2016: The Year In Review – NORML’s Top 10 Events That Shaped Marijuana Policy

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, has released its list of the top 10 events that shaped marijuana policy in 2016:

#1 Adult Use Marijuana Laws Win Big on Election Day

Voters in eight states on Election Day decided in favor of legalizing marijuana. Voters in four states: California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada backed statewide initiatives regulating the adult use, possession, and sale of cannabis. Voters in four additional states: Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota endorsed initiatives either legalizing or expanding the use of marijuana for therapeutic purposes. Twenty-nine states now recognize the medical use of cannabis by statute, while eight states permit its adult use and retail sale.

#2 Record Percentage of Americans Say Marijuana Use Should Be Legal

A greater percentage of American adults than ever before say that the use of cannabis should be legal. An October Gallup poll reported that 60 percent of respondents back legalization, the highest percentage ever reported by the poll. Sixty-three percent of respondents age 18 or older endorsed legalization in this year’s American Values Survey, a 30 percent increase in public support since 2014.

#3 Marijuana-Related Tax Revenue Exceeds Projections

Tax revenue collection from retail marijuana sales is greatly exceeding initial projections. In Colorado, regulators took in $129 million over the 12-month period ending May 31, 2016 – well exceeding initial estimates of $70 million per year. In Washington, tax revenue totaled $220 million for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2016. Regulators had initially projected that retail sales would bring in only $162 million in new annual tax revenue. In Oregon, marijuana-related tax revenues are yielding about $4 million per month – about twice what regulators initially predicted.

#4 Medical Cannabis Access Associated With Less Prescription Drug Use

Patients who have legal access to medical cannabis mitigate their use of prescription drugs, particularly opiates. Data published by University of Georgia researchers in July reported that patients in medical marijuana states spent $165 million less on conventional prescription drugs, particularly those used to combat anxiety, depression, and pain. Separate data published in September in the American Journal of Public Health reported lower rates of opioid prevalence in medical marijuana states, while an April study commissioned by Castlight Health also reported lower rates of opiate abuse.

#5 Teens’ Marijuana Use, Access Falls In Era of Legalization

Fewer teens report being able to obtain marijuana, according to federal data released in 2016. Data reported by the US CDC in September found the percentage of teens that perceived cannabis to be “fairly easy or very easy to obtain” fell by 13 percent between the years 2002 and 2014, while separate data compiled by the University of Michigan determined that younger teens are finding it more difficult than ever before to procure the substance. The CDC report concluded, “[S]ince 2002, the prevalence of marijuana use and initiation among U.S. youth has declined” – a finding that is consistent with prior studies.

#6 Anti-Marijuana Zealot Tapped For US Attorney General

President-Elect Donald Trump has selected Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions to serve as US Attorney General. Senator Sessions has been one of the most outspoken opponents of marijuana law reform in Congress. He received a failing grade on NORML’s 2016 Congressional Scorecard for stating, “[G]ood people don’t smoke marijuana.” His confirmation hearings before the Senate Judiciary Committee are scheduled for January 10-11, 2017.

#7 Medical Cannabis Laws Associated With Fewer Traffic Accidents

The passage of medical marijuana legalization is associated with reduced traffic fatalities among younger drivers, according to data published in December in the American Journal of Public Health. Investigators from Columbia University reported: “[O]n average, MMLs (medical marijuana laws) states had lower traffic fatality rates than non-MML states. …. MMLs are associated with reductions in traffic fatalities, particularly pronounced among those aged 25 to 44 years. … It is possible that this is related to lower alcohol-impaired driving behavior in MML-states.”

#8 DEA Reaffirms ‘Flat Earth’ Position With Regard to Scheduling Marijuana

The United States Drug Enforcement Administration in August rejected a pair of administrative rescheduling petitions challenging the federal classification of cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance with no accepted medical utility. The decision continues to classify marijuana in the same category as heroin. In a separate announcement, the DEA acknowledged for the first time that it will consider issuing cannabis cultivation licenses for private entities engaged in “commercial product development.”

