Marijuana reform advanced through multiple state legislatures this year—and voters in two more states voted to legalize adult-use cannabis at the ballot in November. But while there was significant progress for legalization activists in 2022, lawmakers and activists weren’t able to get legalization across the finish line everywhere this session.
As a reminder, 2022 marked a year where cannabis policy changes were enacted by legislatures in states are ideologically distinct as Mississippi and Rhode Island. And voters in Maryland and Missouri elected to legalize recreational marijuana during the midterm election
Still, there are a handful of states that came close to ending prohibition—with one chamber of the legislature passing a legalization bill, for example—only to later stall. In other states, reform measures made the ballot and then were rejected by voters. In others, activist-led campaigns didn’t end up qualifying for ballot access by established deadlines or were stifled by court challenges.
That said, even with some defeats at the polls this year, advocates are already gearing up for election pushes over the next two years, with the stage set for scheduled or expected legalization votes in states like Oklahoma and Ohio so far. And legislatures where reform bills passed one chamber but not the other are poised to take up the cannabis issue again in 2023.
Here’s a look at states that advanced legalization but ultimately failed to enact it this year:
Arkansas voters rejected a marijuana legalization ballot initiative in November. The measure, backed by the Responsible Growth Arkansas campaign, would have created a regulated cannabis market for adults 21 and older.
Polling gradually tightened for the measure, and then abruptly shifted with most voters opposed to the proposal in the latest survey released just before Election Day. That came as more Republican voters seemed to be dropping off amid the opposition campaign.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) and U.S. Sens. Tom Cotton (R-AR) and John Boozman (R-AR) were among those conservative voices that had been vocal in urging people to reject the marijuana measure.
While those politicians took an early stance against the proposal, opposition efforts picked up after the state Supreme Court ruled in September that votes would be counted for Issue 4 following a legal challenge.
Despite the setback, activists are already plotting a revival, with a plan to put a new legalization proposal on the ballot in 2024.
It was a tumultuous ride for marijuana reform in Delaware this year, ultimately culminating in the governor vetoing a non-commercial cannabis legalization bill in May—a decision that was upheld by the House of Representatives the following month.
Rep. Ed Osienski (D) sponsored two marijuana measures: HB 371, which would have legalized possession and gifting of cannabis without a sales component, and HB 372, which would have set up regulations for an adult-use cannabis market if the former legislation passed.
The legislature did send the basic legalization bill to Gov. John Carney (D), while rejecting the complementary measure. But Carney, a rare example of a Democratic governor who is opposed to adult-use legalization despite supermajority support for the policy among voters in his party, nixed it. And the House failed to get enough votes to override the veto.
A Senate-approved bill to legalize marijuana in Hawaii died when it failed to proceed past a House committee by a key deadline.
Even if the measure had advanced through the House, it would have likely faced resistance from outgoing Gov. David Ige (D), who was reluctant to let even a modest decriminalization bill become law. He described it as “a very tough call” and saying he went “back and forth” on the issue before deciding to allow that measure to be enacted.
Action on reform has been largely limited to the Hawaii Senate, where a committee also approved a legalization bill in 2019 that did not advance to a vote in the full chamber.
Another piece of legislation to expand the state’s existing decriminalization threshold from three grams to 30 grams of cannabis also failed to advance in the House this session after winning approval in the Senate.
Still, advocates are feeling more optimistic about the prospects of legalization legislation in 2023 given that the incoming Gov.-elect Josh Green (D) backs the policy change.
The Kansas House of Representatives voted to legalized medical cannabis last year, but the Senate failed to follow suit. Legislative leaders formed a bicameral conference committee that was tasked with arriving at a deal that could pass both chambers, but that didn’t pan out by the time lawmakers adjourned the two-year session in May.
Democratic lawmakers made a final push to enact medical cannabis legalization before the legislative deadline, but Senate Federal and State Affairs Committee Chairman Robert Olson (R) said in May that the “heavy load” his committee had to carry on other issues meant that lawmakers would not be “getting this measure across the finish line this session.”
While advocates had hoped to see reform enacted this year, the legislature’s bicameral Legislative Coordinating Council did vote in June to form a dedicated committee to work on medical marijuana issues over the summer in the hopes that reform legislation will be ready to pass when the legislature returns for business early in 2023.
Newly reelected Gov. Laura Kelly (D), for her part, wants to see medical cannabis legalization enacted, and she said earlier this year that she “absolutely” thinks the bill could pass if “everything else doesn’t take up all the oxygen.”
She previously pushed a separate proposal that would legalize medical cannabis and use the resulting revenue to support Medicaid expansion, with Rep. Brandon Woodard (D) filing the measure on the governor’s behalf.
Kelly has she said she wants voters to put pressure on their representatives to get the reform passed.
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In Kentucky, the House of Representatives approved a medical marijuana legalization bill in March, but it did not advance through the Senate before the end of the session.
