Battleground: Which U.S. Region Is The Next Cannabis Hotspot?

In the cannabis space, the pendulum of public policy leads to the continuous opening and closing of new markets, keeping things exciting – and at times, even overwhelming to keep up with.

Ohio recently declined to pass a legalization measure with monopolistic language. California, though practically a given for 2016 legalization, is already unfolding into arguments between more than a dozen filed ballot initiatives and their supporting groups.

Which state can we look to next for progressive cannabis policy? And, will that state’s influence create a new regional hub for the cannabis industry, perhaps east of the Rocky Mountains?

At least 17 states are already in the process of vetting cannabis legalization measures for the 2016 election, either in a medical or adult-use capacity. While most are voters’ initiatives for the General Election ballot, state legislatures have also gotten involved in Rhode Island and Vermont.

Each state has a different political process and set of needs, and likewise, each region of the U.S. faces unique challenges in changing and leveraging public opinion about cannabis.

West

The Pacific Northwest, along with Alaska, is now almost a fully legal zone, save for California, which has finally regulated its vast medical cannabis market and is expected to pass some form of legalization next year.

With at least three major, viable initiatives on the table, and about a dozen more filed that will likely peel off come signature-gathering time, it’s still too early to tell exactly how California will seek to regulate adult cannabis use.

Post-legalization concerns for Alaska and Washington include further regulatory standards for commerce, especially in contrast to existing medical cannabis programs.

Hawaii is an honorable mention in this region – the islands are in the process of implementing long-awaited licensing and dispensary regulations to accompany a medical cannabis law that passed back in 2000.

Southwest

Though Nevada has a great head start on medical cannabis in the past year, and is set to vote on adult use next November, Arizona certainly seems to be the star of the southwestern U.S. in terms of cannabis reform.

As a border state with a conservative, tough-on-crime reputation, Arizona’s medical cannabis industry has gone from a relative oxymoron to fairly legitimate in an extremely short timespan – inspiring reforms in Texas and New Mexico as well. The success of the Southwest Cannabis Conference & Expo, which featured sponsors and attendees from around the country, proves it.

Arizona and Nevada will vote on adult use legalization in November. New Mexico might as well, if the legislature decides to put it to a vote.

Utah’s fight for reform continues after legislators approved a CBD-only law last year. Though Cannabidiol (CBD) therapy helps many individuals with intractable epilepsy, CBD-only laws are generally seen as harmful because they block much-needed patient access to THC and full-entourage therapies.

Midwest

With Colorado as a guide, the Midwest and northern states are coming around to regulated cannabis – and quickly. Minnesota was able to enact a medical cannabis law in mid-2014, and has since refined some of the language.

Idaho, Michigan, North and South Dakota, and Wyoming are all in various stages of campaigning for medical cannabis. Montana hopes to legalize adult use, but

While there’s lots of buzz about potential legislation in the Midwest, it’s ultimately up to the grassroots activists in each state to collect the staggering numbers of signatures required for ballot consideration, at times in spread-out rural communities.

The campaign trail won’t be easy, but Michigan is the most promising centrally-located market, boasting various municipal reforms, readily available Detroit real estate, and a mounting campaign for adult use in 2016.

South

The southern states are ripe with controversy when it comes to cannabis reform. Anti-drug attitudes are just starting to fade from the public worldview, making medical cannabis a rational option, though many in the industry would agree that the policies coming out of the South could be better written to include the whole cannabis plant.

Texas faces extreme challenges in “re-legislating” after a CBD-only medical cannabis law was signed by Gov. Greg Abbot last May. Alabama, Florida, Georgia and Kentucky also have CBD-only policies.

Missouri is the only southern state looking at real legalization this year, via constitutional amendment. Two states have already attempted and failed at securing space on the 2016 ballot: Mississippi and Arkansas.

One highlight of this region is its place in the industrial hemp market. Kentucky is the epicenter – one of the first state to “re-legalize” hemp farming as part of the 2014 Farm Bill. Now more than 20 states have passed legislation allowing cultivation and research of hemp for industrial purposes, though some states still have to wait for federal authorization.

East

The stars of the East Coast medical cannabis scene are currently Maryland and Massachussetts. The nation’s capital, though not a state, legalized adult cultivation, possession and use in 2014. Unfortunately, the District of Columbia has not yet established a regulated recreational cannabis industry, leaving consumers the option of medicinal market, or black market.

Most of the development in the New England area is taking place in the medical cannabis sector, in contrast with a strong adult use movement forming in the Northeast. One way or another, recreational or adult use legalization may become a reality for Vermont, Rhode Island, and Maine.


Wherever you live in the United States, change is certainly on the horizon. Follow NORML and MPP to stay up-to-date on state elections or legislative progress in the realm of cannabis.

Sound off – which region is the next cannabis industry hotspot?

  • Smokedawg OG

    Fuck em. I moved to Colorado and live with way less “pain days”… Safely and Legally at that. The drug war is over for me!

    • NonBreeder

      With you on that! By the time the states that refuse to legalize wake up.. they will have lost any edge they might have had as far as revenue, jobs and especially, quality of life. So many people are moving to states that give patients a choice and don’t lock responsible adults up for an herb with medicinal properties.

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