Judging by its first six months, 2019 has been a banner year for marijuana policy reform.
Most notably, lawmakers in Illinois legalized the commercial production and retail sale of cannabis to adults. The state is the 11th to legalize the use of marijuana by those over the age of 21, and it’s the first to pass such a measure with a statehouse vote (rather than a public initiative).
“Illinois is going to have the most equity-centric law in the nation,” Governor J.B. Pritzker announced. “For the many individuals and families whose lives have been changed — indeed hurt — because the nation’s war on drugs discriminated against people of color, this day belongs to you.”
Illinois is far from alone. Several other states have also approved measures in recent weeks to significantly reduce marijuana penalties.
In New Mexico, Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed legislation reducing first-time penalties for low-level possession from a criminal misdemeanor — punishable by up to 15 days in jail — to a “penalty assessment,” punishable by a $50 fine. Similar decriminalization legislation in Hawaii awaits Governor David Ige’s signature.
In North Dakota, lawmakers reduced penalties involving the possession of both cannabis and cannabis paraphernalia from a criminal misdemeanor to an infraction. In Colorado, they reduced felony marijuana penalties to misdemeanors.
A growing number of states are also moving to vacate criminal convictions related to prior marijuana offenses. Lawmakers in Illinois, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, and Washington all enacted legislation this spring expediting the expungement process for those seeking to vacate their criminal records.
“This is a small step, but one that moves us in the direction of correcting injustices that disproportionately affected communities of color,” Washington Governor Jay Inslee explained. “A successful pardon of a marijuana possession conviction can assist with barriers to housing, employment,