The politics of pot and the business of buds were bigger than ever in 2016, from record retail sales to the march of legalization—both recreational and medicinal—to the darker shadows that have emerged the last two months, serving as a reminder the fight for complete chronic freedom is an ongoing struggle.
Taking—and toking—in the ganja good, the bad and the downright ugly, here’s the “Pot 10” cannabis-related news stories from the past year!
On November 8, a majority of voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts and Maine legalized recreational cannabis. Four U.S. states legalizing “party pot” during the same election cycle was a new reefer record.
In California, long overdue recreational legalization was approved by 57 percent of voters—with the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, Prop 64, immediately permitting possession of up to an ounce of flowers and eight grams of concentrates and personal cultivation of up to six indoor plants, with retail sales commencing in the Golden State as of January 1, 2018.
Though Nevada is home to only 2.8 million residents who passed Question 2 with 54 percent, state pot stores will primarily serve the 40 million-plus tourists that Las Vegas alone hosts annually. Visiting medical marijuana patients are already able to access pot, so it seemed inevitable and just plain smart economics to legalize it entirely. Possession of up to an ounce of flowers or an eighth of concentrates is permitted.
In Massachusetts, marijuana measure Question 4—which also passed with 54 percent of the vote—formally went into effect on December 15, allowing personal possession of up to an ounce in public and up to 10 ounces in a residence, with up to 12 plants cultivated per household max. Licensing for retail sites won’t commence until October 2017 (with pot shops not slated to open until the middle of 2018), thus pot can only be given away for free—up to an ounce—but not legally sold, for the time being.
And it wasn’t until December 17 that Maine could finally declare Question 1 narrowly victorious, garnering barely over 50 percent of the vote, just enough to legalize pot after the No on 1 campaign dropped their futile recount efforts. The measure, which wasn’t signed into effect by notoriously anti-pot Governor Paul LePage until today, means that as of January 30, those 21 and up can possess up to 2.5 ounces and grow up to six mature plants. Once licensing for retail stores is established, pot will be sold at a reasonable sales tax of 10 percent.
America the medicated…by marijuana, or at least non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD). In 2016, Arkansas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Louisiana joined the ranks of legal medical marijuana states, with Florida also establishing a full MMJ program and Montana approving modifications to their 2004 law to again allow dispensaries. That makes 44 states, plus the District of Columbia, with MMJ legislation of some sort—with only Texas’ CBD law currently in “non-functional” limbo. As for the remaining six states—Idaho, Indiana, West Virginia, South Dakota, Kansas and Nebraska, what are you waiting for? Time to get with the medical pot program!
All this legalization has corresponded to increased usage. A Gallup poll released in August reported that 13 percent of American adults—one out of every eight—currently consume cannabis, nearly doubling the number from just 2013 when seven percent were getting stoned. Demographically, men and younger adults use pot more than other groups. Also, 43 percent of Americans have tried pot at least once in their lives, up from 38 percent in 2013. Correspondingly, a Pew research survey that same month found 52 percent of Americans support nationwide recreational legalization—another pot poll zenith.
As pot is becoming legal in more states and more socially acceptable, people are using it more, and presto—higher profits are generated. The Colorado Dept of Revenue reported in December that for the first time ever, legal cannabis sales in Colorado topped the $1 billion mark in a calendar year. Dispensaries sold $720.7 worth of recreational weed from January to October 2016, and 371.4 in medicinal marijuana during the same time span, for a total of nearly $1.1 billion. The state coffers will be enriched to the tune of $150 million, over $40 million of which is destined for public school construction. It’s good to be a Coloradan. As big as this story is, it’s really just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the revenue that legal weed could generate nationwide, should the feds ever get a clue.
Include Golden State Warriors head coach Steve Kerr among those who’ve tried pot recently, as referenced in #3 on our list. On December 2, Kerr publicly disclosed on the Warriors Insider Podcast that he used medical marijuana twice during the previous 18 months in a attempt to treat his chronic back pain from his own pro playing days. He advocated pot over Vicodin for pro athletes’ pain management and suggested it’s only a matter of time before sports leagues institute a pot policy over addictive opioids. He actually joked about being uncertain if this admission would make him subject to random drug tests. The innovative 51-year old Kerr has transformed the “Dubs” from a good team to budding dynasty in the Bay Area, and Warriors superstars Klay Thompson and Draymond Green backed Kerr’s admission. Despite Kerr revealing that his particular pot treatments did not work, it’s still enormously significant for a currently active coach of the highest profile team in the NBA to admit experimenting with medicinal marijuana. Far less surprisingly, 10-time NBA champion coach Phil Jackson—and Kerr’s former coach when Kerr played for the Bulls—also confessed to cannabis use.
