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Legal marijuana, paid sick leave, and more: 5 laws and regulations taking effect Jan. 1

·Senior Producer and Writer
·5 min read

Most lawmakers around the U.S. have adjourned until the new year, but some of their work is just about to be felt in a range of new laws and regulations set to go into effect on Jan. 1.

These new rules touch on many areas of life from distracted driving to marijuana to paid sick leave — here’s a sampling of changes that will affect the workplace, business, and financial markets in 2021.

Marijuana becomes legal in New Jersey and Montana

Five state marijuana initiatives passed in November, with recreational weed being legalized in New Jersey and Montana starting on Jan. 1. Marijuana is set to become fully legal to use in Montana this weekend but not yet legal to sell commercially until 2022.

However, New Jersey may find itself in a legal gray zone as state lawmakers are still negotiating legislation meant to accompany the constitutional amendment legalizing recreational marijuana.

“There is some important, I want to say, technical, but important things we’re trying to wrinkle out,” New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy told a local television station this week.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - JULY 28: A woman walks with a sign supporting legalizing marijuana during the Democratic National Convention (DNC) on July 28, 2016 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The convention officially began on Monday and has attracted thousands of protesters, members of the media and Democratic delegates to the City of Brotherly Love.  (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
A woman walks with a sign supporting legalizing marijuana in Philadelphia. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Voters in Arizona, Mississippi, and South Dakota also approved legalized weed in November. Arizona’s recreational marijuana law already went into effect in November. South Dakota voted to simultaneously legalize recreational and medical marijuana, but the state’s governor has filed a lawsuit seeking to block the measure. For their part, Mississippi citizens only voted to legalize medical marijuana, leaving recreational use illegal there.

The changes appear set to help the U.S. cannabis sector grow by an additional $9 billion in revenue between 2022 and 2025, according to one industry tracker.

Changes in paid leave provisions

Paid leave at work is another area set to see changes — both up and down — in the new year.

During the initial response to the pandemic, the Families First Coronavirus Response Act expanded the Family and Medical Leave Act with new paid options for workers of some companies. But those provisions expire at the end of the year and won’t be extended by the latest stimulus deal.

As they are set to expire, certain states have announced new paid leave protections. In New York, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo recently announced that New Yorkers can begin using new sick leave benefits on Jan. 1, 2021, which give workers one hour of paid sick leave for every 30 hours they work.

“Now, as we continue to beat back COVID and build a stronger New York, we are expanding this fundamental right to all New Yorkers," Cuomo said in a statement.

In addition, Colorado approved a ballot initiative in November to create a paid family and medical leave insurance program in the state. The program will create a government-funded program to provide 12 weeks of compensated time off but won’t kick in until 2024.

20 states are raising their minimum wage

Minimum wage workers in 20 U.S. states will get raises at the start of the new year. Four more states, plus Washington, DC, will raise their minimum wages later in 2021.

Florida’s workers will get one of the biggest raises after voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure in November to gradually increase the minimum wage to $15 by 2026.

NEW YORK, USA - JULY 20: A group of BLM demonstrators protest the Federal Reserve Bank about $15 minimum wage in NYC to solidarity nationwide in Lower Manhattan at the financial district in New York, United States on July 20, 2020. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Demonstrators for a $15 minimum wage in NYC in July. (Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

The other states had incremental wage increases in the works. Florida joins a number of others states — California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, and New York — that are all in the process of gradually increasing their minimum wage to $15 in the coming years.

Some groups have also long opposed minimum wage increases and argued they will cost jobs.

Others disagree, contending increased wages will help give greater buying power to more people which ultimately helps everyone. Lakewood Organic Juice CEO Scott Fuhrman, who is based in Florida, joined Yahoo Finance earlier this week and noted: "I can only sell so much juice to the 1% so let’s try and grow the middle class and one way to do that is by raising the minimum wage."

New distracted driving laws

Several states are enacting distracted driving laws starting in 2021, including a Virginia measure that takes effect on Jan. 1 and makes it illegal to use a cellphone for any reason while driving.

"Distracted driving is a serious problem and we need everyone to work together," Gov. Ralph Northam reportedly said during a news conference highlighting the law earlier this month.

Arizona also has a distracted driving law coming into effect, making it illegal to “hold or support a device with your body” while driving. California has several new traffic laws coming for 2021, including increased penalties for “using a cellphone in a handheld manner while driving.”

A deadline on the ‘Volcker rule’

In October 2019, five federal financial regulatory agencies announced “finalized revisions to simplify compliance requirements relating to the ‘Volcker rule.’”

The rule, named after the late Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker, is intended to limit how much banking entities can play with their clients’ money and was a centerpiece of the post-crisis Dodd-Frank financial regulatory framework.

Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker moderates a panel discussion at the Bretton Woods Committee annual meeting at World Bank headquarters in Washington May 21, 2014. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst  (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Former U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker moderates a panel discussion in 2014. (REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst)

Jan. 1 is the deadline for banks to comply with these revisions. Firms that don’t have significant trading activities will now have things easier, with simplified compliance requirements.

The opposite is true for firms with significant trading activity as they will now have more stringent compliance requirements in place.

Ben Werschkul is a writer and producer for Yahoo Finance in Washington, DC.

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