Like the epic rap battle during the 90s between the East Coast and the West Coast, a new competition is beginning. The East Coast is working hard to catch up to the West Coast on legalizing cannabis, but don't worry; the West Coast has won this competition hands down.
This past week, two tiny states in the east made big moves towards legalization. Vermont legislators passed an adult use bill that will now go to Governor Phil Scott to sign, although he hasn't indicated whether he will or not. It's not a total recreational bill like Washington's or California's, in that it only legalizes possession of up to an ounce and allows for growing plants in the home. While it may not seem like much to states with full legalization, it feels like a big step to the Green Mountain residents, who have been trying to be satisfied with a restrictive medical marijuana program.
New Hampshire has also been busy with its own legislation for decriminalization. This week, their Senate approved a bill that would decriminalize possession of three-quarters of an ounce. The granite state has been the slowest of the New England states to lessen penalties on small amounts of marijuana. Governor Chris Sununu signed off on the legislation on Thursday.
Decriminalization in this case also applies to a small possession of hashish and some marijuana-infused products that residents purchased in another state where it is legal. Previous governors didn't approve of any legalization efforts, but Sununu expressed his support during his campaign for office. This seemed to clear the way for politicians to move forward.
Massachusetts has led the way with its voters approving to legalize the adult use of marijuana, but now legislators are introducing bills to slow the process. They want to push back the sales of edibles by two years, reduce home grows and personal possession limits. They also want to raise the adult use age to 25 and restructure the Cannabis Control Commission. The state has also slowed the funding to implement the program by moving the money to an account that the State Treasurer can't access. The money was to be used to hire staff for the Commission.
Maine's medical marijuana program has been around since 1999, but it wasn't really implemented until 2009. It is growing very quickly, although the pace lately has been slowing down. Nearly four percent of all Mainers are certified medical marijuana patients. Adult use marijuana was legalized, but the state has yet to establish a program. The rule-making keeps getting delayed with the original deadline of February 2017 moved to February 2018. Legislators may put forth a bill that would allow the medical dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana as a way to speed up the process, but it isn't clear if such a bill would pass.
Tiny Rhode Island is surrounded by these lenient states. They passed legislation for medical marijuana in 2009 and have since decided on no jail time for simple possession. While the Governor has expressed some support for legalizing adult use, she has also started to hit the brakes and has requested a study commission. This is frustrating to the 60 percent of residents that approve of legalization.
New York has the most restrictive medical marijuana program and while there are attempts to expand it, it is a slow process. A great amount of the investment dollars are coming from New York and it's home to media and public relations giants. Walk down a street in Manhattan and you would swear it's legal from the smoke that drifts by as someone passes you. Governor Cuomo, however, has no interest in going that far.
True to its Puritan heritage, New England's baby steps towards legalization lets the West Coast embrace its rebellious and pleasure-seeking ways. The laid-back vibe of the West Coast allows them to win this legalization battle. Maybe the East Coast would relax a little if they indeed relaxed it and taxed it.