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As we enter another election year, cannabis legalization is sure to be a hot button issue at both the state and federal levels. A Gallup poll from November 2023 showed that public support for legalizing marijuana reached a record high of 70 percent, including majority support across party lines. Let’s look back and see how 2023’s progress positioned cannabis legalization as we enter the 2024 election cycle. 

2023 State Developments

Last year saw continued growth in the legalization of cannabis at the state level. Kentucky’s General Assembly legalized medical cannabis for Kentuckians beginning on January 1, 2025. In doing so, Kentucky became the 40th state to legalize medical cannabis. In April 2023, Delaware’s Governor allowed companion bills to become law without his signature. House Bill 1 allowed for adult-use cannabis legalization effective April 23, 2023. In May 2023, Minnesota’s Governor signed an extensive cannabis bill legalizing adult-use cannabis in the state. The bill allowed for adult possession beginning on August 1, 2023. In November, Ohio voters passed (57%-43%) a citizen-initiated statute legalizing adult-use cannabis. Ohio became the 24th state to legalize cannabis for adult use. With legalization in Ohio, more than half of Americans now live in a state with legal cannabis.

More than half of Americans now live in a state with legal cannabis.

As voters go to the ballot boxes in 2024, campaigns currently exist in four states (Florida, Idaho, Nebraska, and South Dakota) to put adult-use or medicinal cannabis legalization in the hands of voters. Stalled legislative efforts (including adult-use legislation in Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Pennsylvania and medical cannabis legislation in Wisconsin, North Carolina, and South Carolina) are likely to be, or already have been, revived in 2024.

2023 Federal Developments

At the federal level, cannabis reform efforts now span several proposals in Congress and multiple executive branch actions. Congress, once again, failed to pass meaningful reform legislation, but we continue to see increasing legislation (nearly 20 bills in 2023) introduced that would reform the cannabis industry. 

We continue to see increasing legislation (nearly 20 bills in 2023) introduced that would reform the cannabis industry. 

The Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act was re-introduced in the House in September 2023. The MORE Act would federally legalize and regulate cannabis. The bipartisan STATES 2.0 Act was introduced in December. It would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and place the regulation of marijuana products in the hands of the Food and Drug Administration. The bill would allow for the states to continue prohibiting cannabis, but states would not be able to prohibit the interstate transport of cannabis between two states which permit cannabis.

Other cannabis legislation was introduced (or re-introduced) to address issues of importance to the cannabis industry. A sampling of those bills includes:

  • The bipartisan SAFER Banking Act would provide protections to federally regulated financial institutions that serve state-sanctioned cannabis businesses. The Act passed the Senate banking committee, but stalled in the Senate without a floor vote.
  • Introduced in both the House and Senate, the bipartisan Clarifying Law Around Insurance of Marijuana (CLAIM) Act would protect insurers and agents from penalties from federal regulators for providing insurance services to state-sanctioned cannabis businesses.
  • The Higher Education Marijuana Research Act of 2023 was introduced in the House and would provide $150 million to allow universities in states with legalized cannabis to obtain cannabis for research, including public health research. 
  • The bipartisan Harnessing Opportunities by Pursing Expungement (HOPE) Act of 2023 was re-introduced in the House to authorize grants to state and local governments to reduce the financial and administrative burden of expunging convictions for state cannabis offenses. 
  • Multiple bills were aimed at broadening the access of medical cannabis to veterans.
    • The House’s bipartisan Veteran’s Equal Access Act would allow Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) doctors to recommend medical cannabis to their patients in states where medical cannabis is legal.
    • The bipartisan Veterans Medical Marijuana Safe Harbor Act introduced in the House would provide a temporary (five year) authorization allowing VA doctors to recommend cannabis and veterans to use medical cannabis in accordance with the applicable state medicinal cannabis laws. 

In addition to legislative action, we’ve previously covered the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) recommendation to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the CSA. As we noted in January, HHS released its report detailing the department’s rationale for its recommendation. While reclassification would not legalize cannabis, it would represent a historic shift for the cannabis industry. In December 2023, President Biden signed a proclamation pardoning individuals who committed or were convicted of federal marijuana possession offenses. 

While reclassification would not legalize cannabis, it would represent a historic shift for the cannabis industry.

While 2023 did not see historic cannabis legislation passed, it did see continued momentum toward legalization at both the state and federal levels. It also saw a focus on increasing protections for industries and ancillary businesses that are critical to the growth of the cannabis industry. With public support at an all-time high, we will continue to monitor this momentum as state legislatures begin their work and voters head to the ballot box this November.