Only a handful of U.S. states remain holdouts. Will 2021 change that?

By MONA ZHANG and XIMENA BUSTILLO – Published 6:55 am PT February 12, 2021 –

Medical marijuana’s last wildernesses
Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly speaks during a news conference at the Statehouse in Topeka. | John Hanna/AP Photo

Marijuana legalization advocates have their eyes on the final frontiers of full prohibition.

Only two states — Nebraska and Idaho — have never passed any sort of medical marijuana law. There are now movements afoot in both states — as well as several others with very restrictive programs — to change that as soon as this year.

If the medical marijuana campaigns prevail in those last remaining holdouts, the U.S. could reach a dubious distinction: Cannabis policies in every single state would be in violation of federal law. That’s certain to further ratchet up pressure on Congress and the White House to loosen federal marijuana restrictions, and it could fuel the push to make recreational cannabis legal everywhere.

“There are very few things that many Americans agree on,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for legalization advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.

Medical cannabis is one of them. A pair of polls in 2019 showed support for medical marijuana surpassing 90 percent.

That’s “more than people that believe humans landed on the moon,” O’Keefe said, referencing a 2019 survey that showed one in 10 Americans believe the moon landing was fake.

Consensus is so broad that pollsters seem to have stopped asking the question altogether in national polls.

Cannabis advocates in Nebraska and Idaho are buoyed by the successful votes for legalization in other deep-red states last November. If lawmakers fail to act this year, advocates are vowing to take the issue directly to the ballot box, where voters are all but certain to approve them.

“We now have strong, vocal support from people across the state,” said Nebraska Democratic Sen. Anna Wishart, who has been trying to pass medical marijuana legislation for years. “At this point, everybody knows somebody that has benefited from having access [to medical cannabis].“

Several other conservative states, including Kansas, Alabama and Wyoming, have limited medical cannabis laws that focus on CBD products. Legislative efforts are also underway in those states to adopt more comprehensive medical marijuana programs.

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