Opinion | Civil Rights

Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?

Which of these 6 states will be next to legalize marijuana?

Nine states — Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont, and Washington — have legalized the adult possession and use of marijuana. In the coming months, some or all of these states will likely be joining them.


Voters this November will decide the fate of the Michigan Regulation and Taxation of Marihuana Act. If passed, the voter-initiated measure will permit those over the age of 21 to grow and possess personal use quantities of cannabis and related concentrates, while also licensing activities related to commercial marijuana production and retail marijuana sales.

According to statewide polling data compiled this past spring, 61 percent of Michigan voters intend to vote “yes” on the ballot measure. Michigan would become the eighth U.S. state to approve adult use legalization via voter initiative.


New Jersey

Democrat Gov. Phil Murphy campaigned on a promise to legalize marijuana use and sales in the Garden State — a pledge he reiterated in his 2019 budget address when he stated, “[T]he only sensible option is the careful legalization, regulation, and taxation of marijuana sales to adults. … [F]rom the standpoint of social justice, and from the standpoint of protecting our kids and lifting up our communities, I could not arrive at any other conclusion.”


Most recently, the state Attorney General called for a temporary suspension on municipal marijuana prosecutions, and members of the Senate are expected to begin debating legalization legislation in the coming weeks

North Dakota

Proponents of a statewide ballot initiative to legalize the adult use of marijuana in North Dakota recently turned in over 19,000 signatures to the Secretary of State's office in an effort to place a measure before voters this November. State officials must certify 13,452 of those signatures in order to qualify the measure for the 2018 electoral ballot.

The ballot proposal seeks to legalize the possession, use, and sale of cannabis, as well as the possession of marijuana paraphernalia, by those over the age of 21. It also expunges past marijuana convictions.


In 2016, nearly two-thirds of state voters approved a ballot measure regulating medical cannabis access. However, state officials have yet to make the program operational. Activists have acknowledged that regulators' failure to swiftly implement the 2016 measure was the impetus for the 2018 campaign.

New York

Ongoing legislative efforts to reform the Empire State’s marijuana laws received a significant boost this month when a state-commissioned study issued by the New York Department of Health called for the plant’s legalization.

The 74-page study, entitled “Assessment of the Potential Impact of Regulated Marijuana in New York State,” acknowledges that regulating marijuana will create jobs, reduce the disproportionate criminalization and incarceration of ethnic minorities, reduce the use of opioids and synthetic cannabinoids (such as Spice or K2), and will likely “generate long-term cost savings.”

It concludes, “A regulated marijuana program enjoys broad support and would have significant health, social justice, and economic benefits. … Regulating marijuana enables public health officials to minimize the potential risks of marijuana use through outreach, education, quantity limits at point of sale, quality control, and consumer protection. … The positive effects of a regulated marijuana market in NYS outweigh the potential negative impacts.”



Sooner State voters in June approved one of the nation’s most liberal medical cannabis access laws, and they may have the opportunity to enact even broader reforms this fall. Days away from an August 8th deadline, local activists are estimated to be just a few thousand signatures shy of meeting statewide requirements to place an adult use legalization measure on the November ballot.


Sixty-one percent of Delaware voters believe cannabis ought to be legal for those over the age of 21. And a majority of state representatives agree with them. In June, a majority of House lawmakers voted in favor of legislation to legalize marijuana use and retail sales. However, because the legislation imposed new taxes and fees, state rules required it to receive super-majority support. Lawmakers are anticipated to take up similar legislation again next year.

Despite the ongoing reluctance of Congressional leadership to move forward with pending legislation to comport federal marijuana laws in a manner that reflects emerging cultural consensus, lawmakers and voters are continuing to move ahead undeterred with significant state and local reforms.


Today, a majority of Americans reside in jurisdictions where cannabis is legally regulated for either medical or adult use. In the coming months, this chasm between state and federal cannabis policies will only grow wider as more states enact policies in defiance of federal law. It is time for leadership to acknowledge and respect voters’ wishes, and to amend federal law in a way that permit these policies to evolve and flourish in a manner that is consistent with America’s longstanding federalist principles.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. He is the co-author of the book, Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? and the author of the book, The Citizen’s Guide to State-By-State Marijuana Laws.