We are quickly approaching the most important year of the cannabis industry since Colorado began selling recreational cannabis in 2014, or voters in Washington D.C. later that year approved an initiative for recreational sales in the District.. or maybe.. ever.
The east coast is slogging through setting up their regulatory structures, with re-dos and delays in Maryland and Florida still making news.
But these aren’t stories of the industry going backwards. These are stories of adjustments, of regulators feeling out what they are supposed to do based on what their communities want, and what law enforcement wants, and what doctors want.
These are times when the stigma of the plant, while still there, is being defeated through a calm education process conducted by sober, reasonable business people with money and influence.
And there is a solid track record of what happens when cannabis is legalized that can be brought into the discussion from years of operations in Colorado and Oregon. No tragedies from cannabis. No uptick in addiction. No driving off highways.
There’s now millions in tax revenue building new schools, paving new roads, along with the occasional stunning revelation – like Colorado’s billion dollars in sales in just 8 months this year.
So with all that in the background, let’s look at the top ten events that will be happening in 2018 that will, hopefully and once and for all, prove that this industry is here to stay, no matter what Jeff Sessions says or who in Congress throws down whatever gauntlet challenging the industry’s growth:
- January 1, 2018 – California will begin their recreational program. As one of the largest states in the country – there are 31 million people in this state who are 21 and over – this date for this state is seen as a true game changer for the entire industry, affecting not just the other U.S. states, but other countries around the world watching to see what happens. Regulations are still being hammered out in advance of the start date, but most government officials and business owners believe that everything will work out without a hitch. One joker in the deck – the fires that burned some legal grows in the state.
- January, 2018 – New Jersey is positioned for change towards legalization. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is strongly opposed to legalizing cannabis in the state, will be out by January, 2018. The Democratic front runner to replace him, Phil Murphy, supports legalization. Meanwhile, on May 18, 2017, New Jersey State Senator Nicholas Scutari, sponsored and finally introduced S3195 to decriminalize possession, establish a Division of Marijuana Enforcement, and allow possession of up to one ounce of dried flower, among others. Advocates are OK with Scutari’s bill, but have challenged it because it doesn’t allow for home grows. And Democrate U.S. Senator Cory Booker representing New Jersey, has been making headlines with his bill introduced in July, 2017, that would legalize marijuana, expunge federal marijuana convictions and penalize states with racially-disparate arrest or incarceration rates for marijuana-related crimes. Rumors swirl that he will be seeking higher office in 2018.
- January, 2018 – Two marijuana legalization bills by Illinois Senator Heather Steans and state representative Kelly Cassidy stalled in the Illinois legislative session that ended in June, 2017, with the intent of revisiting and potentially revising them in January, 2018 when the next legislative session begins. In an op-ed piece in the Chicago Tribune, both Steans and Cassidy cited a recent poll of 1,000 registered voters in Illinois by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, that found that regulating and taxing marijuana like alcohol was favored by every segment of the electorate.
- Early 2018 – On October 17, 2017, in a statement announcing the first medical cannabis grower/processor to be deemed fully operational in the Pennsylvania, Governor Tom Wolf said that medical marijuana patients would be able to get their medication “sometime in 2018.” In October, 2017, the Pennsylvania Department of Health approved grower Cresco Yeltrah to begin growing and processing medical marijuana at its Jefferson County location, making it the first facility to be deemed fully operational in Pennsylvania’s medical marijuana program. 11 other grower/processors are expected to be approved in the coming weeks, according to Pennsylvania Acting Health Secretary and Physician General Dr. Rachel Levine. The medical marijuana program in the state became effective on May 17, 2016. John Collins, named director of Pennsylvania’s Office of Medical Marijuana in August, 2016, is responsible for guiding the implementation of the state’s medical marijuana program, which is expected to be complete by early 2018.
- May 30, 2018 – In May, 2017, the Michigan State Board of Canvassers approved the language of a cannabis legalization initiative for the November, 2018 ballot. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA), the group behind the initiative, must now collect 252,523 signatures by May 30, 2018, in order to put their marijuana legalization initiative to a vote. As of July, 2017, they have collected 102,425 signature in less than a two-month period.
- June, 2018 – Steven Hoffman, who opposed legalization in Massachusetts, was named chairman of the five-member Massachusetts Cannabis Commission that met for the first time September, 2017. Hoffman is charged with hiring the commission’s executive director (Shawn Collins was just named) and other staff, and oversee the drafting of rules for marijuana cultivators, processors, and for medical and recreational dispensaries. He recently was quoted as saying that he expects recreational sales to begin in the state by July 2018, with licensing beginning in June, 2018.
- On or about July 1 – It is expected that Canada will legalize recreational cannabis across the country on this day. But there has been some significant pushback from some of the provinces who say that they won’t be ready, and law enforcement says that it wants time to train officers. When country-wide recreational legalization happens, it will be one of the biggest news stories in the cannabis industry since California’s market opens in January.
- November, 2018 – Along with Oregon Democrat U.S. Representative Earl Blumenauer, Colorado Democrat U.S. Representative Jared Polis has sponsored several bills to de-federalize marijuana policy and create a framework for the federal taxation of cannabis. In March, 2017, Polis introduced Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Act, that would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and regulate it like alcohol. He is the co-founder of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, and is expected to run for governor in November, 2018, becoming the first openly gay man to do so in that state, replacing Governor John Hickenlooper who leaves office amidst rumors of a presidential run in 2020.
- November, 2018. In September, 2017, Oregon Governor Kate Brown announced she will run for a second term. Brown is a staunch supporter of cannabis in her state. At a speech in June, 2017 to constituents at the Oregon Cannabis Association, she said Oregon is poised to “become both a nationwide and worldwide leader,” and that by helping other states and countries like Canada set up recreational markets, “Oregon is playing a pivotal role in the future of cannabis.” Brown also signed two critical pieces of legislation in the 2017 session to ensure the privacy and safety of those in the cannabis industry.
- Sometime in 2018. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is lobbying and building coalitions to regulate marijuana like alcohol via several state legislatures, including Connecticut, Delaware, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Texas, and Vermont. Bills in Connecticut and Delaware stalled in 2017, but will carry over into 2018. MPP is also advocating for medical marijuana-related bills in several other states, including, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas that may see traction in 2018.