As we settle into 2018, many people wonder what the future holds for cannabis in legalized states. Luckily, after a rather quiet year for legalization in 2017 (with no new states officially ending cannabis prohibition), a number of states are poised to legalize marijuana and approve other far-reaching cannabis measures in the near future. California legalized marijuana for recreational use on January 1st, joining 7 other total states in the push for both medical and recreational use nation-wide, as well as Washington, D.C. In addition, Vermont, New Jersey, Michigan, Oklahoma, Utah, Missouri and Virginia all have decriminalization and regulation proposals on the docket for this year, with state advocates working hard to propose new legislation through ballot initiatives.
While many states have made forward moves in sensible drug policy, federal jurisdiction would appear to be moving backward, or at the very least, sideways. On January 4th, mere days after California opened its doors to recreational sales, Attorney General Jeff Sessions publicly announced a decision to rescind the Cole Memorandum, effectively stripping the protections offered to cannabis businesses throughout the nation. Individual states have long been considered ‘testing labs of democracy’, in which states are allowed to develop and regulate progressive policies for the benefit of its inhabitants. This news shook the industry, worrying business owners and launching backlash from state advocates.
In Oregon alone, several elected officials immediately spoke out against this change of direction, stating that the cannabis industry has created over 19,000 jobs and brought in millions in tax revenue since its inception. Oregon state Governor Kate Brown demonstrated in detail how Oregon is working proactively to comply with the Cole Memorandum by protecting public health, protecting minors, preventing diversion, and suppressing organized and violent crime. The Oregon Liquor Control Commission, which oversees all cannabis regulation and enforcement in the state, continues to grant wholesale and retail licenses and remains operationally functional in accordance with the original memo. Oregon has chosen not to back down, focusing more on its own internal regulation without allowing its community to be daunted by federal intimidation. Their recently published video campaign, highlighting how participation in the regulated cannabis industry ensures public safety, has garnered thousands of views and presents a unified front on the push for transition from black market to white collar business.
It’s clear that the legalization movement is gaining momentum, regardless of federal imposition. Individual states continue to operate normally within the cannabis sphere, as the millions in tax revenue provide funding for crucial programs. After the state of Nevada legalized on July 1st of last year, they have collected around $19 million in tax revenue from recreational sales, and may even be the first state to see regulated public cannabis lounges. The road to national normalization requires a public presence; access to safe places to consume will put a positive spin on the cannabis culture and community, helping convince more states to go green. As more states pass measures to implement safe, regulated adult-use programs, pressure will build on the federal level support the public’s decision to include cannabis as part of their daily lives. This year will likely see an increase in national media coverage about the legalization conversation as the industry heats up and continues to pave new pathways for entrepreneurs and consumers alike.