“2016 is a record year for marijuana drug policy reform,” observes Karen O’Keefe, Director of State Policies for Marijuana Policy Project.
When we sat down with her last week, O’Keefe shared that as of July 2016, there are 25 states that allow medical marijuana, and four states allow adult use (aka “recreational” use) of marijuana—Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska—plus the District of Colombia.
In November 2016, 5 more states are expected to vote on whether to allow adult use of marijuana: California, Arizona, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine (and possibly Michigan, too); and three, states voting on medical marijuana: Arkansas, Missouri, Florida (and possibly North Dakota).
Additionally, there are a few states that are still “TBD”. Montana’s Ballot Issue 24, which voters approved in 2004 to allow medical marijuana, will finally go into effect on August 31, 2016 after a lengthy legal battle. Additionally, as of this post we’ve learned that Initiative 182, the voter-initiative to remove new restrictions on medical marijuana, has qualified for the November ballot.
Two states that would be game changers in their own ways are California and Massachusetts.
California approving Proposition 64 would be a game changer for in four ways. First, California was the first state to approval medical marijuana in 1996. Prop 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), comes after decades of work by HIV/AIDS activists fighting for compassionate health care for gay men and women dying of HIV and AIDS. Some legal states have forgotten this part of cannabis history in their race for the “Green Rush”, so approving AUMA would be poetic justice for the healthcare activists.
Secondly, Prop 64 allocates a significant amount of revenue to community reinvestment for areas hit hard by the Drug War (i.e. $10-50 million/year grants for job placement, mental health, re-entry, etc). It also allocates 20% of remaining funds (after the line item allocations) to restore environmental damage from illicit cannabis growing.
Next, over 38 million people live in California, making it the most populous state in the Union. They are the 6th largest global economy, surpassing France (7th) and India (8th), and have been a leader in environmental and public policy. Some Californians like to claim that the rest of the nation typically follows whatever standard they set, whether it’s recycling, banning plastic bags, limiting carbon emissions, etc. Smugness aside, there is some to truth to this, so if California passes AUMA, full legalization for adult use of marijuana seems probable in the rest of the country.
Finally, if California approves AUMA, the entire west coast (including Alaska, but not Hawaii) of the United States will have legalized the adult use of marijuana. That’s a big game changer.
Massachusetts approving Question 4 would be a game changer for two reasons. Firstly, it would be the first state (along with Maine, if it also passes) to legalize adult use of marijuana on the east coast, which could encourage neighboring states like Rhode Island and Vermont to quickly follow suit.
Secondly, Massachusetts’ Question 4 includes a passage that requires the marijuana tax to positively impact communities of color. This is the first law that addresses the social justice, racial justice and economic justice issues head on and asks the legal cannabis industry to give back to the lower-income communities and communities of color that have been the most harmed by the “War on Drugs”.
ROOM FOR IMPROVEMENT
With all this momentum, some might say we are well on our way to ending Marijuana Prohibition. However, there is room for improvement, specifically in terms of the barriers to entry and compliance.
First, we need to allow people who have been arrested for or convicted of drug offenses to obtain marijuana business licenses and seek employment in the industry. “Many state laws currently prohibit this,” observes Shaleen Title. “Given that you’re 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession if you’re black than if you’re white—despite everyone using marijuana at similar rates—these rules perpetuate discrimination.”
“Given that you’re 3.73 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession if you’re black than if you’re white—despite everyone using marijuana at similar rates—these rules perpetuate discrimination.” – Shaleen Title
Secondly, we need to lower the barriers to enter the legal cannabis industry. In certain states, the application process has been designed to strongly favor wealthy and politically connected (read: white male) applicants. “They may require the payment of extraordinary licensing fees, the possession of major capital (up to a million dollars in the bank), and in practical terms the hiring of a lobbying firm to help navigate the process,” Title states. If we’re going to build a new industry, let’s create a foundation where women and people of color can enter and succeed. Otherwise, if it’s the white man’s game, it’s still business as usual.
If we’re going to build a new industry, let’s create a foundation where women and people of color can enter and succeed. Otherwise, if it’s the white man’s game, it’s still business as usual.
Thirdly, what good is a legal cannabis industry, if marijuana possession is still considered a crime for everyone under 21? Only 16 states have decriminalized marijuana. Some cities have taken matters into their own hands and have either decriminalized marijuana or “deprioritized” the policing of marijuana. However, as BuzzFeed reported in March 2016, while overall arrests for teenage possession of marijuana have gone down since its legalization, “Black and Latino adolescents in Colorado are being arrested for marijuana offenses at more disproportionate rates than they were before the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety.” This was not our intent by legalizing marijuana, and we cannot let this injustice continue.
Black and Latino adolescents in Colorado are being arrested for marijuana offenses at more disproportionate rates than they were before the state legalized recreational use of the drug, according to a new report from the Colorado Department of Public Safety. – BuzzFeed
Next we need to fix the federal banking and tax laws that unfairly burden legal cannabis companies. IRC Section 280E “forbids businesses from deducting otherwise ordinary business expenses from gross income associated with the ‘trafficking’ of Schedule I or II substances”, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association. Since marijuana is still federally considered a Schedule I drug with no medicinal value, legal cannabis businesses are not allowed to deduct their normal business expenses. Additionally, most private banks won’t bank with cannabis companies due to federal rules. This creates a safety hazard for legal businesses, which forces them to operate in the “grey market” and yet still comply with their state regulations.
Finally, if these ballot initiatives are to have a level playing field with their opposition, Facebook and Google cannot continue their policy to ban all social media cannabis ads, whether for, against or neutral. I can think of infinitely more offensive and toxic things that a certain Republican presidential candidate (who shall not be named) has said, and his ads aren’t pulled. For democracy to work–and for this country to evolve–we need discourse. #EndTheSocialCannaBan.
We need to fix these legal and social quagmires. The only way many see that happening is if we overturn federal marijuana prohibition once and for all.
Join the #Puffragette Movement. #LegalizeIt2016