A Colorado marijuana innovation is changing the way lawmakers in even the most conservative parts of the country talk about cannabis and is poised to create a rapid expansion in the number of states that have legalized marijuana in some way. But many marijuana advocates view the new political campaign with skepticism, fearing it could halt their movement's momentum. Taken to its logical conclusion, medical marijuana could be a "box canyon" for broader legalization efforts.
The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
The nation's top medical organization released a major series of papers on medical cannabis last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, in a move that constitutes a small step for the AMA, but a giant leap in cannabis medical history.
In a decision that could have immediate fallout for medical marijuana dispensaries, a state appeals court has ruled that California law allows cities and counties to ban the stores. The contentious issue has bounced through the state courts for years, but the opinion issued Wednesday is the first published one that directly tackles it and does so in unambiguous language. The decision could embolden more cities and counties to enact their own. It also could spur those that have bans to be more aggressive about seeking court orders to close defiant dispensaries.
Several members of California's congressional delegation are taking their concerns about a federal crackdown on the state's medical marijuana dispensaries directly to President Barack Obama. In a bipartisan letter signed by nine members of the U.S. House of Representatives, the lawmakers criticized what they called an "unconscionable" multi-state effort targeting medical marijuana dispensaries. They also called for the reclassification of marijuana as a controlled substance subject to fewer federal restrictions.
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.
A report from Greenwave Advisors, a "comprehensive research and financial analysis for the emerging legalized marijuana industry," projects that legal cannabis could be an industry with revenues of $35 billion by 2020 if marijuana is legalized at the federal level. To put that figure in perspective, $35 billion represents more annual revenue than the NFL (currently $10 billion), and is roughly on par with current revenues for the newspaper publishing industry ($38 billion) and the confectionary industry ($34 billion).
It may be an off-year election, but it's a big one for drug policy reform... voters across the country will have a chance to accelerate the unprecedented momentum to legalize marijuana and end the wider drug war. In fact, there are more drug policy reform questions on the ballot this November than ever in American history. Here is an overview, starting with the highest-profile measures.
The US Food and Drug Administration is reviewing the medical evidence surrounding the safety and effectiveness of marijuana, a process that could lead to the agency downgrading the drug's current status as a Schedule I drug, the most dangerous classification. "FDA conducts for Health and Human Services a scientific and medical analysis of the drug under consideration," FDA Press Officer Jeff Ventura said. "HHS then recommends to DEA that the drug be placed in a given schedule. DEA considers HHS’ analysis, conducts its own assessment, and makes a final scheduling proposal in the form of a proposed rule." (See also: Scheduling in the international drug control system)
The GOP-controlled House voted in favor of blocking the federal government from interfering with states that permit the use of medical marijuana. The surprising 219-189 vote came as the House debated a bill funding the Justice Department's budget. The amendment by conservative GOP Rep. Dana Rohrabacher of California -- the first state to legalize medical marijuana -- came as almost half the states have legalized marijuana for medical uses. "Public opinion is shifting," Rohrabacher said, noting a recent Pew Research Center survey that found 61 percent of Republicans support medical marijuana. (See also: Is Congress finally catching on about medical marijuana?)
Weed is legal in at least some form in 22 states and the District of Columbia. Most allow it for medical use only. Colorado and Washington this year enacted laws that allow recreational use by adults. But more than two dozen states are considering new or expanded marijuana reform legislation, including complete legalization for adults, medical marijuana, hemp use and decriminalization. Which are the next five states likely to legalize marijuana?
As Obama embarks on the third year of his second term, here are some of the ways in which Obama has begun to deliver on his promises of a more rational, less punitive approach to psychoactive substances. Obama's most significant drug policy accomplishment may be letting states go their own way on marijuana legalization. Even if our next president is a Republican drug warrior, he will have a hard time reversing that decision, especially given the GOP’s lip service to federalism.
On July 8th Washington became the second state after Colorado to offer recreational pot-smokers a chance to buy weed legally at a local store. Marijuana is still illegal in most of America. But there are substantial activities towards more liberal policies. In 23 states the medicinal use of marijuana is allowed and more states are considering legalisation. Oregon and Alaska will vote on legalisation in November; Floridians will decide on permitting medical use. President Barack Obama has chosen to take a hand’s-off approach to the issue of legalisation in Washington and Colorado. Yet if a drug hawk were to succeed President Obama in 2016, a clampdown on pot could well be revived.
As Americans continue to embrace pot—as medicine and for recreational use—opponents are turning to a set of academic researchers to claim that policymakers should avoid relaxing restrictions around marijuana. It's too dangerous, risky, and untested, they say. Just as drug company-funded research has become incredibly controversial in recent years, forcing major medical schools and journals to institute strict disclosure requirements, could there be a conflict of interest issue in the pot debate? (See also: The real reason pot is still illegal)
For the past three decades, Uncle Sam has been providing patients with some of the highest grade marijuana around as part of a little-known program that grew out of a 1976 court settlement and created the country's first legal pot smoker. The program once provided 14 people government pot. Now, there are four left.
Vigorous regulation of a thriving medical-marijuana industry in Colorado offers the best glimpse of what is coming to Washington when it launches its voter-approved social-use market. With continuous surveillance, bar-coded plants and strict financial background checks, Colorado's rules allowed capitalism to be unleased, creating an instant $200 million industry. With retail prices — averagingabout $7.50 a gram — among the cheapest in the country.
Voters narrowly approved a ballot initiative last November allowing medical marijuana in the state, but the result has been just the opposite of an orderly system of dispensing cannabis to the truly sick. Rather, police raids, surreptitious money transfers and unofficial pot clubs have followed passage of the new law, creating a chaotic situation not far removed from the black-market system that has always existed.
The uncertainty comes after lawmakers worked for months on a plan that would help clear up the state's medical marijuana laws. The Legislature approved a plan that would have created a system to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. But Gregoire, citing fears that state workers could face federal prosecution for participating in the licensing scheme, vetoed much of it. The remaining parts of the law allow collective marijuana grows with up to 45 plants, serving up to 10 patients.
A pro-marijuana group lost its legal battle when a federal appellate court ruled that marijuana would remain a Schedule I drug, defined as having no accepted medical value and a high potential for abuse. For years, the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and the National Institute for Drug Abuse have made it all but impossible to develop a robust body of research on the medical uses of marijuana. For a muscular agency that combats vicious drug criminals, the DEA acts like a terrified and obstinate toddler when it comes to basic science.
By a narrow margin, Arizona voters have given their OK to legalized medical marijuana for people with chronic or debilitating diseases. The decision makes Arizona the 15th state to approve a medical marijuana law. California was the first in 1996, and 13 other states and Washington, D.C., have followed suit.