The 6 States That Will Legalize Next

Photo by Nico Escondido

2016 was a record year for marijuana legalization—four more states gone legal, 65 million people in areas where adults over 21 can possess cannabis, medical marijuana in a majority of states—and it will be a record that will stand for at least two years.

As AlterNet points out, 2017 isn’t an election year, so there won’t be much in the way of voter initiatives, and certainly not big ones that rely on big turnout like legalization.

That means any progress to be made on drug policy will have to be made by policymakers themselves, elected lawmakers on the state level. Since passing a law will require legislative approval as well as the signature of a governor, and since politicians—many of whom depend on a close relationship with police for their political livelihood—have proven themselves the least likely to get anything done on this issue, this doesn’t necessarily bode well.

Add in the fact that the Donald Trump administration is likely to have an enormous chilling effect on drug policy reform—we’re still a month away from his swearing-in, and everyone is already freaking out over his choices for attorney general and Secretary of Health—and it could be a long, slow two years.

Still, there’s a chance. To date, some states have advanced via the normal professional lawmaker process some limited medical marijuana programs or low-to-no-THC-only laws, like the ones seen in Hawaii and even deep-red Texas.

Though marijuana is absolutely a bipartisan issue with a winning record this year in red states, the best indicators of legalization appear to be regional. In 2014, Oregon and Alaska followed Washington and Colorado, and this year, legalization won in two New England states and two western states.

In that vein, AlterNet identified five states likely to be the next ones to legalize, to which we humbly add a sixth suggestion. Here they are, in alphabetical order.


Legalization has two precursors: legal medical marijuana and decriminalized possession. Meaning, if an adult can access a certain amount if they’re sick, and a certain amount already won’t result in an arrest and a prosecution, the next logical step is allowing all adults to possess that amount outright. Makes sense, and since Connecticut has done the first two, it makes sense to assume the third could come next. A few days after Massachusetts legalized immediately to the state’s north, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said that a reexamination of “our position of enforcement” would be likely “based on what some surrounding states are doing.” Having Malloy on board is vital, since it would remove the need to override any potential veto, and it could clear the way for a the legislators who have authored legalization bills to date, AlterNet believes.


Most people who work in Washington, D.C., where adult-use marijuana is legal, either live in Virginia or Maryland. If they’re at all pro-cannabis, they prefer Maryland, where medical cannabis was legalized in 2014 and where decriminalization happened in 2015. The current governor, Republican Larry Hogan, has proven reliably anti-weed, but polling is in legalizers’ favor, and only a few obstructionist committee chairs stopped legalization bills from advancing in both of the states’s legislative chambers, AlterNet noted.

New Hampshire

The only state in New England to not have passed a decriminalization bill—meaning possession of the tiniest amount of cannabis is still a crime—where medical marijuana has been a reality for just barely more than three years, with dispensaries just finally coming on-line in 2016, the Granite State seems like an unlikely candidate to allow legal marijuana for adults.

But newly elected Republican governor Chris Sununu “is clearly on record in favor of decriminalizing marijuana possession,” according to the Marijuana Policy Project, and nearby states Massachusetts and Maine both appear to have legalized recreational marijuana. (Massachusetts did handily; a recount is underway in Maine.)

If decriminalization comes quickly, expect there to be more momentum in the state House of Representatives to revisit the legalization bill it passed in 2014. That January, the state’s lower chamber approved a bill that would have legalized, taxed, and regulated marijuana in the manner being approved by voters across the country.

That bill died after the then-governor threatened to veto, and subsequent efforts to revive it have gone nowhere, but the episode shows an existing well of support that has surely only grown in the ensuing three years.

New Mexico

Outside of California, New Mexico is the bluest state in the Sun Belt. New Mexico’s northern neighbor is Colorado, where the legalization experiment is a solid success, and New Mexico has had medical cannabis since 2007. Polling is solid, with support among voters for medical marijuana at 61 percent. That would normally mean a ballot initiative would be a good bet. And indeed, state Sen. Jerry Ortiz says he plans to introduce a constitutional amendment that would trigger a legalization vote. In the meantime, New Mexico also has a lawmaker bent on legalization via the state house in Rep. Bill McCamley, who is promising to introduce a legalization bill for a third time.

Rhode Island

What happens in Massachusetts routinely makes its way down the interstate to tiny Rhode Island—though you could make a strong argument for marijuana to be a Rhode Island thing. Decriminalization passed here four years ago, AlterNet points out, and though they’ve never been put to a vote, legalization bills have been introduced in the state legislature every year for the past six years.

The Left Coast of New England, Vermont gave us U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders—and Vermont was also on its way to legalizing via the state house before a legalization bill died in the lower chamber. Despite that setback, both houses of the legislature have an agreement to keep the issue alive, and according to a 2015 report from the RAND Corporation, Vermonters love weed. Roughly 12 percent of the state’s residents are regular marijuana consumers, the study found, and marijuana is a $175 million annual business for the state of fewer than 630,000 souls.

This means there’s a natural, built-in constituency for any pro-weed politician—one of whom, Sen. Dick Sears, referred to Massachusetts’ legalization as a “game-changer.” Even the Republican governor, anti-regulation Phil Scott, says he “can appreciate the discussion around ending the prohibition of marijuana.” If we had to bet on the next state to go legal, we’d lay our money on the Green Mountain State.

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