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Analysis

Under the radar, states around the country are quickly making marijuana legal

Three states have decriminalized recreational use in the last three weeks and four others have since November.

Eliana Miss Illi, general manager of Weed World, smokes a joint on 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.
Eliana Miss Illi, general manager of Weed World, smokes a joint on 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan.KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

In 2021, if something happening inside a state capitol makes national news, it is for one of two reasons: Voting rights or a culture war issue like abortion or trans rights being hotly debated.

Those topics are important. But the intense interest in them might be missing the actual story out of state houses this year: the quiet but swift adoption of marijuana legalization.

On Monday, New Mexico became the third state in three weeks and the seventh since November to legalize marijuana for recreational use. In the last 50 days, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia all signed bills into law legalizing marijuana sales to the general adult public.

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There are now 18 states and the District of Columbia where there is a legal framework in place for adults to use marijuana. And the legislative season is just getting started.

For example, here in New England, Connecticut lawmakers largely agree that marijuana should be legal, but are getting hung up on how to allocate the money the state makes off of future legal sales. At the same time, legalization has been a priority of newly sworn-in Rhode Island Governor Dan McKee; The issue is just which bill will end up on his desk.

Elsewhere, Republicans are leading the charge to legalize pot in Montana. It also appears to be a done deal in Maryland and Pennsylvania, the issue is just when those legislatures will take up the matter. In Minnesota, a bill to legalize marijuana is making its way through the Legislature, but there are questions about whether it will make it through the Republican-led state senate.

South Dakota voters approved of legalization on their November ballot, but the issue is now in court this month and could be resolved soon.

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There is also movement on smaller items: Texas, Alabama, and South Carolina appear poised to approve the use of medical marijuana. And in the first state to legalize it — Colorado — there is a discussion on whether to allow for home delivery. There is no discussion in any state about curtailing use.

There is no precise reason as to why this is all happening right now. Some advocates see this as a part of a larger racial justice movement given the disproportionate number of arrests for marijuana among people of color. Other legislatures may see this as a freedom issue. In addition, it makes sense that lawmakers are looking for an additional revenue source given that COVID-19 has really hurt a lot of state budgets.

One thing is clear, however: Legalization is very politically popular. A Gallup poll in November found a record-high of 68 percent of Americans believe weed should be legal.

That said, there is one place that has been slow on the issue: Washington, D.C., where Congress must enact any changes to the city’s laws about marijuana. While there is support in the House for a measure to legalize it and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer backs the idea, there does not appear to be the votes necessary to pass such legislation in the Senate.


James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell.