20 States Expected to Fully Legalize Marijuana by 2024
The recently released seventh edition of The State of Legal Cannabis Markets report indicates that the cannabis industry is set to keep growing exponentially over the next few years. Amongst its key predictions is that all states will have legalized medical marijuana while at least 20 will have fully legalized adult-use or recreational cannabis by 2024. Currently, 33 states and Washington, D.C. have medical marijuana programs, while 11 also permit recreational use.
Of those that already have medical marijuana programs, Arizona, Delaware, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Maryland, Rhode Island, New Mexico, and Ohio are expected to join the recreational use bandwagon. With the growing stimulus of tax revenues and more employment, the economic benefits of full legalization are not to be ignored.
Some states that do have significant public support for marijuana legalization are however still lagging behind in terms of legalizing use of the plant. Florida is one such state with a recent survey indicating that two-thirds of residents support adult use, of which 45% strongly favor full legalization of marijuana. The state’s constitution as it is, however, means it will be a long time before full legalization can be achieved, even with a majority of representatives in support.
Another reason for challenges in legalization is the issue of federal drug scheduling. As marijuana is still classed as a schedule I drug, it is still considered highly illegal, subject to high risk of abuse, and offers no medical benefit. Being considered as dangerous as heroin and LSD, it comes with many restrictions, even in states where it has been legalized. Many institutions that rely on federal funding must walk a fine line in obeying federal laws while trying to take advantage of state permissions.
With more aggressive attempts by lawmakers and advocacy groups to have marijuana rescheduled as a schedule III drug, it is hoped this will open up more avenues for research that will in time prove its effectiveness as a medical drug. The most recent, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, is intended to have the drug entirely removed from the Controlled Substances Act altogether, while the Marijuana 1-to-3 Act aims for more the modest achievement of easier access to the drug and funding for research purposes.
These bills demonstrate growing bipartisan support for the nationwide legalization of marijuana. Although there have been many failed attempts over the past few decades to reschedule and decriminalize marijuana use, now is the time that can allow a clear majority in public opinion and amongst lawmakers to carve out a way forward in this effort.
Legalization would also prove a financial loss for the government. As a schedule I drug, companies dealing in marijuana are not entitled to normal corporate tax deductions and therefore must pay a steep effective tax rate. Legalization would qualify them for that relief and thus would cost the federal government billions of dollars in tax revenue.
Despite these challenges, more states are expected to follow suit in legalization thanks to strong public support and the booming state revenues. Illinois, Michigan, and Vermont are expected to start deriving recreational sales in the course of 2020 to 2021. Overall, global licensed marijuana sales reached $10.9 billion in 2018, and industry projections expect this figure to hit $40.9 billion by 2024.
The successfully run medical marijuana programs in states like Florida are also expected to positively influence moves towards full legalization. With states like Colorado using the money to fund public health programs and school construction, while Oregon goes a step further to add to police and local government coffers, it is clear that the additional revenue is beginning to trickle down. With this, and the added employment opportunities that the cannabis industry has brought to states, more people are likely to be motivated to adopt this change.
While decriminalization would be the ideal outcome, industry players are hoping to at least achieve rescheduling from schedule I to III. This would help provide an opportunity for increased research that they hope will eventually conclusively prove the medical benefits of cannabis use and its low risk to recreational users. At the state level, it is expected that with more medical marijuana programs being put in place, and the predicted 20 states achieving full legalization, the rest will have no choice but to follow suit with the other states if they are to keep up with the achievements and benefits that the marijuana industry brings to the table.