On December 13, the Mexican Senate voted 98-7 in favor of medical marijuana legalization legislation that will now head to the lower Chamber of Deputies. Should the bill be approved in that house of Congress, it will become law, allowing patients access to THC-rich cannabis and derivatives. Currently, Mexico only allows for the import of CBD, which is not as effective when isolated from THC and other critical cannabinoids. The bill is part of a proposal supported by President Enrique Peña Nieto and would also sanction cannabis cultivation for medicinal and clinical research purposes. For a nation brutalized by drug cartel violence for years, any move toward dismantling the deeply flawed and inherently corrupt prohibition machine, and their criminal manifestations, should be viewed as a positive step.
In August, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco unanimously upheld federal prohibition of legal medicinal marijuana patients owning firearms. The ruling affects pot patients in nine western states, eight of those having MMJ laws. The case originated in 2011 when Nevada medical pot patient S. Rowan Wilson attempted to purchase a gun but was denied due to the ban on firearms purchases by illegal drug users, as all forms of cannabis are outlawed by federal law. Wilson and her attorney argued her constitutional freedom to buy a gun was being violated without due process. In their unanimous decision, the appeals court cited cannabis being linked to “irrational or unpredictable behavior.” If that’s the feds’ criteria, it’s hard to justify alcohol drinkers and prescription drug patients having access to firearms—or even a butter knife.
Just in time to spoil the legal pot party currently being thrown by eight recreational and 44 medicinal states, on November 8 came the astonishing upset victory of Donald Trump to take command of the White House—with a sympathetic Congress—for the next four years. Even though Trump has sent out contradictory smoke signals regarding legal cannabis, his appointment of U.S. Senator Jeff Sessions as U.S. Attorney General is a bad sign. His selection at the nation’s top cop was immediately denounced by the Drug Policy Alliance, as the pro-pot group blasted Sessions as a “drug war dinosaur, the last thing this country needs right now.” Sessions—who turned 70 on Christmas Eve—told a Senate hearing in April that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.” While we can’t be sure how Hillary would have handled legal herb had she won, we probably wouldn’t have to deal with someone so out of touch like Sessions. Trump ran on promises of unregulated free-market capitalism; will he be consistent and honor them in regards to legal cannabis? Is President Trump going to “drain the swamp” of the DEA and the drug war infrastructure? Doesn’t look like it so far.
One of the last big weed stories of the year was one of the most disheartening—at least symbolically—as on December 14, it became news that the DEA created a new drug code dubbed “marihuana extract” and added non-psychoactive cannabidiol (CBD) as a Schedule I drug according to the federal Controlled Substances Act. Technically, the DEA hasn’t gone through the procedure of actually scheduling CBD into the CSA, as only the cannabis plant itself is scheduled, but it still smacks of a move to stem the momentum of legal medical marijuana. The irony of the DEA’s decision is that CBD not only fails to get a user “stoned,” it actually can neutralize the “high” of weed! CBD has been clinically demonstrated to treat everything from epileptic seizures in small children to reducing degenerative disc disease that plagues the elderly, but CBD oil producers and distributors now potentially face federal retribution if this sticks. Hoban Law Group in Denver is considering filing a lawsuit against the DEA on the grounds that the agency lacks the legal authority to schedule controlled substances without consent of Congress.
Last, but certainly not least. We lost a lot of great, influential people in 2016 to be sure, and this was also true in the cannabis community as Michael Kennedy passed back on January 25, succumbing to cancer. The 78-year old “legal crusader,” as described in HIGH TIMES’ own Chris Simunek’s poignant eulogy, provided a legal shield for 42 years for HIGH TIMES magazine and website to operate and publish the truth about cannabis, often in the face of overwhelming resistance.
Kennedy had previously established a reputation as a maverick willing to take on the establishment, which made him the perfect choice for HIGH TIMES founder Thomas King Forcade to serve as the legal arm for Trans High Corporation. His counterculture cred was not to be challenged—Kennedy once planned legal strategy with Abbie Hoffman after dipping his fingers in acid-laced honey. Michael Kennedy was ironically born the year cannabis was criminalized, and saw HIGH TIMES through to America’s present age of increasing legalization and billion-dollar profits. He will always be a central figure in the lore of this magazine, website and the marijuana movement as a whole.