The American legal landscape is changing. There are now just 14 states that still prohibit medical and adult-use cannabis. But, heading into 2022, many of these lingering holdouts have legislation or ballot initiatives on the table for the coming year.
What states are likely to open up to medical cannabis in the coming months? While none are a sure bet, lawmakers and advocates in Mississippi, Wyoming, Nebraska, and North Carolina are seeking change this year. Idaho may also see legislative changes, although as Cannabis Business Times stated, it’s much more of a “wild card.”
Mississippi Passes the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act
The history of legalization of medical cannabis in Mississippi is a convoluted one. The state has already passed it once, but in 2020, the Supreme Court overturned it based on an outdated legal technicality.
Interestingly, when this ballot measure was going through the courts, a survey conducted by FM3 Research indicated that more than 80 percent of Mississippians supported access to cannabis for medical purposes.
Two years later, it looks as if state residents could finally see medical cannabis laws come to fruition. At the end of January 2022, the Mississippi Medical Cannabis Act passed with a super-majority from both houses. At the time of writing, it was awaiting final signature by Governor Tate Reeves.
A few highlights from the proposed act include:
- Outdoor growing facilities are prohibited.
- Individuals must receive a diagnosis for a qualifying condition from a physician.
- Qualifying conditions include “a broad list of diseases and an unspecified group of diseases or treatments that may cause certain symptoms or side effects.”
- Physicians who issue recommendations must receive certification and ongoing education.
Wyoming, a Strong Maybe
Sitting next to Montana, Colorado, and South Dakota, Wyoming is one of the last states in the midwest with no medical cannabis program. But, despite the increasing pressure from its neighbors, Cannabis Business Times labeled the likelihood of seeing legislation pass in 2022 a “maybe.”
As per a University of Wyoming survey, approximately 85 percent of state residents support medical cannabis. But it’s a tough legal landscape for ballot initiatives.
According to recent reports, Wyoming’s pro-cannabis advocates are actually pushing for a 2024 ballot initiative. Unfortunately, Wyoming has some of the most restrictive ballot rules in the country. To get an issue onto a ballot, advocates need enough signatures to equate to 15 percent of the voter turnout in the last election. This means roughly 41,000 signees.
Nebraska’s Dual Initiatives
Nebraska is another midwestern state with potential for change, but this time much more likely in 2022. The Nebraskans for Medical Marijuana organization is again working to gather enough signatures by July 2022 to get medical cannabis laws on the fall ballot. They require 87,000 valid signatures to do so.
But some Nebraska lawmakers, including Senator Mike Groene (R), are working toward other measures. Groene filed a medical cannabis bill in January 2022, which, according to patient advocates, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
This proposed legislation would legalize medical cannabis for Nabraksans but prohibit cultivation. Essentially, it would make it legal for patients to access cannabis for medical purposes but create a system with no legal product to buy.
Jared Moffat, a state campaigns manager for the Marijuana Policy Project, told Marijuana Moment that this appears to be a “political stunt” and that “[o]pponents of medical cannabis know there is a viable campaign to put medical cannabis on the ballot.” The opposing legalization attempts in Nebraska will create an explosive political atmosphere in 2022.
North Carolina’s SB711 Facing More Hurdles
On the Cannabis Business Times’ ‘to watch’ list sits North Carolina, a state working on the SB 711 Compassionate Care Act throughout 2021. In fact, this bill has already passed three committee hearings, but it has yet to reach the floor for a final vote.
Despite the ongoing political debate and multiple-committee hurdles, North Carolina has been keen on medical cannabis for years. Even as far back as 2017, as many as 80 percent of voters supported medical cannabis legislation.
Currently, the bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Bill Rabon (R), was sitting as the Senate rules chair. This position may help move this bill forward in 2022 despite the remaining political barriers in front of it.
If SB711 does miraculously become law this year, it will be one of the most restrictive programs in the country. As summarized by JDSupra, the bill only allows for a total of ten supplier licenses, each able to operate only four dispensaries. It would also restrict the number of qualifying conditions, including cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and other end-of-life conditions.
Idaho’s Ongoing Hostile Political Atmosphere
While one of the least likely states to see any changes to their cannabis policies in 2022, Idaho’s ongoing battle with medical cannabis legislation is worth mentioning.
Historically, Idaho’s government has been extremely hostile toward any pro-cannabis bills. Lawmakers even went so far as to preemptively ban the legalization of cannabis in the future, and they prohibited cannabidiol (CBD) until 2021.
However, there are ongoing initiatives collecting signatures for Idaho’s 2022 ballot. The first is the Personal Adult Marijuana Decriminalization Act of 2022, and the second is Idaho Medical Marijuana Act for 2022. Even if they do score enough signees to get on to the ballot, Idaho’s past experiences with this matter suggest it won’t be an easy battle.
Is Federal Change Next?
With the vast majority of states now with some form of legalized medical cannabis, there is growing pressure on the federal government to modernize the current prohibition on cannabis and THC.
But, under the mildly pro-cannabis mandate of the current administration, it looks as if even benign legislative changes are unlikely. At the end of 2021, two of the most exciting federal bills, the Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act and Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act, failed in Congress.
Despite the overwhelming support for medical cannabis across the US, national change remains bogged down in partisan politics, legislative bureaucracy, and the lingering repercussions of the outdated Controlled Substances Act. If Federal legislation does come, it won’t be able to transform the system of staunchly anti-cannabis federal regulation overnight.