5 Key States Preparing for Adult-Use Cannabis Legalization in 2020

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Dan Brown

Vice President, Rhine Laboratories

As the first month of the new decade comes to a close, now is the time to look ahead at what is shaping up to be an exciting year for cannabis legalization. Last year ended with a bang, with Michigan rolling out their adult-use program on December 1st and recording impressive sales of more than $3 million dollars in the first 2 weeks alone [1]. State expectations project the market to rapidly expand over the next 9 months, with nearly $390 million in recreational cannabis sales expected by September [1]. Following in Michigan’s footsteps to kick off 2020 was nearby state Illinois, which launched their recreational market on January 1st. Forbes reported that in the first 12 days of commercial cannabis activity, Illinois recorded approximately $20 million in sales [2]. While the Midwest states are poised to have a massive year of growth for their recreational cannabis markets, let’s take a look at which states are preparing to follow suit and pass adult-use legalization measures in 2020.

New York

Despite the failure to legalize an adult-use marijuana market in 2019[3], New York Governor Andrew Cuomo began 2020 by maintaining and reaffirming his commitment to adult-use legalization in 2020[4][6]. Cuomo’s 2020 budget plan includes a legislation proposal, along with tax revenue projections of $20 million in 2021, $63 million in 2022, and $188 million in 2023 for an adult-use market [14]. The current $6 billion gap in the state budget, combined with industry expectations for New York to become a multi-billion-dollar cannabis market, creates a strong incentive for the NY legislature to pass legalization measures as soon as possible [4]. The need to legalize and regulate the market quickly is further incentivized by activity in bordering state, New Jersey, which has placed adult-use legalization on their ballot for 2020 [4]. With all indications suggesting that NY lawmakers will try to proceed through legislature again in 2020, significant hurdles such as licensing, distribution of tax revenue, and establishment of social equity programs need to be addressed before any significant measure will pass [5]. Despite these hurdles, efforts look promising for 2020. Most recently, a bill legalizing marijuana in New York received support from Democratic Senator Peter Harckman, who had previously opposed the measure in 2019. With a recent poll from Siena College finding voters 58% pro-legalization, compared to 38% against, there is reason to be optimistic that these initiatives will find success in 2020 [15].

New Mexico

On January 17th of this year, New Mexico Governor Michell Lujan Grisham expressed her support for a proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis in 2020. Current estimates have legalization generating approximately 11,000 new jobs and nearly $620 million in sales after 5 years [7]. Governor Grisham announced her support by stating, “The Legislature has the opportunity to pass the largest job-creation program in New Mexico in a decade,” and made it clear that economic development and job creation are the primary drivers of her proposals. New Mexicans favor legalization at significant percentage of 75% [7]. This, combined with Governor Grisham’s focus on growing the market in a sustainable manner (for instance limiting tax rates to 20%), makes New Mexico and exciting and promising candidate for adding a recreational market in 2020. The legislature is moving forward quickly with the proposal with New Mexico Senate Democrats tweeting on January 23rd that “SPAC will meet in the Senate Chamber on … January 28th, 2020 to primarily hear the cannabis legalization bill…” [17].


In a dramatic change from previous statements, Vermont Governor Phil Scott is reportedly considering “tax-and-regulate” legislation which could launch marijuana sales in Vermont in 2020 [8]. While medical and recreational cannabis use are allowed in Vermont, commercial activity including growing, manufacturing, testing, and distribution have so far been blocked. Lawmakers are focusing on the potential state revenue gains, in addition to exercising control over the current market regarding potency and public health testing [8]. Late last year, House Speaker Mitzi Johnson expressed her belief that there is “solid tri-partisan majority in the House that would like to see tax-and-regulate pass this year” [9]. Previously, a cannabis sale bill passed the state Senate in February of 2019.


Connecticut made significant strides towards legalization of an adult-use market in 2019, with measures passing through several committees before falling short due to disagreements in how the tax revenue would be allocated [10]. These efforts, according to Senate President Martin Looney, have set the stage for a potential adult-use legalization measure to pass in 2020. “We are revisiting legalizing recreational cannabis because we see that most of our neighboring states have already done it or want to do it this year”, Looney stated in an interview with CT Insider earlier this month [10]. With the statutory framework already prepared, Looney believes that “[Connecticut lawmakers] are very well prepared to enact the legalization bill”. As with the debates seen in New York in 2019, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz sees the issue of tax dollar allocation as being the key point of contention standing in the way of the bill [10]. Governor Ned Lamont is supportive of legalization measures, and has been working with officials in New York and other nearby states in an effort to standardize regulations with other legislatures in the Northeast [11].

New Jersey

Continuing the trend seen in the Northeast United States is New Jersey. After having legalization measures fail in 2019, New Jersey lawmakers are issuing a public referendum in December of this year, leaving the legalization question to the public via ballot [12]. Given a 2019 poll by Monmouth University finding that 62% of New Jerseyans are in favor of recreational legalization, the measure seems probable to pass [13].

Final Remarks

Additional key states to pay attention to in 2020 for recreational cannabis are Arizona, Oklahoma, Missouri, Montana, Pennsylvania, and South Dakota. For medical markets, pay attention to Mississippi, Idaho, and Kansas. Also notable is New Hampshire, which is poised to follow in the footsteps of Vermont by legalizing cannabis, but not commercial cannabis activity [16]. Given the rapid expansion of the cannabis industry so far, and the recent sharp increase in state legislatures and federal lawmakers in support of legalization initiatives, 2020 is poised to become a significant year of growth for cannabis in North America, with a clear focus on activities in the Midwest and Northeast.