Gov. Andy Beshear (D) later named members to a medical marijuana committee tasked with conducting public hearings on the issue and advise the governor on ways he can advance patient access while the legislature refuses to enact reform.
In April, the governor previewed plans to advance the issue of medical marijuana administratively, criticizing the Senate for failing to heed the will of voters and for “obstructing” reform by refusing to even give a hearing to a House-passed bill this year.
And in November, Beshear signed two marijuana-related executive orders: one to allow patients who meet certain criteria to possess up to eight ounces of medical cannabis legally obtained from dispensaries in other states and another to regulate the sale of delta-8 THC products.
Beshear says he intends to keep up the pressure on lawmakers to get a comprehensive medical cannabis bill to his desk.
A comprehensive reform bill from House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (D) advanced through 12 committees before passing on the House floor last year, but legalization stalled in the GOP-controlled Senate and was not ultimately enacted by the end of the two-year session.
That said, back in June, Gov. Tim Walz (D) signed a large-scale bill into law that included provisions to provide permanent protections allowing state hemp businesses to legally market certain cannabis products—including foods and beverages infused with CBD and other cannabinoids.
The law makes it so that all hemp-derived cannabinoids including CBD can be legally sold in food items, beverages, topicals and more—as long as the products contain less than the federal limit of 0.3 percent THC. Edible and beverage products must be limited to a total of 5 mg THC per serving and 50 mg per package.
Walz has consistently pushed for legalizing marijuana in a regulated market, including funding for implementation in his budget proposal this year, for example.
The newly reelected governor is already planning for a marijuana legalization victory with Democrats newly in control of the Senate after November’s elections, saying it will be “one of the first” bills to pass in 2023, according to former governor Jesse Ventura, who says the incumbent called him to chat about the implications of the election results.
Nebraska lawmakers and advocates worked to put medical cannabis legalization on the ballot this year, but they fell short of the required signatures.
Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana (NMM) faced a number of complications during their signature drive, including the loss of critical funding.
The campaign also faced resistance from Gov. Pete Ricketts (R), a staunch opponent of legalization. Late last year, he partnered with the prohibitionist group SAM Nebraska on an ad urging residents to oppose cannabis reform in the state.
NMM’s Crista Eggers has since said that the campaign will consider pivoting to adult-use legalization for the 2024 ballot, which could attract more deep-pocketed donors to help them cross the finish line.
Lawmakers attempted to advance medical cannabis reform legislatively last year, but while the unicameral legislature debated a bill to legalize medical marijuana in May, it failed to advance past a filibuster because the body didn’t have enough votes to overcome it.
In April, the New Hampshire Senate rejected two House-passed bills that would have legalized marijuana: one to simply allow possession and home cultivation for adults without a sales component and another to create a state-run cannabis market.
In an attempt to revive the reform, the House included legalization language as an amendment to separate criminal justice-related legislation—but that was also struck down in the Senate the following month.
The non-commercial legalization measure that was defeated had previously passed the House under Democratic control in 2020 but was defeated in the Senate at the committee stage.
Three lawmakers—Reps. Joshua Adjutant (D), Renny Cushing (D) and Andrew Prout (R)—each filed separate bills to put marijuana legalization on the state’s 2022 ballot. But the House defeated Prout’s proposed constitutional amendment and voted to table the two other measures.
Gov. Chris Sununu (R), who has consistently said the state is not ready to enact legalization, was reelected in November, presenting an ongoing challenge for activists who wish to enact reform in the Granite State.
A Senate-passed bill to legalize medical marijuana in North Carolina died earlier this session, with House Republican lawmakers ultimately deciding not to allow it to advance further following an internal caucus vote in June.
The legislation from Sen. Bill Rabon (R) cleared the Senate earlier in June in a strongly bipartisan vote. But questions were quickly raised about its prospects in the House, where GOP leadership had been consistently signaling that they were reluctant to move the legislation this year.
Rabon’s NC Compassionate Care Act had advanced through four Senate committees before finally reaching the floor. The momentum seemed to bode well for reform, but GOP members reportedly conferenced internally, choosing not to give the bill a committee hearing in the House as the deadline for the legislative session quickly approaches.
House Speaker Tim Moore (R) was among those key lawmakers who downplayed the idea of enacting the legislation this year, saying recently that “there are a lot of concerns with this bill.”
A task force convened by North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) backed decriminalization as part of a series of policy recommendations on racial equity that were released in 2020. The group also said prior cannabis convictions should be expunged and the state should consider whether to more broadly legalize marijuana.
North Dakota voters rejected a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in November.
The loss for activists follows the defeat of an earlier cannabis legalization measure in 2018. New Approach ND turned in signatures for the legalization measure in July, and Secretary of State Al Jaeger (R) officially certified the initiative the following month.
