Made-in-America marijuana is on a roll. More than half the states have now voted to permit pot for recreational or medical use, most recently Oregon and Alaska. As a result, Americans appear to be buying more domestic marijuana, which in turn is undercutting growers and cartels in Mexico. "Two or three years ago, a kilogram of marijuana was worth $60 to $90," says Nabor, a 24-year-old pot grower in the northwestern Mexican state of Sinaloa. "But now they're paying us $30 to $40 a kilo. It's a big difference." (See also: DEA: Cartels now smuggle U.S. pot into Mexico)
Some state lawmakers say it’s high time Massachusetts hashes out a bill to legalize and tax marijuana, or, if left to voters, risk repeating the awkward ballot-to-reality rollout that’s plagued the fledgling medical marijuana industry. “It’s almost certain to be on the ballot in 2016, I think people are going to vote for it, and I think we have the responsibility to do it right,” said state Sen. Will Brownsberger, chairman of the Legislature’s judiciary committee. “I don’t think it’s wisest to leave it to whoever is writing the ballot question.”
Last week, NBC’s Today Show giddily announced an exclusive: Privateer Holdings, the Seattle marijuana company long acclaimed locally for its straight, corporate image and Ivy-League-educated bosses, was launching “the first global pot brand” based on the legacy of Bob Marley. The company is likely to start selling pot overseas, says Privateer public-relations director Zack Hutson, previously a spokesperson for Starbucks. “We’re in discussions with a distributor in Israel” – a country with a federally legal medical-marijuana system. Hutson also cites Uruguay and the Netherlands as potential early markets.
Marijuana is growing up. As Colorado and Washington’s recreational marijuana industries blossom and new markets in Oregon and Alaska begin to take shape, so-called ganjapreneurs are looking for ways to take cannabis mainstream. Before long, they hope, marijuana products will be as widely available as alcohol – and just as socially acceptable. While marijuana businesses may have dreams of mass market sales and global domination, for the moment, they seem to be taking the "go slow" approach.
Marijuana advocates want to take their legalization drive — so far the province of Western states — to the Northeast, and they say the first state to do it here might be Maine. The Pine Tree State has a long history with cannabis — Maine voters approved medical marijuana legalization 15 years ago, becoming the first New England state to do so. Now, national marijuana advocates say, the state represents a chance for pro-marijuana forces to get a toehold in the Northeastern states they have long coveted.
The face of heroin use in America has changed utterly. Forty or fifty years ago heroin addicts were overwhelmingly male, disproportionately black, and very young. Most came from poor inner-city neighbourhoods. These days, the average user looks different. More than half are women, and 90% are white. The drug has crept into the suburbs and the middle classes. And although users are still mainly young, the age of initiation has risen: most first-timers are in their mid-20s. The spread of heroin to a new market of relatively affluent, suburban whites has allowed the drug to make a comeback, after decades of decline.
The movement to end marijuana prohibition has made significant progress recently, but it could all be undone when the next president takes office in 2017. Harvard economist Jeff Miron, a supporter of marijuana policy reform, highlighted the precarious nature of state marijuana laws in an op-ed for CNN on why Congress needs to act now on federal marijuana policy. "Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition," Miron wrote.
Federal law still prohibits marijuana, and existing jurisprudence (Gonzales v. Raich 2005) holds that federal law trumps state law when it comes to marijuana prohibition. So far, the federal government has mostly taken a hands-off approach to state medicalizations and legalizations, but in January 2017, the country will have a new president. That person could order the attorney general to enforce federal prohibition regardless of state law. Whether that will happen is hard to forecast. If more states legalize marijuana and public opinion continues its support, Washington may hesitate to push back.
Smoking, growing, buying, selling or merely possessing cannabis is a criminal offence, according to America's federal government. Ask the states, however, and you will get almost 50 different answers. In 13 of them possession of the drug has been decriminalised, meaning that tokers face only minor penalties if caught. In 23 it has been legalised for medical use. And in four—including, following ballot initiatives earlier this month, Alaska and Oregon—cannabis has been legalised outright. In all only 22 states, fewer than half the total, continue to treat the drug as criminal contraband under all circumstances.
It looks like the use of recreational marijuana is heading down the path of legalization across the country. Voters in Alaska, Oregon and the District of Columbia approved legalizing measures on Nov. 4, but with key differences. Some say a profit-driven model for legalization runs the risk of increasing marijuana use, while others argue that a regulated market is the best way to keep use safe for consumers. What’s the right approach to legalizing recreational marijuana?
California was one of the first to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, but so far hasn’t legalized it for recreational use, like Colorado, Washington. “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. 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,” she said. “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.”
The federal courthouse in right-leaning Orange County, Calif., is named after former president and Republican Party icon Ronald Reagan. Countless drug cases prosecuted in that building can be traced back to an expanded war on drugs under the 40th president, who once called marijuana “probably the most dangerous drug.” The Republican congressman who represents the land of Reagan, however, wants marijuana legalized. After winning reelection in a landslide last week despite that well-publicized position, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher returned to Capitol Hill on Thursday with a message for his party.
The UN's top narcotics official said on Wednesday that recent votes by US states to legalize marijuana have put America in deeper violation of the international conventions that guide drug policy around the world. Earlier this month, voters in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana. Similar ballot initiatives have already passed and taken effect in Colorado and Washington.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) plans to stay on the sidelines of future pot legalization campaigns – already supported by groups plotting ballot campaigns in 2016 – and pour resources into fights for criminal justice reform. One model to replicate is California's Proposition 47, approved by 58 percent to lower penalties for drug possession and other nonviolent crimes. "We would love to be able to have ballot initiatives in a number of states that may look very similar to Proposition 47," says ACLU's Alison Holcomb . "Hopefully we will be able to find states where we can go further and say, ‘Let’s decriminalize the possession of drugs and let’s talk about what we can do to address drug use and abuse.’"
With Democrats holding the White House and Republicans controlling both chambers of Congress, it's been suggested that the odds are slim of any major legislation becoming law over the next two years. But officials in the Obama administration and on Capitol Hill say there is one issue that may have enough cross-party appeal to break through the logjams. That issue is criminal justice reform. During the 2014 midterm elections, voters approved sweeping drug and criminal justice reform measures in multiple states, setting the stage for what may prove to be even more significant policy shifts over the next two years and beyond.
The New York Police Department, which has been arresting tens of thousands of people a year for low-level marijuana possession, is to stop making such arrests and to issue tickets instead. People found with small amounts of marijuana would be issued court summonses and be allowed to continue on their way without being handcuffed and taken to station houses for fingerprinting. The change would remake the way the police in New York City handle the most common drug offenses to address the effects of the department’s excessive stop-and-frisk practices. (See also: Concerns in criminal justice system as New York City eases marijuana policy)