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The State of Marijuana Legalization in 2020

by Sarah Cawthon March 27, 2020

In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first two states to legalize marijuana, and additional states have followed their lead every biennial election since. If the pattern is able to continue, 2020 could be an important year for cannabis.  

Currently, a total of 34 states have legalized cannabis for medical use, and of those, 11 states plus Washington, D.C. have also legalized cannabis for recreational use for adults 21 and older.

There are two key ways a state can legalize a medical or recreational marijuana program — through legislation or a citizen-initiated ballot measure.

If lawmakers decide that there should be a law regarding legalization, they will write a proposal with a bill drafting office or agency. The bill sponsor will introduce the bill and the bill will then be assigned to certain committees and then voted on by the entire chamber. If the bill is passed, it is sent to the other chamber where it goes through the same process of committee and floor votes. If the bill is passed in both chambers, it is sent to the governor who will either sign or veto the bill.

In order to legalize through a ballot initiative, the petitioner or campaign group will need to draft the initiative’s language. Once the initiative has been crafted, it might then need to be reviewed and its language approved before it can be circulated for signatures.  The petitioner or campaign group will then be given a specified timeline for when they need to submit a certain number of verifiable signatures. After collection, the signatures will then be verified, and if the group reaches the amount needed, the initiative will be placed on the ballot before voters during the next election.

However, not every initiative will be able to secure enough funding, or formulate solid enough campaign efforts to collect a sufficient number of signatures to qualify their measures for voters’ consideration on Election Day. Especially now with many businesses temporarily shutting down, events being postponed and individuals self-quarantining in states around the country in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nevertheless, depending on the state, campaigns could soon be able to move to digital signature collection or receive extensions to collect signatures in person.

Here are a few states that are working (or have succeeded) to place a medical or recreational cannabis legalization question on ballots this November, or that have legislation pending in a chamber – just click their link to learn more:

New Jersey
New York
South Dakota

Begin Preparing for Marijuana Business Opportunities  

It’s best to be pro-active and begin preparing for marijuana business opportunities in a state that may legalize a program. To help you with this, we have State-specific Application Guide & Checklists available, which include a step-by-step checklist of all the action items you’ll need to complete when applying for and establishing a marijuana business. The guides cover topics from real estate and financial planning to staffing and team building activities.

If you do not see your specific state listed, you can order a Custom Application Guide & Checklist here.

The Alabama Senate has voted to pass a bill to legalize medical marijuana in the state, and it now moves to the House for consideration.

The state’s legislature would allow patients with one or more qualifying medical conditions to receive a recommendation from physicians to use medical cannabis products to help ease symptoms. The bill would be comprised of fifteen qualifying conditions.

Cannabis intended for smoking or vaping would be prohibited under the proposal, meaning only preparations such as tablets, topicals and certain infused edibles would be available.

The proposal would establish the Alabama Medical Cannabis Commission, which would be responsible for overseeing a patient registry database, issuing medical cannabis cards and approving licenses for six license types including: dispensary, cultivation, processor, secure transporter, state testing laboratory and integrated facility. There would be a cap of 32 dispensaries allowed in the state.

Begin preparing for business opportunities with our Alabama Application Guide & Checklist.


Voters in Arizona narrowly rejected a recreational marijuana legalization measure in 2016. However, in 2020, the state is trying again. Smart & Safe Arizona would allow people 21 and older to possess, consume, cultivate and purchase cannabis from licensed retailers. It would also include expungement records for individuals with prior minor marijuana convictions. It also proposes that tax revenue from legal sales would be invested in communities disproportionately impacted by prohibition.

Advocates have collected at least 237,645 valid signatures from voters ahead of the July 2 deadline to place the initiative on the November ballot. The signatures now need to be verified by the state.

The initiative would reserve most recreational licenses for existing medical marijuana operators, but would also provide 26 social equity licenses. Begin preparing for future business opportunities with our Arizona Application Guide & Checklist.


The Kentucky House of Representatives passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana. It will now be considered in the state Senate. The bill gained momentum in the House as medical marijuana has emerged as an alternative to addictive opioid pain pills and amid growing public support.

