Cannabis Legalization 2020: Progress and Places to Watch

2019 has seen quite a bit of activity in the world of cannabis legalization.  With a major announcement from Mexico and the addition of an 11th US state abolishing prohibition, it was also the first year in which the legal recreational industry in Canada began to take shape.

While predicting the future is a messy and complicated business, with the year drawing to a close, here are a few places to watch for in 2020.

The United States

Since the landmark 2012 approval of adult-use recreational cannabis in Washington and Colorado, prohibition in the US has gradually been crumbling as the country inches closer and closer to legalization.

2019 saw Illinois join 10 other legal states, as well as significant moves towards similar action in other jurisdictions.  

While a number of observers have proffered up their options on what the next domino to fall will be, it’s important to note that there are serveral variables which could advance (or hinder) the cause.

With that said, here are a few picks which stand out.

New York and New Jersey are two obvious choices.  The former voted to further decriminalize this year after legalization talks broke down, while the governor of the latter is still intent on following through with a campaign prime to legalize after a failed attempt this year.

In addition, one of the big moves that could occur next year may happen in Florida.  The sunshine state has already approved medical marijuana, and a number of efforts are underway to include an amendment on the 2020 ballot.

But the big issue on the minds of cannabis advocates is the potential for federal rescheduling.  Cannabis currently remains a Schedule 1 drug, and many are of the opinion that until that changes, it’s going to be difficult to make a significant breakthrough.

The fact that 2020 happens to be an election year has left a number of people hopeful.  Several Democrat nominees have expressed either support for legalization, or (at minimum) their hostility and skepticism towards the war on drugs.

Australia and New Zealand

With the legalization of cannabis in Canberra a few weeks ago, many observers are understandably excited about what the move could mean for the rest of Australia.

It is important, however, to keep expectations in check.  As many have pointed out, the new law is very much a “mild” form of legalization.  Technically speaking, only possession is allowed- the sale and distribution of the plant are still very much illegal.  In addition, a number of national lawmakers and officials have been noticeably hostile to the move.

On the other hand, a tangible plan for legalization in New Zealand looks more realistic.  The country will hold a non-binding referendum at the 2020 general election, which, if it passes, could be a game changer. 

Canberra Legalizes Recreational Cannabis
Canberra legalized possession of recreational cannabis in 2019


While several European countries have decriminalized drugs, when it comes to legalization, a lot of cannabis advocates don’t have high hopes.  One of the big reasons for this comes down to distinctions between how the United States and its European counterparts operate.

In the US, the majority of victories in the war on prohibition came from voter initiatives.  By contrast, the only European country with similar mechanisms that allow voters to change laws is Switzerland.  For everyone else, they’re effectively at the mercy of their lawmakers (many of whom simply do not want to touch the issue).

Despite the overall negative forecast, Luxembourg appears to be bucking the trend.  Last year the government announced plans to legalize, and while it’s unclear when exactly it will happen, the country’s health minister has speculated that it could take at least two years.

With that said, Luxembourg is one area to keep an eye on in 2020 as more and more details of the plan become public.

Latin America

Latin America is a part of the world that has seen a number of progressive cannabis policies in recent years.  Major players in the region, including Colombia, Peru and Argentina, not only have legal medical marijuana, but are also gearing up to become major suppliers of cannabis products as well.

Colombia in particular has done very well, exporting their products to countries like the UK and Canada. 

Possibly due to a recognition of the advantages they possess (climate, low cost of labour, etc), a number of these counties are expected to continue the trend of progressive drug policies.

The big news over the last year, however, has involved Mexico.  The senate is currently in deliberation over legislation that could effectively see Mexico joining Canada and Uruguay in legalizing marijuana – and with the decision expected to be announced this month, America’s neighbor to the south should definitely be on everyone’s radar.

Cannabis Legalization in Mexico
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As a part of the world better known for its socially conservative attitudes than its permissiveness, the likeliness of recreational cannabis being legalized anywhere in Asia over the next year is fairly slim.

But the issue of medical marijuana could very well be a different story.  2018 was a pivotal year for Asia, with both South Korea and Thailand legalizing cannabis for medical use.

And although programs in both countries are still highly restrictive, the decisions of both the Thai and South Korean governments were unprecedented, and could potentially set off a domino effect in the region.  

Malaysia, Thailand’s neighbor to the south, could be one place to pay attention to – the conservative Islamic country recently announced its intention to do away with the death penalty, partly in response to the backlash from a story surrounding a man sentenced to death for selling cannabis oil online.

Legalization And The “Tide Effect”

One of the interesting things about the liberalization of drug laws is the effect that one jurisdiction has on its neighbors – referred to by researchers as the “tide effect”.  

Take, for example, the reform of drug laws in Chile following decriminalization in Uruguay.  Or the spread of legalization that’s happened in the states since Washington and Colorado went legal in 2012.

Observers, activists and industry insiders will no doubt be watching to see how the major moves made in 2019 bleed into 2020 and beyond.