favored policy prescription of progressives. The state will waive fees at community colleges for first-year, first-time students. Colleges in Tennessee will now be prohibited from “stifl[ing] freedom of speech or expression” with speech codes or free speech zones, a law intended to allow controversial conservatives such as Milo Yiannopoulos or Ann Coulter to address students.

States have also implemented new policies aimed at countering the deadly opioid epidemic. Insurance companies in Connecticut will be required to cover treatment for those with substance abuse disorders, and doctors in Nevada will have to fill out additional paperwork for anyone who receives opioid prescriptions lasting longer than one month. 

In Nevada, women will be guaranteed access to contraceptives. Marylanders will also have access to contraceptives without paying out-of-pocket costs. Women in Maryland can now get six months’ worth of birth control, and women in Virginia can get a year’s supply.


Transgender people in California will be able to legally change their gender on public documents before they undergo surgery under a new law taking effect this week. In Illinois, transgender people will be able to change their gender on their birth certificates. 

Connecticut residents will be banned from using automated bots to snap up tickets to concerts or sporting events.

Connecticut residents can also show off their loyalty to the Hartford Whalers, an NHL franchise that decamped to North Carolina to become the Carolina Hurricanes in 1997, by purchasing a new license plate. Appalachian Trail license plates are available in New York, while Seattle Sounders and Seahawks fans can put their team logos on their plates. 

In Illinois, pets will be treated more like children in divorce proceedings. The state also has a new holiday — August 4, President Obama’s birthday — though state workers will not get the day off. And Illinois has a new official state grain, corn, while Utah’s official state fossil is now the Utahraptor.