Marijuana has been nearly unstoppable this year.
Heading into Election Day, residents in nine states were set to vote on marijuana initiatives or amendments within their states. Five states had been looking to legalize recreational marijuana, whereas residents in four states were voting on medical cannabis initiatives or amendments. Out of these nine states, the lone dissenters were found in Arizona, where Prop 205 lost by a mere 2%. Aside from an exceptionally close win in Maine, marijuana initiatives handily won in every other state. As it stands now, and as you can see by the map above, 28 states, along with Washington, D.C., have now legalized medical cannabis, while the number of recreational-legal states doubled following this election to eight from four.
The sky seems to be the limit for the pot industry. Investment firm Cowen & Co. is estimating that growth could average nearly 24% per year through 2026. This would transform today's $6 billion legal pot industry into a $50 billion juggernaut in a decade. That would represent about a quarter of the size of the alcohol industry if these growth projections come to fruition.
In order for cannabis to continue growing like a weed, it'll need new avenues with which to expand. It's possible that President-elect Trump could legalize medical marijuana since he has gone on record and thrown his support behind pot's medical use. However, the real growth is to be made from the recreational side of the business, and to this end, Trump has favored the status quo of allowing states to decide marijuana's fate on their own. In other words, with eight states (and Washington, D.C.) now able to legally sell recreational marijuana to adults ages 21 and up, the attention turns to which states could be next in line to legalize recreational weed.
Four states that could legalize recreational marijuana next
Though it's completely up to interpretation at this point, the following four states look the most likely to attempt to legalize marijuana next.
Although Arizona was the only one of the nine states whose ballot initiatives failed, it's also one of the most likely to legalize recreational marijuana. Why? Because history suggests so.
Though the marijuana industry is quick to point out its numerous victories, there have been ample instances of failure in recent years. California's Prop 64 passed overwhelmingly in 2016, but a similar measure designed to legalize recreational marijuana in 2010 failed. Similarly, Oregon's residents passed a recreational marijuana initiative in 2014, but this was only after a similar push failed in 2012. Arkansas, which just approved Issue 6 to legalize medical cannabis for 17 ailments, initially failed to approve a medical marijuana ballot initiative four years prior. The same can be said in Florida, which failed to pass a medical marijuana amendment in 2014 but passed Amendment 2 in 2016 for medical pot.
In other words, failure happens from time to time, but history suggests that after marijuana advocacy groups focus their efforts on states that had narrow defeats, they turn into victories relatively soon thereafter. Arizona's Prop 205 only lost by 2%. Meanwhile, cannabis' approval rating keeps climbing in national polls. Given some time, Arizona could be a strong candidate for recreational legalization.
Following the approval of recreational weed in the neighboring state of Massachusetts this year, Rhode Island could very well be the next state to consider legalizing adult-use pot.
There are certainly a number of incentives in place for lawmakers in Rhode Island to strongly push for legalization. To begin with, Rhode Island residents can hop over to Massachusetts to purchase legal marijuana beginning in 2018 when it'll officially go on sale (though recreational marijuana becomes legal on Dec. 15, 2016). This creates a potential problem with Rhode Islanders bringing an illegal drug back into the state while Rhode Island collects no tax revenue in the process.
Additionally, a National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that Rhode Island of all states has the highest percentage of people over age 12 (16%) who have consumed cannabis over the past month in the United States... for the second consecutive year. Obviously, lawmakers don't want marijuana winding up in the hands of minors, and that's one reason why Rhode Island's lawmakers haven't legalized recreational pot yet. However, this national survey provides pretty irrefutable evidence that Rhode Island could benefit from the tax revenue generated by a law legalizing recreational weed.
Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-RI) recently suggested that she would take a long look at a possible legalization measure, with Democratic House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello pointing out that he's ready to take up legislation in 2017.
Vermont is a particularly intriguing state since any legalization efforts would have to come from the state's legislature since it lacks the initiative and referendum process. However, Vermont has long had a tendency to lean toward progressive policies, which could bode well for the future of recreational pot's legalization.
Last year, Vermont actually came pretty close to legalizing recreational marijuana through the legislative process. Senate Bill 241 passed muster in the Senate, but it wound up falling short of the votes it needed in Vermont's House of Representatives in April. According to a poll from VPR in Feb. 2016, 55% of Vermonters favored the idea of legalizing recreational marijuana compared to just 32% who opposed it.
Arguably the trickiest aspect of a future approval in Vermont is that the state's biggest cheerleader of Senate Bill 241, Gov. Peter Shumlin (D-VT), is on his way out of office and is being succeeded by Lieutenant Gov. Phil Scott (R-VT). Scott is a Republican, and Republican lawmakers generally take a more conservative approach to legalizing marijuana. In short, Senate Bill 241 could require some modifications before Scott and members of the Vermont House of Representatives will sign off on it. The VPR poll suggests support from Vermonters is there, but we'll have to wait and see how things play out once the next legislative session begins in January.
Lastly, tropical vacation destination Hawaii could soon become a legal recreational pot state. Some of the best candidates to legalize recreational weed are those that have had medical marijuana infrastructure in place the longest or legalized medical marijuana many moons ago. Hawaii wound up approving medical cannabis in 2000, meaning there's ample reason to believe its legislature would have a good handle on regulating the recreational marijuana industry.
Also, according to the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group, Hawaiians strongly approve of the idea of taxing and regulating legal weed. In a Jan. 2014 poll, the survey showed that 66% of 400 surveyed Hawaiian voters favored the idea of legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana. This was up 9 percentage points from 2012, and it was considerably higher than the 37% who favored similar legalization back in 2005.
Like Vermont, Hawaii is part of the two dozen U.S. states where there is no initiative and referendum process. This means all proposals, including recreational legalization, would be voted on by the state's legislature. The good news here is that Hawaii's congressional politics are typically dominated by Democrats, which generally have a favorable view of the responsible expansion of recreational marijuana.
One of the more interesting hurdles Hawaii might have to overcome (should it legalize recreational cannabis) are high energy costs. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Hawaii has some of the highest energy costs in the country, and growing marijuana is highly energy intensive. Since Hawaii also has a very strict greenhouse gas emission policy, the inner workings of a large-scale recreational marijuana industry could be tricky.
Sean Williams has no material interest in any companies mentioned in this article. You can follow him on CAPS under the screen name TMFUltraLong, and check him out on Twitter, where he goes by the handle @TMFUltraLong.
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