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Recreational Legalization Faces Setbacks In Several States

January 19, 2021

Progress toward recreational cannabis legalization has stalled in three states that approved the issue in recent elections.

In New Jersey, the back and forth continues after governor Phil Murphy requested a “clean up bill” to clarify certain points in the legislation passed by the state congress. Among other provisions, Murphy requested the addition of civil penalties for minors caught in possession of cannabis, which has proved a sticking point with legislators.

Though the fines are lower than those for underage alcohol possession and police would not be authorized to make arrests in these incidents, legislators objected fiercely when it reached the Senate floor, ultimately leading the bill’s sponsor, state senator Nicholas Scutari, to withdraw his support and announce it would not receive a vote. Negotiations are in limbo for the moment, but Murphy has until early February either to find a compromise on the clean up bill or to sign the original legislation as is.

In Montana, another of the four states that voted to legalize in November, the state’s House Appropriations Committee denied the funding allocated to implement its cannabis legalization program. The state’s 2021 budget included $1.3 million to hire staff and pay administrative costs associated with establishing an office of cannabis oversight. In denying the funding, these initial steps will be delayed.

And in South Dakota, where the success of both medical and recreational ballot initiatives have faced strong opposition from governor Kristi Noem, funding is also being choked, with little over $100,000 allocated for the next several years. In addition, Noem recently issued an executive order directing the state’s Highway Patrol superintendent to file a lawsuit seeking to overturn the legalization initiative on procedural grounds.—Danny Sullivan

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