To say that the public’s attitude to marijuana legalization has changed in recent years is an understatement akin to suggesting that Donald Trump’s grasp of foreign policy is ‘inadequate’. Back in 1969, only 12% of Americans believed weed should be made legal, and half of them were probably at Woodstock. As recently as October 2005, only 36% believed marijuana should be legalized. Then a funny thing happened.
Global research suggested that cannabis wasn’t addictive and did have genuine medicinal value. These findings were contrary to the statement issued in 1970 upon the implementation of the Controlled Substances Act, which suggested weed ‘had a high potential for abuse’ and ‘no accepted medical use’. In the latest Gallup Poll on the subject, which was released in October 2017, 64% of Americans said marijuana should be legalized for recreational use, and an incredible 90% say it should be legal for medicinal use.
However, there is still a long road ahead because while the public is seeing the light, there is unfortunately a group of politicians with mindsets from the 1950s that are trying to block the path of legalization. Nevertheless, we believe that within a few years, and with more sensible individuals in government, marijuana’s momentum will be unstoppable and it will be legalized. 2018 has started well for weed, and here are five crucial policy issues set to impact the industry in the coming months and years.
1 – State Legalization
Even though Canada followed Uruguay’s lead and legalized marijuana nationwide in 2018, that won’t happen in the United States for the foreseeable future. Instead, we must focus on potential legalization and relaxation of laws in different states. At the time of writing, 11 states plus Washington DC have legalized cannabis for recreational use, while it is legal for medicinal use in another 22 states.
It is a crazy system whereby you can smoke freely in one state, and end up in jail for the same ‘infraction’ in a neighboring state. Pro-cannabis advocates are working hard to ensure there will be ballot initiatives in states such as Utah, Ohio, Missouri, Michigan, Oklahoma, and South Dakota. Meanwhile Vermont, Rhode Island, and New Jersey could also get involved in legislative activity. Here is a quick overview of the activities of three of the states mentioned above.
Oklahoma – Medical Marijuana
Although Senator Ervin Yen did not get the 25 votes needed to secure approval for Senate Bill 1120, which motioned to legalize weed for medical use, residents of Oklahoma will still be able to voice their opinion in the polls on June 26. State Question 788 made it to the ballot after pro-weed supporters campaigned long & hard and received enough signatures for a statutory change to enable Oklahomans to use weed under a physician’s care.
If the answer to SQ 788 is ‘Yes’, it will allow licensed patients aged 18+ to possess a maximum of three ounces of marijuana on their person, and up to eight ounces at home. Medical patients could also grow and own six mature cannabis plants. Qualifying conditions would depend on the individual physician’s judgment.
Utah – Medical Marijuana
Although 77% of the state’s population believe weed should be legal for medical use, Utah’s medical marijuana initiative faces an uphill struggle. On the positive side, advocates received 160,000 signatures, well above the 113,000 that were needed to qualify for the ballot in November. The Utah Medical Cannabis Act would enable qualified patients to purchase weed-infused products, and/or herbaceous marijuana from state-licensed dispensaries.
New Jersey – Recreational Marijuana
The state of New Jersey seems one of the most likely to follow the likes of California in allowing its residents to use marijuana freely. Newly elected State Governor Phil Murphy is adamant that he will sign adult use regulation legislation as soon as possible. However, several senators (including Murphy’s fellow Democrats) said they would vote ‘no’ to the proposal and 44% of the state’s residents are opposed to Murphy’s law (no pun intended there… not to be confused with Murphy’s Law!). Sadly, 25% of residents still believe the ‘gateway drug’ theory that has been widely debunked. It will be a tough fight, but we believe at the end of the day Murphy will get his way.
2 – Decriminalization
The penalties for marijuana usage vary in the 21 states where it is completely illegal. Once upon a time, the public threw its full weight of support behind the police when they arrested people for cannabis possession. That support is collapsing rapidly; now, 13 states have decriminalized the herb, even if they haven’t technically made it legal. In these states, you will not receive a stain on your criminal record if caught in possession of a small amount of cannabis.
However, there are still states with a Zero Tolerance policy on marijuana. Here is a little taste of what can happen to you if you’re caught with bud in these locations:
- Wisconsin: Possession of less than an ounce could result in a six-month prison term.
