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Your 2023 Cannabis Look Back: United States Edition

A lot of exciting progress has been made on the cannabis reform front across the United States in 2023. With more states legalizing adult-use cannabis and an increase in public support for cannabis reform, 2023 turned out to be a monumental year for progress in the United States. Let’s look back at some of the highlights of the year.

Ohio Voters Legalize Recreational Cannabis 

One of the most significant cannabis stories of 2023 comes from Ohio, where voters passed Issue 2, a measure legalizing recreational marijuana sales in the Buckeye State. However, the vote wasn’t without challenges. It took years for a tenacious advocacy group, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, to get the issue in front of voters. Republican maneuvering along the way made getting the proposal on the ballot difficult. After a series of legal challenges and procedural roadblocks, the measure made it onto the November 2023 ballot, and voters turned out in droves to vote yes. As the state moves into 2024, legal, adult-use marijuana is now the law of the land in Ohio.

However, that doesn’t mean recreational marijuana will be available everywhere. Already, Republicans in the state are attempting to take the teeth out of the new law, trying to alter the measure in ways that could make it a dead letter in some municipalities.

Minnesota Joins the Ranks 

Minnesota was also among the ranks of states that legalized adult-use cannabis in 2023. State Senators approved a bill to legalize recreational cannabis, allowing adults 21 and over to possess, use, and grow marijuana. Additionally, the legislation automatically expunges low-level cannabis convictions. It allows for reviewing felony convictions for expungement or resentencing, taking a comprehensive approach to cannabis reform in the state. 

The measure passed both chambers along party lines, with Democrats overwhelmingly supporting the legislation. Previous attempts to pass marijuana reform measures typically hit Republican roadblocks. However, when Democrats took back control of the Senate, many liberal lawmakers became hopeful that 2023 would be the year Minnesota could make progress on cannabis reform and finally pass meaningful legislation to legalize the substance and clear individuals’ criminal records for low-level marijuana offenses. Governor Tim Walz (D) quickly signed the legislation, making Minnesota the 23rd state in the country to legalize adult-use marijuana.  

Jekyll and Hyde in Delaware 

Recreational marijuana also became the law of the land in Delaware, much to the chagrin of Gov. John Carney (D). Earlier this year, the state became the 22nd in the country to legalize adult-use marijuana thanks to over two-thirds of the Delaware General Assembly voting to support a pair of cannabis-related bills, House Bill 1 and House Bill 2. House Bill 1 legalized cannabis possession and use. House Bill 2 established the regulatory framework for supporting the recreational marijuana industry in the state. 

Gov. John Carney vetoed a similar measure the previous year. However, with overwhelming support for the legislation from the Delaware General Assembly in 2023, he did not exercise his power to veto the measures. Instead, he allowed the two bills to become law without his signature. 

However, legalization wasn’t the end of the story in Delaware. Many beach towns in the state took issue with cannabis reform, and several communities banded together to prohibit marijuana operations in their jurisdiction. The beach-side towns of Dewey Beach, Rehoboth Beach, and Bethany Beach all banned cannabis businesses from their municipalities. The reason? Many tourist locations say they want to keep their towns “family friendly.” That excuse rings hollow, given that many of these locations, especially Dewey Beach, are already known as alcohol-fueled party destinations. 

Maryland Rakes in the Dough 

Maryland’s budding cannabis industry went into full bloom in 2023. The industry took in a cool $87 million statewide in the first month after the state began permitting recreational cannabis sales on July 1, 2023. From there, sales in the state remained steady for 2023, topping $91.7 million at one point and ending with $89.6 million in November. 

Medical Marijuana Comes to Kentucky 

Kentucky became the 38th state to legalize medical marijuana in March 2023. House lawmakers once again advanced legislation aimed at establishing a medical marijuana framework in the state, after years of seeing similar bills stall out in the Senate. In 2023, the tables turned, and it was the Senate that led the charge in advancing medical marijuana legislation. The House approved it, and Gov. Andy Beshear (D) signed the landmark legislation, paving the way for medical marijuana sales to begin by January 1, 2025.

Under the new law, smoking marijuana remains prohibited. However, eligible patients can purchase raw flower for vaporization. Individuals with medical conditions such as cancer, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, chronic nausea, severe pain, and post-traumatic stress disorder may be eligible to seek medicinal marijuana.

Medical Marijuana Making Inroads in Wisconsin

Progress on the medical marijuana front was also being made in Wisconsin, with Senate Majority Leader Devin LeMahieu (R) signaling that Republicans in the state may be on board with advancing a medical marijuana bill in the new year. However, marijuana advocates claim the potential Republican measure would be too restrictive and limiting. Democratic lawmakers say they want to see comprehensive cannabis reform instead and propose focusing on adult-use legalization. Senator Melissa Agard says close to 7 out of 10 Wisconsin residents support full legalization. Instead of working on limiting medical marijuana measures, she suggests passing comprehensive cannabis reform in 2024. 

The U.S. Pushes Forward with Limited Cannabis Reform 

Finally, the United States government also made cannabis-related headlines this year when the Department of Health and Human Services announced it was recommending that the Drug Enforcement Administration reschedule marijuana from a Schedule I controlled substance to a Schedule III drug.

President Joe Biden also announced a new Presidential proclamation expanding last year’s pardon of individuals federally convicted of simple possession of marijuana offenses. The new proclamation targets “additional offenses of simple possession and use of marijuana under federal and D.C. law.” 

2023 was another milestone year for cannabis reform progress at both the state and federal levels. While work still needs to be done in 2024, hopefully, the groundwork laid in the past year will allow the cannabis movement to gain more traction. 

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