Examining the 2024 state marijuana legalization proposals
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Examining the 2024 state marijuana legalization proposals

Right now, 24 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana by adults—a rapid shift after Colorado and Washington first did so in 2012.

As of April, 24 states now permit markets for the legal recreational use of marijuana by adults. The years after Colorado and Washington first legalized marijuana in 2012 produced significant progress in marijuana legalization.

Now, in 2024, several more states are considering the legalization of recreational cannabis, the medicinal use of cannabis, or the decriminalization of marijuana.  

Big action states with proposed bills to legalize recreational cannabis use 

New Hampshire: New Hampshire is the only northeastern state that has not yet legalized and regulated the adult-use marijuana market. The New Hampshire House of Representatives recently passed House Bill 1633 a bipartisan proposal that would license private entities to engage in commercial cannabis activities. That legislation is competing with a proposal backed by Gov. Chris Sununu and state Senate Republicans that would see the state’s liquor commission operate a retail monopoly over adult-use cannabis. 

North Carolina: North Carolina’s House Bill 626 would legalize the possession and sale of cannabis. Its preamble declares, “[C]annabis prohibition, like alcohol prohibition before it, has been a wasteful and destructive failure.”

The bill would authorize an unlimited number of cannabis licenses for qualifying entities and would not allow application fees to exceed $5,000. However, it would levy a relatively high retail excise tax on cannabis products of 30% and would allow local governments to ban any commercial cannabis activity. 

Hawaii: Hawaii came very close to enacting an adult-use market for marijuana earlier this year. After lawmakers debated multiple proposals for legalization the year prior, the Hawaii attorney general’s office hosted a working group with leaders from the legislature during the interim to develop language that might secure a legislative consensus. Reason Foundation consulted with key lawmakers throughout this process and made extensive recommendations on the language contained in the ultimate bill, Senate Bill 3335, and also published an analysis of the existing cannabis market in Hawaii to help inform the debate. This legislation was ultimately voted down in its final committee of jurisdiction, the House Finance Committee, although it advanced farther than any prior legalization proposal in Hawaii. 

Pennsylvania: In Pennsylvania, House Bill 1080 and House Bill 1082 are competing proposals to legalize and regulate cannabis sales for adults aged 21 and older.  Both bills were assigned to the House Health Committee in May 2023 and remain alive but have not received a committee hearing.   

House Bill 1080 would allow individuals aged 21 and above to possess, consume, cultivate, and purchase cannabis from state-operated stores under the management of the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. Retail cannabis sales would be subject to a 19 percent tax rate, with all generated revenue directed towards the state general fund. HB 1080 also introduces a specialized regulatory framework for industrial hemp. 

Pennsylvania HB 1082 would create a recreational cannabis market with licenses granted to farmer-growers and grower-processors. It would limit licensing fees to $2,500 and impose only a modest 1% excise tax on the gross receipts of licensees. However, the bill would empower the regulatory authority to impose minimum capitalization requirements for licensure, which can be a significant barrier to entry into the marketplace. 

West Virginia: West Virginia’s Senate Bill 386 and House Bill 4873 would legalize and regulate cannabis for adults. These measures are identical and would allow counties to create a ballot question proposing cannabis legalization within their jurisdiction. If local voters then approve the ballot question, counties could begin to license commercial cannabis entities and charge a 5% excise tax on retail sales. The state would also establish a regulatory structure and issue licenses that cost no more than $5,000 and charge an additional 15% excise tax.

Senate Joint Resolution 8 is an alternative that proposes a statewide ballot question to create a constitutional right for West Virginians to possess up to two ounces of marijuana. None of these proposals has received a committee hearing yet.  

Medium action states introducing bills to legalize medical cannabis 

The first state to effectively legalize medical cannabis was California in 1996 when voters approved Proposition 215. Shortly after, in 2000, Hawaii became the first to legalize medical cannabis through an act of the state legislature. As of today, medical cannabis legalization has spread to more than two-thirds of the states, and more could be poised to join those ranks this year. 

South Carolina: In February, the South Carolina Senate passed Senate Bill 423, which would permit medical marijuana use, mirroring a similar effort in 2022. The 2022 effort failed because that version contained a proposed tax on medical marijuana, and tax bills must originate in the House rather than the Senate. The current version of the bill does not contain a tax but is otherwise highly restrictive. It would not permit home cultivation or smokable marijuana products and would sunset after five years. 

Meanwhile, a separate South Carolina Senate proposal, which has not advanced, proposes an advisory ballot question for the Nov. 2024 general election ballot, allowing voters to weigh in on the legalization of medical marijuana. 