#9 Twin Study: Marijuana Use Does Not Adversely Impact IQ

The cumulative use of cannabis by adolescents has no direct effect on intelligence decline, according to longitudinal data published in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Investigators evaluated intellectual performance in two longitudinal cohorts of adolescent twins. Participants were assessed for intelligence at ages 9 to 12, before marijuana involvement, and again at ages 17 to 20. They concluded: “In the largest longitudinal examination of marijuana use and IQ change, … we find little evidence to suggest that adolescent marijuana use has a direct effect on intellectual decline.”

#10 Cannabis Use Not Associated With Increased Health Care Utilization

Marijuana consumers do not access health care services at rates that are higher than non-users, according to data published in August in the European Journal of Internal Medicine. Researchers assessed the relationship between marijuana use and health care utilization in a nationally representative sample of 174,159,864 US adults aged 18 to 59 years old. They concluded, “[C]ontrary to popular belief, … marijuana use is not associated with increased healthcare utilization, [and] there [is] also no association between health care utilization and frequency of marijuana use.”

Legalization of Cannabis Pending in Nine States

NEW YORK: Americans are more open minded about legalizations of Cannabis than ever before. A recent Gallup poll shows that about 60% of Americans support legal cannabis use. The surprising parts about this poll is the rising support for cannabis reform across all age groups. Take this into perspective and now you have nine states voting this November 8 on legalization of medical use, recreational use, or both depending on the state.

The states where recreational cannabis will be on the ballot are CaliforniaArizonaNevadaMaine and Massachusetts, while North DakotaArkansasMontana and Florida are considering medical marijuana legalization. California in particular is an interest to investors. According to Arcview Group, a company that links investors with cannabis companies, has shown the market for both recreational and medicinal marijuana is expected to reach a value of $22 billion by 2020 from the $7 billion it is today, if California says yes.


Justin Trudeau And The Cannabis Factory

CANADA: At a former Hershey’s chocolate factory just outside Ottawa a company called Tweed now produces a rather different confection: marijuana for Canada’s tightly regulated medical market. Under the gaze of surveillance cameras, scientists in lab coats concoct new cannabis-based blends in near-sterile conditions. A repurposed candy mixer does the blending. Only in the growing rooms does the spirit of Cheech and Chong, a stoned comedy duo, seem to preside: the plants have names like Black Widow, Deep Purple, Chem Dawg and Bubba Kush.

The market, though growing fast, is still tiny: just 30,000 registered patients buy their supplies from licensed firms like Tweed (short for therapeutic weed). Its parent company had sales of C$4.2m ($3.1m) in the six months that ended on September 30th. But the promise by Justin Trudeau, Canada’s new prime minister, to legalize marijuana could widen the customer base to well beyond the 3m Canadians thought to consume it now. The government’s first “speech from the throne” on December 4th named legalization as one of its priorities.

The existence of companies like Tweed, which obtained a stock market listing in 2014—long before Mr Trudeau, a tattooed former snowboarding instructor, looked likely to become prime minister—suggests that Canada’s transition from remedial to recreational pot will be smooth. It probably won’t be. “It’s going to be a lot harder to implement than you think,” said Lewis Koski, until recently the director of marijuana enforcement in Colorado, to a Canadian news agency.

Previously Undecided, House Speaker Shap Smith Now Favors Legalization

VERMONT:  Backers of a plan to legalize marijuana in Vermont have received some significant legislative support from House Speaker Shap Smith.

For more than a year, Smith has been undecided about this issue but now he says he’ll work to pass a legalization bill in the 2016 session.

For months, Smith has taken a “wait and see” position concerning the legalization of marijuana. He said he wanted to remain undecided until Vermont lawmakers could closely evaluate the experience of Colorado and Washington, the two states that have legalized marijuana for more than a year.


Stoners Rejoice: Full-On Weed Legalization Is Heading For California Ballots

CALIFORNIA: There’s been mad talk about finally legalizing recreational marijuana in the great state of California.

Well, this is the one you’ve all been waiting for: The big daddy of legalization proponents, ReformCA, part of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR), says it will have its ballot initiative ready to file with the state attorney general within weeks.

The group made the announcement during a press conference yesterday afternoon.

Attorney General Kamala Harris will have to approve language for signature gathering, but ReformCA already has hired a firm, Progressive Campaigns Inc., to get voters’ endorsements.