  1. Burns, Gus. “Michigan’s Recreational Marijuana Industry Poised to Grow Exponentially in 2020.” Mlive, 27 Dec. 2019, www.mlive.com/public-interest/2019/12/michigans-recreational-marijuana-industry-poised-to-grow-exponentially-in-2020.html.
  2. Krane, Kris. “A Tale Of Two Markets: How Illinois Succeeded In Rollout Of Adult-Use Cannabis And Why Massachusetts Floundered.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 21 Jan. 2020, www.forbes.com/sites/kriskrane/2020/01/21/a-tale-of-two-markets-how-illinois-succeeded-in-rollout-of-adult-use-cannabis-and-why-massachusetts-failed/#22fcad993188.
  3. Published June 19, 2019. “Key New York Lawmaker Says Recreational Marijuana Bill Will Not Pass.” Marijuana Business Daily, 20 June 2019, mjbizdaily.com/key-new-york-lawmaker-says-adult-use-cannabis-bill-dead-for-now/.
  4. Smith, Jeff. “Cannabis Firms Cautiously Optimistic New York Could Legalize Adult-Use Sales This Year.” Marijuana Business Daily, 24 Jan. 2020, mjbizdaily.com/cannabis-firms-cautiously-optimistic-new-york-could-legalize-adult-use-sales-this-year/?utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_campaign=MJD_20200124_NEWS_Daily_B.
  5. Angell, Tom. “Marijuana On The 2020 Ballot: These States Could Vote.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 26 Dec. 2019, www.forbes.com/sites/tomangell/2019/12/26/marijuana-on-the-2020-ballot-these-states-could-vote/#1a7664d79dff.
  6. “Marijuana Bill Gains Traction in State Senate.” Spectrum News, nystateofpolitics.com/state-of-politics/new-york/ny-state-of-politics/2020/01/23/marijuana-bill-gains-traction-in-state-senate.
  7. Watkins, Matthew. “New Mexico Governor Announces Support for Legalization of Recreational Marijuana.” KVII, KVII, 17 Jan. 2020, abc7amarillo.com/news/local/new-mexico-governor-announces-support-for-legalization-of-recreational-marijuana.
  8. Jaeger, Kyle. “Vermont Governor Seems Open To Legalizing Marijuana Sales.” Marijuana Moment, 15 Jan. 2020, www.marijuanamoment.net/vermont-governor-seems-open-to-legalizing-marijuana-sales/.
  9. Peters, Xander. “Vermont House Speaker Says Majority Of Lawmakers Back Legalizing Marijuana Sales.” Marijuana Moment, 20 Dec. 2019, www.marijuanamoment.net/vermont-house-speaker-says-majority-of-lawmakers-back-legalizing-marijuana-sales/.
  10. Jaeger, Kyle. “Marijuana Legalization Will Advance In Connecticut This Year, Top Lawmakers Say.” Marijuana Moment, 22 Jan. 2020, www.marijuanamoment.net/marijuana-legalization-will-advance-in-connecticut-this-year-top-lawmakers-say/.
  11. Udoma, Ebong, and Cassandra Basler. “Connecticut Democrats To Try Again For Marijuana Legalization.” WSHU, www.wshu.org/post/connecticut-democrats-try-again-marijuana-legalization#stream/0.
  12. Fertig, Natalie. “Marijuana Legalization May Hit 40 States. Now What?” POLITICO, www.politico.com/news/2020/01/20/marijuana-legalization-federal-laws-100688.
  13. Davis, Mike. “NJ Marijuana Legalization: Legal Weed Supported by All Age Groups, Says Monmouth Poll.” Asbury Park Press, Asbury Park Press, 18 Feb. 2019, www.app.com/story/news/local/new-jersey/marijuana/2019/02/18/new-jersey-marijuana-legalization-legal-weed-vote-poll-monmouth-university/2905563002/.
  14. Linnane, Ciara. “Cannabis Experts Are Hoping 2020 Will Be the Year That New York Finally Legalizes Weed.” MarketWatch, 25 Jan. 2020, www.marketwatch.com/story/cannabis-experts-are-hoping-2020-will-be-the-year-that-new-york-finally-legalizes-weed-2020-01-24.
  15. Siena College Research Institute. “Overwhelming Support for a Dozen of Cuomo’s State of the State Proposals.” Siena College Research Institute, 21 Jan. 2020, scri.siena.edu/2020/01/21/overwhelming-support-for-a-dozen-of-cuomos-state-of-the-state-proposals/.
  16. Landrigan, Kevin. “Campaign to End Pot Prohibition in NH Shifting Gears in 2020.” UnionLeader.com, 23 Jan. 2020, www.unionleader.com/news/politics/state/campaign-to-end-pot-prohibition-in-nh-shifting-gears-in/article_18ec8011-75a5-5f25-ba8a-53b4a0b6ce34.html.
  17. Democrats, NM Senate. “.@Jerryfornm: SPAC Will Meet in the Senate Chamber on Tuesday, January 28, 2020, to Primarily Hear the Cannabis Legalization Bill and Others If Time Permits. #Nmleg #Nmpol.” Twitter, Twitter, 23 Jan. 2020, twitter.com/NMSenateDems/status/1220434817722003457.

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