Several Legalization and Reform Measures Took Place in 2021


According to the National Organization of the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), a total of 51 cannabis reform and legalization bills passed across several states in 2021. This marks 2021 as the biggest year for cannabis reform. 

“State lawmakers took unprecedented steps this year to repeal marijuana prohibition laws and to provide relief to those millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of them,” said Paul Armentano. He is currently the NORML Deputy Director. “As we approach the 2022 legislative session and the elections next November, it is important for lawmakers of all political persuasions to recognize that advocating for marijuana policy reforms is a political opportunity, not a political liability.”

Let’s take a look at some of the biggest measures from 2021.

Recreational Cannabis

Four states legalized recreational cannabis use through their state legislatures. Virginia became the first to do so, followed closely by New Mexico. New York came at the end of March and Connecticut rounded out the year in June. Arizona, New Jersey, Montana, and Vermont officially adopted and enacted voter approved recreational cannabis legalization which voters approved during the 2020 general election. 

Several other states saw recreational cannabis legalization bills within their legislatures, however they didn’t pass. Those include: Delaware, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, North Dakota, Rhode Island, and South Dakota. Ohio and Pennsylvania are still in their regular session, which meets year round, and have cannabis legalization bills still up for debate.

Medical Cannabis

While recreational cannabis legalization took the center stage in 2021, medical cannabis was not forgotten. Alabama became the 37th state to legalize medical cannabis. South Dakota also saw legal medical cannabis begin after a huge percentage of voters approved the measure also during the 2020 general election. 

There was a chance medical cannabis would have been delayed in South Dakota with a bill from Governor Kristi Noem, R. However, the House and the Senate couldn’t come to an agreement and the delay bill failed. This left medical cannabis to begin as written by voters starting in July

An additional 16 states approved of expansions to their medical cannabis programs already in place. Those include: California, Colorado, Louisiana, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Texas to name a few. 

A few states did see medical cannabis bills introduced, however they failed to proceed through the legislative process before each state’s regular session ended. Those are: Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.


Unfortunately, with a series of successes inevitably comes failures. And the cannabis industry saw two major blows. 


First was the overturn of IM 65 in Mississippi. This bill, approved by more than 74 percent of voters during the 2020 general election, was overturned by the state’s Supreme Court. Due to a population decrease, Alabama went from five districts down to four. However, the law never updated to reflect this change.

This failure to update left the language of the to say no more than 20 percent of signatures can come from any of the five districts, despite there now only being four. Because of this technicality, the Supreme Court overturned IM 65. This ruling also overturned several other measures which had not been contested in the past.

Lawmakers then worked together to write their own bill similar to IM 65. After coming to an agreement, they called upon Governor Tate Reeves, R, for a special session. There, they could pass the medical cannabis bill and move forward with legalization in the state according to voters’ wishes. However, Reeves has continuously stalled calling for a special session that it is now too late in the year to do so. 

Lawmakers continuously worked with the governor to meet his demands but a special session never occurred. Now they plan to make medical cannabis their first priority in the regular session in 2022 to legalize what the people already want. 

South Dakota

While medical cannabis passed after much debate, recreational cannabis wasn’t so lucky. Voters approved both medical and recreational legalization bills in the 2020 general election. However, in a lawsuit funded by Governor Noem, recreational cannabis, called Amendment A, became overturned. Activists then appealed it to the state’s Supreme Court

It took the Supreme Court seven months after the initial trial to come back with a verdict. Amendment A was deemed unconstitutional over a single subject clause all amendments to the state’s constitution must follow. Most of Amendment A fell under this single subject clause. But around 20 percent of the bill stepped outside of the single subject clause the Supreme Court concluded.

In response, and even before the final verdict’s announcement, activists in South Dakota began collecting signatures to add another amendment to the ballot for 2022. This time, there wouldn’t be any confusion or concern over the single subject clause. They continue to collect signatures to bring recreational cannabis back to voters and have them, once again, vote on a measure they already approved.


2021 was such an eventful year for cannabis legalization and 2022 is expected to be just as exciting. Rhode Island and Kentucky have already pre-filed bills for the 2022 regular session. Other states who saw medical and recreational cannabis will most likely see bills reintroduced for discussion once again. Finally, Indiana hasn’t seen a cannabis bill introduced in several years. Now, lawmakers will submit both medical and recreational cannabis bills during the regular session.

The future remains bright for cannabis, and legalization continues in several states. As more information becomes available, we will update you with the latest.

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