Following a year of huge advancements in marijuana policy reform, experts predict that 2019 would be a “real game-changer” in terms of the conversation surrounding cannabis legalization at both the state and federal level.
“In 2019, I think that we can expect to see more of the same type of change, but maybe at a more rapid pace,” Jolene Forman, senior staff attorney at the Drug Policy Alliance, told Newsweek.
“The train has left the station. Americans of all political affiliations and almost all demographics support marijuana legalization,” Forman added.
In 2018, advocates for legal weed saw two more states adopt expansive laws decriminalizing the drug for recreational use and a handful of states approve measures allowing for medical marijuana. To date, 33 states and the District of Columbia have passed laws legalizing cannabis in some form.
One of the most notable trends in cannabis reform over the past year, according to experts, was more conservative states jumping on board to decriminalize the drug.
Michigan was the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana for recreational adult use in November's midterm elections. More than 55 percent of state voters approved a ballot measure that would allow residents over the age of 21 to purchase and possess cannabis for recreational use.
Oklahoma, Missouri and Utah, some of the most conservative states on the issue of cannabis legalization, approved measures allowing medical marijuana use for qualifying patients.
Another significant advancement for cannabis reform was Vermont becoming the first state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana through a state legislature rather than a ballot initiative. The action would provide a path to legalization for states where ballot initiatives are more difficult to create or occur less frequently, such as New York and New Jersey.
“Those are significant steps in a social and policy movement that is still relatively young. I think it builds momentum for further actions at the state and federal level moving forward,” John Hudak, deputy director at the Brookings Center for Effective Public Management, told Newsweek. "I do expect 2019 to be a real game-changer for the conservation about cannabis."
In Congress, bipartisan cannabis legislation was introduced for the first time in 2018 through the States Act. Introduced by Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Cory Gardner, the legislation would protect states that already legalized marijuana from federal interference. President Donald Trump said he would likely support the bill if it were to pass in the House and Senate.