Wisconsin: In Wisconsin, Gov. Tom Evers pushed for full legalization of recreational cannabis going into this legislative session. However, Republican lawmakers have repeatedly rejected calls from Gov. Evers and other Democrats to legalize all uses of marijuana, including medical and recreational.

In response, Gov. Evers conveyed openness to a more limited medical marijuana proposal if it has Republican support. Evers told the Associated Press:

“I would think that getting it all done [marijuana legalization] in one fell swoop would be more thoughtful as far as meeting the needs of Wisconsinites that have asked for it. But if that’s what we can accomplish right now, I’ll be supportive of that.” 

For their part, Assembly Republicans proposed to restrict the sale of medical marijuana solely to state-owned dispensaries. Under the proposal, individuals with qualifying medical conditions could obtain a state-issued medical card to purchase non-smokable marijuana products from only five retail locations across Wisconsin. This limitation, in addition to the prohibition on home cultivation of medical marijuana, would severely restrict patient access and choice. The proposal would also extend the state’s prescription drug monitoring system to the medical marijuana market, adding another layer of regulation and monitoring. 

By contrast, 36 Senate Democrats sponsored legislation to license private entities to engage in commercial cannabis activities and automatically expunge past marijuana convictions. 

Both measures failed to advance before the legislative session concluded in March, although lawmakers have expressed a willingness to hold additional hearings on medical cannabis legalization. 

Indiana: In Indiana, lawmakers have introduced several bills that would permit the use of medical marijuana by individuals with serious medical conditions determined by their physicians. The bills would establish programs for the cultivation, processing, testing, transportation, and dispensing of medical marijuana or cannabis, with oversight from state agencies. In addition, the bills require proper labeling, child-resistant packaging, and testing of products, prohibit packaging appealing to children, and authorize research on medical marijuana or cannabis.  

Tennessee: Tennessee’s Senate Bill 1104, presented by Republican state Sen. Janice Bowling, recently failed in the Senate Judiciary Committee on an almost a party-line vote of 6-3. Both Memphis Democrats on the committee, state Sens. London Lamar and Sara Kyle, were joined by one Republican, Springfield Sen. Kerry Roberts, in support of the bill. 

Georgia: Lawmakers in Atlanta introduced Senate Bill 350, which aims to increase the minimum age for purchasing medical marijuana in Georgia from 18 to 21. 

In 2021, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed legislation to create a unique low-THC medical cannabis program. Patients suffering from debilitating illnesses. such as seizures, terminal cancers, Parkinson’s disease, and post-traumatic stress disorder can apply for a low-THC oil registry card. These registered patients are only permitted to purchase cannabis oils that contain no more than 5% THC. The legislation authorized up to 30 licensed retailers of these products statewide.

Seven Georgia dispensaries are operational, with the first opening in April 2023. Last year, Gov. Kemp authorized regulations that allow traditional pharmacies to sell these products as well, although the federal Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) warned that dispensing cannabis by pharmacies would violate federal law, potentially leading to arrests or fines. 

Kansas: Kansas Republican Sen. Robert Olson proposed Senate Bill 135, which would allow patients access to medical marijuana with the state, charging a 10% retail excise tax. However, Republican leadership has refused to advance the bill in the Senate and removed Olson from his chairmanship of the State and Federal Affairs Committee after he held hearings on the medical cannabis bill. Although Olson found an ally in Democratic Gov. Cindy Holscher, Olson believes state Senate leadership does not want a bill to pass. 

“The majority of the state [does] want medical marijuana,” Gov. Olson said, according to Marijuana Moment, “and I don’t see a reason why we don’t pass a bill.”

Smaller action states with marijuana decriminalization bills 

In addition to states considering the legalization of cannabis for recreational or medical use, a few have considered decriminalization.

Florida: In Florida, Senate Bill 94 would have reduced criminal penalties for a first, second, or third violation if the offense is the possession of 20 grams or less of cannabis. However, it died in the Senate Criminal Justice Committee on March 8.  

South Carolina: In addition to South Carolina’s medical marijuana bill mentioned above, the House is currently considering a bill to decriminalize possession of 28 grams—one ounce or less—of marijuana, or 10 grams or less of hashish, and to authorize law enforcement to issue a civil citation for possession of that same quantity of marijuana or hashish.   


State legalization of marijuana continues to gain momentum. In the 26 years since California voters first approved a medical marijuana market and the 12 years since Colorado and Washington voters first approved the legal recreational use of marijuana, numerous states have iterated and developed different governing structures for these markets.

In looking at best practices, some states’ legalization efforts have proven more successful than others in displacing illicit cannabis markets and improving public safety, and it is clear the details of legalization policy matter immensely. 

While marijuana legalization itself is an important step in the right direction, policymakers should ensure marijuana markets are open and competitive and offer legitimate pathways to entrepreneurship for individuals from all walks of life.