- Arizona: Possessing even a tiny amount of weed could result in a prison sentence ranging from four months to two years!
- Florida: Possession of more than 20 grams (about ¾ of an ounce) is classified as a felony and could result in five years in jail.
- Georgia: Although you can escape prison for possession of tiny amounts, a 10-year prison sentence could await anyone caught with more than two ounces.
- Iowa: Possession of a single joint could land you in prison for six months.
There are a few states where weed legalization is unlikely to occur for years, if not decades. This is a shame because legalization is the best way to avoid going to jail for possession! To be fair, severe punishments are only mandatory in a handful of states and we hope that number reduces to zero shortly.
3 – Medical Marijuana Insurance Coverage
Even though weed is legal either for medical or recreational use in 33 states, its price is far too high and health insurance doesn’t cover the use of the herb. It helps millions of people in the United States with all manners of debilitating conditions including epilepsy, fibromyalgia, and glaucoma. Alas, insurance firms refuse to offer coverage because there is no FDA-approved marijuana product, at least according to Marvin Hill Jr. of Humana.
While this is technically true, the FDA has approved three cannabinoid-based drugs that are derived from isolated synthetics. Even if more FDA-approved products become available, the price will be insane. For example, a month’s supply of insulin costs $750; a price so high that some diabetics have died because they couldn’t afford it.
As marijuana has been established as an effective treatment for several conditions, and a viable and safe alternative to deadly opioids, it should be covered by insurance like traditional medicine – even the price of weed itself is too high (for reference at the end of 2017, an ounce of top-shelf pot cost an average of $320).
4 – Cultivating Marijuana Plants at Home
As is the case with general legalization, there is a tremendous disparity between states with regards to growing weed at home. It isn’t that difficult to regulate personal cultivation, though, as you can ensure each grower needs a license. In states where it is legal to grow your own, there are strict limits on how many mature marijuana plants you can cultivate. For example in California, you can grow a maximum of six plants in your household as long as you keep them out of public view. This means you can’t place them on your windowsill!
However, even in one of the most liberal states in America, local government sticks its nose where it doesn’t belong. For example in Fontana, California, renters have to receive written permission from their landlord (and pay a permit fee of $411) before they can grow a plant. This mess needs to be cleaned up now, because it is bizarre that you’re allowed to smoke weed but only grow it under certain conditions. Also, can anyone explain why we are allowed to openly carry assault rifles in certain states, but are unable to grow a plant?
5 – Amnesty
According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 88% of cannabis arrests were for possession between 2001 and 2010; a total that accounted for almost half of all drug arrests in the United States. Even though whites and blacks use weed at roughly the same level, an African-American is almost four times more likely to be arrested for a cannabis-related crime. In states where it used to be a felony, being caught with possession could ruin your life. Worse still, there are people doing time for marijuana possession in states where it is now legal for recreational use!
In Colorado for example, those caught with weed before the historic ballot are not allowed to apply for a retail weed business license if they have a felony conviction for weed use in the last decade. According to the ACLU, up to 20,000 people were arrested for possession of weed in California — after the state decriminalized the act!
Moreover, according to High Times an average of over 600,000 people a year have been arrested for marijuana offenses in the United States since 1981. This equates to over 21 million people who have a criminal record for the stupidest imaginable reason. It stands to reason that every single person in America who has been arrested for marijuana possession should have their record cleared.
Final Thoughts on Cannabis Policy Issues
Ultimately, we live in a nation where it is okay to own an assault rifle capable of killing dozens of people in a matter of seconds, and where it is perfectly fine to pollute your body with as much alcohol as you can handle – not to mention addictive opioids that are as easily available as a bottle of vodka if you know the right physician. Yet marijuana, a plant that is grown naturally and known to have dozens of therapeutic benefits, remains illegal on a federal level.
While an increasing number of people realize that continuing to make weed illegal is illogical, there are still powerful opponents to marijuana who will never make it legal as long as they are protecting their Big Pharma buddies. As such, it will be difficult for any of the issues mentioned above to be tackled. We have, however, made fantastic progress in recent years, and momentum is firmly on our side. We must continue to fight and ensure cannabis becomes legal for medicinal and recreational use within the next generation.