It then will have time to gather and turn in signatures. If there are enough verified endorsements, the initiative will be included on the 2016 presidential election ballot in California.

First Marijuana Legalization Ballot Measure Set For 2016, Advocates Say

NEVADA: Hoping to build on consecutive electoral victories, advocates say they have secured the first state marijuana legalization ballot measure for 2016.

Nevada state lawmakers had until Saturday to take action on the ballot measure, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use, but adjourned on Friday without voting on it, the Marijuana Policy Project notes in a statement. As a result, the initiative, for which the group collected nearly twice the necessary signatures, is destined for the 2016 ballot, they say.

“Voters will have the opportunity to end marijuana prohibition next year and replace it with a policy that actually makes sense,” Mason Tvert, communications director for the group, said in a statement.

The group was behind the successful legalization ballot measures in Colorado in 2012 and Alaska in 2014. Other groups helped successfully pass legalization in Washington in 2012 and Oregon in 2014. Those four state laws were approved by voters, but MPP is now targeting both ballots and legislatures to spread similar measures.

Top Conservatives Are Totally Confused By Marijuana Politics

MARYLAND: When pressed at an annual conference for conservative activists this week about their stances on marijuana legalization, several members of the Republican Party said that although they personally oppose legalizing the drug, they support states’ rights to do so.

At the Conservative Political Action Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, Fox News’ Sean Hannity asked former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R) Friday if Colorado’s legalization of marijuana was a good idea.

“I thought it was a bad idea,” Bush said, “but states ought to have that right to do it. I would have voted ‘no’ if I was in Colorado.”

Michigan Marijuana Legalization Proposals – And A Potential Race To The Ballot – In The Works For 2016

MICHIGAN: Two separate — and potentially competing — groups are laying the groundwork for 2016 ballot proposals that would seek to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana in Michigan.

Jeffrey Hank, an attorney who spearheaded a still-pending legalization effort in East Lansing last year, filed paperwork with the state on Tuesday to form the Michigan Comprehensive Cannabis Law Reform Committee.

“We want to do something in 2016 that will give Michigan voters the gold standard for cannabis reform,” Hank told MLive. “We can look at other states that have done it, cherry-pick their best practices and make the best law we can.”


Kamala Harris Speaks Out On ‘Inevitability’ Of Marijuana Legalization In California

CALIFORNIA: California Attorney General Kamala Harris says she is “not opposed” to legalizing marijuana, but stopped short of endorsing efforts to do so in the Golden State.

With legal recreational marijuana use fully underway in Colorado and Washington — and similar programs on the horizon in Alaska, Oregon and Washington, D.C. —advocates are hoping to bring a legalization initiative to the California ballot in 2016. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1996, but recreational use is still prohibited.

In an interview Monday with BuzzFeed, Harris said that while she has no “moral opposition” to the substance, she has concerns over the law enforcement implications of legalizing it:

“I am not opposed to the legalization of marijuana. I’m the top cop, and so I have to look at it from a law enforcement perspective and a public safety perspective,” Harris told BuzzFeed News in an interview in Washington, D.C. “I think we are fortunate to have Colorado and Washington be in front of us on this and figuring out the details of what it looks like when it’s legalized.”

“We’re watching it happen right before our eyes in Colorado and Washington. I don’t think it’s gonna take too long to figure this out,” Harris said. “I think there’s a certain inevitability about it.”

Read the full BuzzFeed interview here.

Arizona Lawmaker Plans Bill To Legalize Marijuana

ARIZONA:  An Arizona lawmaker plans to introduce a proposal next year to legalize recreational marijuana before a similar proposal could get decided by voters in 2016.

Republican Rep. Ethan Orr of Tucson aims to convince fellow conservatives that a voter-approved measure is nearly impossible to change once it is approved and not the way to set up a complex system of rules and taxes for the drug, The Arizona Capitol Times reported Monday.

The only way to change voter-approved measures in Arizona is through a two-thirds vote of each the state House and Senate, and the revisions must align with the intent of the measure.

“I would rather us as elected leaders be the ones directing the conversation and the debate, and ultimately controlling the policy, as opposed to letting it go to a citizens’ initiative where you can’t change the law once it’s in place,” he said.