The legalization initiative was similar to a bill that was introduced in the legislature in 2021. The proposal from Rep. Jason Dockter (R) passed the House, but it was defeated in the full Senate after advancing out of committee there.
Following that defeat, some senators devised a new plan to advance the issue by referring it to voters on the 2022 ballot. The resolution moved through a key committee last year, but the Senate also blocked it.
An activist-led campaign to put marijuana legalization on Ohio’s November ballot announced in May that it would not be able to qualify for this November’s ballot. But advocates did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) filed a lawsuit in April seeking declaratory judgement amid concerns that they might be challenged over the timing of the group’s initial signature submission for the reform measure.
But while activists had hoped the court would grant relief to enable them to collect additional signatures for ballot placement this year, they instead reached a compromise with the secretary of state and legislative leaders that puts them on a path to bring the reform measure before voters in 2023.
A pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers separately filed a bill to legalize marijuana in April that directly mirrors the proposed initiative that activists had pursued, but it did not advance in the legislature.
A GOP legislator who sponsored a different bill to tax and regulate cannabis tempered expectations this year about the chances for legislative reform, signaling that the issue will likely have to be decided by voters.
Meanwhile, Ohio voters in five cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives in November, adding to the groundswell of local reform in the state.
Activists worked to put marijuana legalization on Oklahoma’s ballot this year, but the measure faced a series of legal challenges and ultimately did not secure placement after a Supreme Court ruling in September.
However, after justices dismissed two of the legal challenges to the ballot title, that cleared the ballot measure’s path to a vote during the state’s next election.
Accordingly, Gov. Kevin Stitt (R) issued a proclamation in October stipulating that the initiative from Oklahomans for Sensible Marijuana Laws (OSML) and Yes on 820 will go before voters during a special election on March 7, 2023.
State Rep. Scott Fetgatter (R) said in an op-ed for Marijuana Moment that was published in March that states should legalize cannabis, but he wants to see the legislature craft thoughtful regulations for an adult-use program, rather than leave it to voters at the ballot.
A bill to legalize marijuana in South Carolina passed the state Senate along largely bipartisan lines earlier this year, but it was killed in the House following a procedural challenge.
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Tom Davis (R), did not receive any debate on merits in the House; rather, it was quashed over an issue related to the constitutionality of the legislative process that the measure moved through.
An effort by Davis to resurrect the medical cannabis legalization legislation also proved unsuccessful in May. The senator’s move to add the main provisions of his bill to legalize medical marijuana to largely unrelated legislation was ruled not germane by Senate leadership.
Marijuana reform also played a role in the South Carolina gubernatorial race, which saw incumbent Gov. Henry McMaster (R) retain his seat over challenger Joe Cunningham, a former Democratic congressman. McMaster attempted to dissuade voters from electing Cunningham, in part because of his opponent’s support for marijuana legalization.
Previously, Cunningham was unseated in his congressional reelection race in 2020 by now-Rep. Nancy Mace (R-SC), who strongly supports cannabis legalization and introduced a bill to end federal prohibition last year.
In a recent interview with Marijuana Moment, Mace weighed in on South Carolina cannabis policy, saying “it’s time for our state and move forward” with medical marijuana legalization and that the “vast majority of South Carolinians” back the reform.
Voters in the state had passed an earlier 2020 reform measure, but it was ultimately overturned by the courts.
Following the court ruling that invalidated the earlier ballot box win, activists decided to take a two-track approach to the policy change in 2022, both working with legislators for a legislative reform while separately collecting signatures for the ballot initiative if lawmakers failed to act.
While they would have preferred lawmakers to enact the policy change, that did not materialize this session. The House rejected a Senate-passed legalization bill in March, effectively leaving it up to activists to get on the ballot again.
A Marijuana Interim Study Committee, headed by legislative leaders, was established last year to explore cannabis policy reform, and the panel ultimately recommended that the legislature take up legalization this session. The House-defeated legislation was one of the direct products of that recommendation.
Looking ahead, advocates say they aren’t giving up and plan to put legalization on the ballot yet again in 2024.
A bill to legalize possession of psychedelics in California was approved by the California Senate over the summer, but it stalled out in the Assembly and was ultimately pulled by the sponsor, Sen. Scott Weiner (D).
The measure, SB 519, went through the wringer before Weiner finally decided to cut it loose. In the Assembly, it advanced through two committees before reaching what many had hoped would be its final stop before the floor.
To advocates’ disappointment, however, the measure was effectively gutted in the Assembly Appropriations Committee. The main provisions that would have legalized possession of limited amounts of psychedelics like psilocybin and ibogaine were eliminated.
What was left, before Wiener ultimately shelved the proposal, simply mandated study that would look at the impacts of potential future reform.
The senator told Marijuana Moment late last year that he felt the far-reaching measure had a “50/50” chance of being enacted into law in 2022. Looking ahead, he has pledged to try again in 2023.
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