As Congress punts, states continue to take cannabis legalization into their own hands

It took less than a month for Congress to get cold feet about cannabis legalization, and once again it's up to the states to take the lead. Once again, they're ready.

On Aug. 28, it was announced that the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which would legalize the drug at the federal level, would be up for a vote in the House of Representatives sometime during September. Then, on Sept. 17, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer announced the House would punt on the vote until later in the year. Hoyer's statement cited COVID-19 and a potential government shutdown as the Democratic leadership's rationale. However, reporting by Roll Call uncovered pushback from moderate Democrats concerned with voting on cannabis prior to Election Day.

After Election Day, however, the national map could look a lot different when it comes to cannabis. While Congress isn't ready to vote on the issue, voters in six states certainly are.

Four states — Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota — will vote on legalization of cannabis for recreational use. Currently, 11 states as well as the District of Columbia, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands have legalized recreational cannabis.

If the polls are accurate, all four states look ready to make the jump into the legal market. Monmouth University polls from April show 61 percent support in New Jersey and their poll in Arizona this month shows a slim 51 percent margin. A poll by South Dakota lobbying group No Way on A, which is advocating against legalization, found 60 percent support in the state this month. The University of Montana reported 54 percent in favor in the Big Sky State, though that poll was done back in February.

The No Way on A polling in South Dakota also found support at 70 percent for a separate measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state. South Dakota is one of two states, along with Mississippi, with medical marijuana on the ballot.

Oregon, where cannabis has been legal since 2014, will vote on medical psilocybin — the active ingredient in psychedelic mushrooms. The state will also vote on decriminalizing possession of all drugs, in small amounts, in the name of public health and wellness.

The gulf between Congress and individual states remains strikingly large, though that's not exactly surprising. ♦

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