The bill, if passed, would allow doctors to recommend medical marijuana to more than 60,000 Kentuckians living with a severe medical condition from the limited list of qualifying conditions. The state would license dispensaries, cultivators, processors, and producers through an application process - begin preparing with our Kentucky Application Guide & Checklist.

The Kentucky Health Issues Poll recently revealed that 90 percent of Kentucky residents support the legalization of medical marijuana, and nearly 60 percent expressed that cannabis should be legal under “any circumstances” in their most recent poll. This demonstrates a significant increase in support for marijuana reform over the past several years.


The Mississippi Medical Marijuana Amendment has been approved and will appear on the November ballot. It was put forth by Mississippians for Compassionate Care with the intention of ensuring the availability of and safe access to medical marijuana for qualified persons suffering from debilitating medical conditions. The measure lists 22 qualifying conditions, including cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder. 

The group had amassed more than 214,000 signatures when the initiative was submitted to the secretary of state’s office in September 2019. Of the signatures submitted, a total of 105,686 were certified, which far exceeded the 86,185 signatures required by Mississippi law for an initiative to qualify for the ballot.

If this measure is approved, Mississippi would implement a vertically integrated license, known as a medical marijuana treatment center license, that would allow for the cultivation, processing and dispensing of medical marijuana products. State regulators would be required to license centers by August 15, 2021. Begin preparing for license applications with our Mississippi Application Guide & Checklist.


New Jersey
New Jersey voters will see a referendum for marijuana legalization on the state’s 2020 ballot.

The constitutional amendment, that would take effect on January 21, 2021, would legalize marijuana for adults 21 years and older and states that marijuana will be subject to the standard state sales tax as well as an additional 2% local tax issued at the discretion of local municipalities. The Cannabis Regulatory Commission will be responsible for regulating the cultivation, processing and sale of marijuana in the state.


New York
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo officially included marijuana legalization in the state’s budget proposal earlier this year, prioritizing the effort that dissolved last year after lawmakers failed to come to a consensus regarding revenue allocation.   

However, while Cuomo has stated that marijuana legalization remains a high priority in his budget plan, the measure could be delayed because of the coronavirus outbreak in the state.

New York Senate Deputy Leader Mike Gianaris has indicated legalization might need to be postponed as lawmakers deal with the most pressing budget issues amid tighter restrictions because of coronavirus.

New York’s fiscal years begins on April 1, so the legislature is now under pressure to pass the budget bill. Though there is plenty of incentive to push through legalization at some point this year, it would be easier to do so as part of the budget bill.


Reform advocates from the campaign group Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted a ballot initiative March 2, 2020, that would legalize marijuana for recreational use in Ohio.

The measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase, possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use. Possession would be capped at one ounce, and individuals could grow up to six plants, three of which could be mature.

The group will need to collect 442,958 valid signatures from registered voters from at least 44 of 88 counties by July 1, 2020, in order to be placed on the November ballot. However, the group is beginning the process with a tight timeline and, considering how large the state is, signature gathering will likely require extensive funding.


South Dakota
Although South Dakota voters rejected medical cannabis ballot measures in 2006 and 2010, two separate adult-use and medical cannabis initiatives have qualified for the November ballot and marijuana has already been approved on a Native American reservation in the state.

Members of the Oglala Sioux Tribe voted to legalize medical and recreational marijuana on their reservation. The referendum to allow marijuana sales on the Pine Ridge Reservation was approved by voters by 82% margin for medical marijuana, and by a 74% margin for adult-use marijuana.

Meanwhile, a referendum to legalize medical and adult-use marijuana for all of South Dakota is set for November.

The medical marijuana measure, if approved, would allow patients suffering from debilitating medical conditions to purchase and possess up to three ounces of marijuana from a licensed retailer. They would also be able to grow at least three plants if authorized by their doctor.

The recreational marijuana measure, if approved, would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to three cannabis plants. The state Department of Revenue would issue licenses for manufacturers, testing facilities and retailers.