What Happened to the Legal-Pot Drive?

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marijuana protest

Photo by Chris Yarzab via Flickr

2019 was supposed to be a big year for marijuana legalization, but in many state capitols, efforts have stalled or collapsed as Democrats clash over everything from race and criminal justice to how to divvy up pot tax revenue.

Legalization of recreational marijuana seemed all but inevitable in at least a half dozen states when the year began, including New York, New Jersey and Illinois. In state after state, proposals encountered turbulence, and the clock is running out on the legislative season, Politico reports.

New Jersey’s top lawmaker declared the legalization drive dead and will support a 2020 ballot referendum. New York Democrats are trying to rekindle efforts to pass a bill after negotiations stalled during the budget process in March. In New Mexico, a legalization bill got pushed aside for more pressing priorities, like boosting education funding.

Disputes over addressing racial and economic justice issues, home cultivation of cannabis plants and marijuana-related state revenue have splintered Democrats as they seek to corral enough votes for passage.

“The legislative process is difficult, it’s complicated and it’s really challenging to get agreement on a large-scale social reform,” said John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, author of “Marijuana: A Short History.”

“While cannabis reform is very popular, it’s not something that most Americans feel passionately about.” Illinois appears to be the best bet for getting a full legalization bill across the finish line, but it’s still iffy with two weeks left until adjournment.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s budget plan is counting on pot to generate $500 million for the cash-strapped state. In many states, one of the thorniest issues is how to address equity concerns raised by the War on Drugs, with minorities subject to disproportionate financial and criminal penalties for drug possession for decades.

See also: Pot legalization Becomes 2020 Litmus Test

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