Despite all that’s gone on in 2020, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that we’re now less than five months away from Election Day. We’ll see voters choose who’ll be president of the United States for the next four years, and could even witness the current political makeup of Congress shift.
But one of the more interesting stories for 2020 is going to be which states “go green.”
Currently, two-thirds of all states have legalized medical marijuana, with 11 of those states allowing for the consumption and/or sale of adult-use marijuana. With Election Day approaching, a dozen states have at least one ballot initiative devoted to cannabis, three states of which are guaranteed to have residents voting on those measures in November.
While there are a handful of states that look like near-certainties to legalize marijuana in November, there are just as many surprising disappointments. The following four states, which on the surface would look to have a good shot at legalizing adult-use cannabis in 2020, will have to wait until next year, or perhaps even 2022, to get their chance to go green.
Maybe the biggest surprise of all is that residents of the Sunshine State won’t be heading to the polls in 2020 to vote on a recreational cannabis measure. After legalizing medical pot in 2016, the expectation had been that 2020 would be the target for adult-use weed. However, the Make It Legal Florida campaign was postponed in January 2020, pushing out any shot at recreational legalization till probably 2022.
Why suspend the campaign? Despite having the support of certain medical cannabis dispensaries in Florida, including MedMen Enterprises, and having gathered in excess of 700,000 signatures to put the constitutional amendment on the ballot, the time frame with which to verify signatures and refine the language of the proposed constitutional amendment simply wouldn’t have worked for the 2020 ballot. A minimum of 766,200 verified signatures were due by Feb. 1, 2020, and there were already clear objections to the proposed constitutional amendment by Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody (R), as well as members of the state’s legislature.
It’s also worth pointing out that, as a constitutional amendment state, a 60% “yes” vote is required for passage. Given the Sunshine State’s notable retiree population, and the fact that seniors have a less favorable view of marijuana than young adults do, passage was no guarantee, even if an amendment made it to the ballot.
Interestingly, this isn’t the worst news for Trulieve Cannabis (OTC:TCNN.F), which dominates medical marijuana market share in Florida and has 48 of its 50 operational dispensaries in the Sunshine State. By keeping its costs close to the vest, Trulieve has done an excellent job of building its brand without driving up its marketing expenses. If recreational weed is legalized, Trulieve may have to go to bat to defend its market share in the recreational space against a larger number of competitors.
Nearly half of all U.S. states don’t have the initiative and referendum process, which is a fancy way of saying that any changes made to cannabis policy need to occur within a state’s legislature. Though New York, one of those states lacking the initiative and referendum process, would appear to have a relatively good shot at legalizing recreational marijuana, it’s not going to happen in 2020.
At the end of March, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) announced that marijuana legalization was “not likely” to be included in the state’s fiscal budget. This was confirmed by revised budget bills that excluded would-be revenue from legalization, as pointed out by Marijuana Moment. Cuomo primarily blamed the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic for complicating budget discussions and making cannabis legalization too much of a chore, for the time being.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that New York’s recreational cannabis discussions have been derailed. Legislators looked to be on the cusp of legalizing adult-use weed during the first quarter of 2019, but lawmakers ultimately disagreed on social equity factors that were brought into the equation, such as the expungement of previous convictions for cannabis possession. Once these social factors became a sticking point, the measure stalled in the legislature.
If and when New York gets its act together (probably 2021, by my guess), Curaleaf (OTC:CURL.F) will be a happy camper. Curaleaf already has more operational dispensaries than any other U.S. multistate operator, and it would undoubtedly see a boost in sales from the four New York dispensaries that are currently open. Curaleaf’s deep pockets, relative to other U.S. pot stocks, would certainly help it add to its presence in a state that should eventually yield more than $1 billion in annual pot sales.
Whereas it’s a take-it-to-bank guarantee that Florida and New York aren’t legalizing in 2020, there’s technically still a sliver of hope for the Buckeye State. Ohio has two recreational marijuana initiatives on the table for addition to the 2020 ballot. Unfortunately, neither of these measures is likely to wind up in front of voters come November.
The biggest issue looks to be the impact from COVID-19. Nearly 453,000 verified signatures need to be collected before regulators can even consider putting a recreational weed initiative on the state’s ballot. However, gathering those signatures has proved virtually impossible because of social distancing measures and stay-at-home orders tied to the pandemic. These signatures are due in less than three weeks.
Then again, before proponents even get the green light to gather signatures, the language associated with the measure to regulate cannabis like alcohol (the perceived-to-be more popular of the two initiatives) will need some fine-tuning. Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) rejected the measure’s ballot language back in March. Again, with the COVID-19 pandemic ongoing, addressing Yost’s concerns and getting the go-ahead to gather 453,000 valid signatures would be a tall task.
As the icing on the cake, few of Ohio’s medical cannabis licensees were supportive of the adult-use ballot initiatives. This makes Ohio a longshot to vote on adult-use cannabis in 2020.
Lastly, the Show-Me State is going to have to “show” America that it has what it takes to legalize recreational marijuana in 2021 or perhaps 2022, because it’s not happening in 2020.
In mid-April, the Missourians for a New Approach campaign to legalize recreational cannabis came to a grinding halt. According to the Springfield News-Leader, signature collection proved to be virtually impossible on a broad scale because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The campaign did attempt to persuade officials to allow online signature gathering, rather than in person, but Missouri regulators rejected the idea, thereby dooming any chance at gathering the roughly 170,000 signatures needed to put the initiative on the ballot.
Although Missouri legalized medical marijuana in 2018, and two-thirds of those polled nationally (not just in Missouri) favor legalizing adult-use weed, it’s not clear that a recreational measure would pass in the Show-Me State or be implemented effectively. As a case in point, Marijuana Business Daily points out that, despite Missouri voters passing a medical marijuana initiative in November 2018, the state’s medical pot industry still hasn’t gotten off the ground. Disputes and challenges arising from rejected license applicants have overwhelmed regulators and brought progress in establishing a medical pot industry to a complete standstill.
If Missouri can’t even get its medical marijuana program off the ground in 20 months, then perhaps not voting on recreational weed in 2020 isn’t so bad, after all.