Based on the early reporting, there is a growing consensus that 2020 may not be the year the US government passes any significant cannabis legislation. Other, more attention-grabbing national headlines are pushing the SAFE Act and the MORE Act onto the back burner.
Yet, despite the lackluster reform happening at the federal level, the situation at the state level could not be more different. Cannabis is front and center of the political debate in nearly every state across the country.
American Cannabis, By the Numbers
A Gallup poll confirmed American opinion on the plant is quickly changing, with a full two-thirds of Americans in support of new legislation. A Pew Research Center investigation confirmed the shift and also discovered that a full 59 percent of respondents specifically wanted to see medical cannabis legalized.
Thirty-three states now have medical cannabis legislation on the books, as well as four out of the five US territories and the District of Columbia. The newest adoptees include Utah and Missouri, whose programs are still in development. A further 14 states have opened adult-use markets, with Illinois and Michigan experiencing significant successes in this area over the last year.
Several states have cautiously allowed for hemp-only CBD products, so long as the THC is kept under 0.3 percent to comply with federal legislation. Texas is one of these states, where lawmakers recently passed the Texas Compassionate Use Act (HB 3703) in 2019.
Four states remain, none of which have successfully passed any cannabis reforms. These last stubborn holdouts are South Dakota, Idaho, Nebraska, and Kansas. Unlike their neighors, these states consider all cannabis, including low-THC hemp-derived products, illegal.
But, even in these places, 2020 is likely going to see several significant legislative changes within their borders.
Idaho is a lone island within a sea of legal markets. To the west, Washington, Oregon, and Nevada all have booming recreational and medical marijuana markets. To the east it’s Montana and Utah, which are just getting their medical programs underway. Plus, Wyoming has been allowing low-THC products since 2015. Idaho, on the other hand, has experienced nearly a decade of stalled or vetoed cannabis policies.
In 2013, following Washington’s passage of cannabis reform, Idaho went in the exact opposite direction with Senate Resolution 112, the purpose of which was “a concurrent resolution stating the findings of the legislature and affirming the legislatures opposition to the legalization of marijuana in Idaho.”
Seven years later, and finally Idaho is expecting several exciting amendments. The first sign came in November 2018 when Governor Brad Little confirmed an executive order allowing interstate movement of hemp through its borders. Until November, all shipments of hemp traveling through the state (en route to legal markets) had been deemed illegal and confiscated.
Heading into a new decade, it looks as if Idaho may be ready for even more change. This includes the legalizing of hemp, which may also mean CBD products under 0.3 percent THC. The Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted in January 2020 to allow for a hearing on the subject. Advocacy groups, like the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), are also working hard to get ballot initiatives in front of policymakers this year. According to the MPP, they have until April 30th to collect 55,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot.
In 2019, farmers in the Sunflower State began growing hemp for research purposes, but in 2020 they may see rule changes that allow for broader commercial mandates. According to the Kansas Department of Agriculture, 2019 was a trial run, but 2020 will bring a new regulatory environment that should be in place for farmers by planting season.
Beyond opening hemp agriculture, Kansas Governor Laura Kelly has gone on the record to declare her support for medical cannabis legislation. According to local news, she has a history of supporting cannabis reforms, at least cautiously.
As she told one news outlet in January, “I do believe that medical marijuana needs to be legalized. It does have medical uses, and I think it would do a lot for our families who have these kids with Dravet syndrome, which is that severe, frequent epileptic seizures, and I also think that it would help with the opioid crisis.”
Should the state legislature pass a medical cannabis bill this year, it seems likely Kelly would sign it into law.
Currently, Kansas does not even allow for low-THC products that have been approved elsewhere for the treatment of intractable childhood epilepsy. Contradicting its stance on CBD, the state is on track to license more than 400 hemp cultivators for 2020.
In recent memory, pro-cannabis politicians in the state have tried and failed to get their initiatives passed into law. Therefore, Senators Anna Wishart and Adam Morfelt have joined forces with Nebraska Cannabis Legalization Initiative to challenge the policies of the state. The Motley Fool may have called Nebraska the “Unlikeliest State” for medical cannabis, but with 75 percent of state residents supportive, many analysts predict it will get enough signatures to make the ballot.
But if it goes to the ballot, will it become law? Nebraska, a historically conservative state, has consistently resisted changing its strict stance on the plant. As per a recent press release by Nebraska State Governor Pete Ricketts, “Marijuana is a dangerous drug.” It’s not known whether or not Ricketts would veto cannabis reform.
Finally, there is South Dakota. Officials confirmed in late 2019 that Initiated Measure 26 had received enough signatures to make the ballot in November 2020. This initiative, if passed by voters, would allow patients to buy up to three ounces of flower for the treatment of qualifying medical conditions. A second initiative is also in the works, seeking to legalize adult use in the state.
Unfortunately, despite garnering enough support to make it onto the ballot in November, the measure is going to see intense opposition from Republicans, including Governor Kristi Noem. There is so much opposition at the political level that alongside Mississippi and Idaho, South Dakota has still failed to legalize hemp cultivation.
Fierce Debate, But Will There Be Change?
Idaho, Kansas, Nebraska, and South Dakota have held out on cannabis reform even as the tide of change has flooded the rest of the country. On these islands of resistance, it’s getting more challenging to ignore the economic benefits as well as the medical ones.
While there is still significant opposition to pro-cannabis legislation in these remaining states, by 2021, several likely initiatives will have made it into law. It’s hard to resist the numbers, medical benefits, and the rapidly changing opinion of state voters.