Marijuana Laws Across United States Continue Rapid Trend Toward Widespread Legalization in 2020 Elections

December 7, 2020

Despite still remaining illegal under federal law, marijuana continued its march toward widespread legalization at the state level across the United States as a result of a series of favorable  changes to state laws in the latest election cycle.

The traditionally conservative Commonwealth of Virginia officially decriminalized minor possession of marijuana on July 1, 2020 after the legislature passed new legislation this spring.  In October, the first dispensaries for medical marijuana opened in Virginia.  In November 2020, after the election cycle, Governor Northam indicated his intent to move to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use during the 2021 General Assembly session along with proposals to remediate what he described as the historic use of marijuana criminal laws to disproportionally target minority populations.  His proposal was timed with the release of the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission report on legalization in Virginia. 

Meanwhile, New Jersey voters approved legalization of marijuana for adult recreational use for those aged twenty-one (21) and over by a wide margin of roughly 67% to 33%.  The referendum approved a state commission to regulate and oversee the practice as well as a tax on marijuana.  Localities were also approved to levy a tax on marijuana if they so choose. 

On November 4, 2020, voters in Mississippi and South Dakota approved measures to regulate cannabis for medical purposes, bringing the number of states across the country that have approved or legalized such measures to thirty-six (36), along with four (4) territories.

Additionally on Election Day, the states of Arizona, Montana, and South Dakota approved of ballot measures to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.  The number of states with such measures now stands at fifteen (15), accompanied by three (3) territories.

Meanwhile, major marijuana companies such as Canopy Growth and Pure Jamaican continue major investments into marijuana’s Active Pharmaceutical Ingredients (API’s) by investing in research and development to tap into the pharmaceutical uses of marijuana to combat cancer, epilepsy, and depression, potentially foreshadowing significant future medical developments. 2021 is likely to bring even more relaxation and advancement.

The Regulated Substances Blog is intended to keep readers current on developments regarding medical cannabis legalization and regulation and is not intended to be legal advice. If you have any further questions regarding the above, please contact David W. Clarke (

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