Northeast Legalization Notebook: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

While Western states tweak their marijuana legalization programs, Northeast states face a quagmire with legislatures reluctant to move in a sensible direction regarding recreational cannabis. Massachusetts has set the trend for tax and regulation and Maine is finally following their neighbor’s lead with plans for commercial sales soon. Here’s what’s happening in the five other Northeast states:

New Jersey

After Senate Bill 2703 was tabled for lack of votes in the Democrat-controlled legislature in late March, there has been hopes of finding the votes and getting the New Jersey Marijuana Legalization Act on the floor in Trenton. But despite support from Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, that’s not going to happen in the current session.

Senate President Stephen Sweeney now say the best chance for legalization in the Garden State is a voter referendum in 2020. The legislature has to pass measures in 2019 and 2020 to allow such a popular vote. The legislative goal now is to improve the state’s medical marijuana program.

New York

Again, despite a Democrat-controlled legislature and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, prospects for the passage of the Marihuana Regulation and Taxation Act by the end of the current session by June 19 don’t look promising. In a May 13 article, the New York Times declared the “push for legal recreational marijuana in New York… appears all but dead,” and said proponents are “seemingly resigned to waiting until next year.” Like New Jersey, the votes may not be there to pass the MRTA (an amended version is due any day).

The legislature also plans to amend New York’s highly restrictive medical-marijuana program by adding flower and concentrates and more conditions.


There’s better news in the Nutmeg State, where House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney are working to combine multiple bills, send it to the Democratic caucus and then get a floor vote before the session ends on June 5. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont says he would sign a legalization bill if it comes to his desk.

Like with New York, Connecticut legislators are concerned about residents driving to nearby Massachusetts to purchase cannabis products and paying taxes there instead of in their home state.


The Green Mountain State’s legislature legalized recreational marijuana in 2018, but declined to allow for a commercial market. In March, the State Senate moved to rectify that with plans for sales to begin in 2021. However, on May 14, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said there weren’t enough votes for the bill to pass and pushed it off until January.

New Hampshire

In April, the State House voted 200-163 in favor of an amended version of recreational legalization legislation, HB 481. But, on May 9, the Judiciary Committee voted 5-0 to delay a floor vote until January. Republican Gov. Chris Sununu said he wouldn’t sign it anyway.


Passing marijuana legalization via legislation is proving to be a long shot. However, faced with legal states on their borders or nearby, New Jersey, New York, Vermont and New Hampshire will eventually have to come around. The best hope now is Connecticut defying the odds and somehow managing to approve adult use and allow for a commercial market.

Employing the ballot initiative option could be a winning strategy in New Jersey. Unfortunately, the other states don’t have that option. Until then, the Northeast will remain a backwater in the national cannabis legalization landscape.


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Chart: The History of U.S. State Marijuana Ballot Initiatives

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Author: Steve Bloom