It would be difficult to argue that the pulse of 2015 has not, in many ways, provided the United States with a more solid foundation for which the to catapult the stone of marijuana reform further into the mainstream. Several states managed to get it together this year to launch strong campaigns aimed at legalizing the leaf for recreational purposes. Even the overtones of the latest presidential campaign have continued to reverberate the issue of pot reform is almost all of the debates despite countless political distractions brought on by the scourge of international terrorism. In other words, the actions of the past 12 months, even those of which failed miserably, have contributed to the terminal condition of prohibitionary times in America.
Here is a look back at some of the most memorable legislative moments in 2015.
Senator Bernie Sanders Becomes First Major Presidential Candidate to Take Action Against Prohibition
Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, who is often considered a front runner for the Democratic nomination in the race for the presidency, not only hit the scene earlier this year as a vocal supporter of marijuana reform, but he eventually took his position a step further by introducing a piece of legislation in the U.S. Senate aimed at bringing down prohibition across the entire nation. In November, Sanders submitted the “Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act,” which begs to eliminate the cannabis plant from the confines of the Controlled Substances Act. It would, essentially, allow all states that want to legalize weed, regardless of purpose, to do so without fear of a federal shakedown.
"It's a state and a federal issue,” Sanders said during an interview with CNN. “The federal issue is that we should remove marijuana from the Controlled Substance Act. That's a federal decision. The state decision is that we live in a federal system of government where issues like tobacco and alcohol are significantly regulated by the states. And I think that is a province of the states."
The news of Sanders’ pledge to drag the United States out of the despicable clutches of a more than four-decade-long War on Marijuana scored major points with the majority of the population, which recent polls indicate are in favor of reforming the nation’s pot laws.
However, there has not been any action on the Sanders bill since it was first introduced in November, and the likelihood of getting it past Republican gatekeepers, like House Speaker Paul Ryan, do not appear favorable in the next legislative session.
Nevertheless, this move, as Tom Angell with the Marijuana Majority pointed out after the announcement, “is the first time a bill to end federal marijuana prohibition has been introduced in the U.S. Senate,” which signifies a wave of unstoppable nationwide momentum on this issue.
Oregon Launches Recreational Market, While Alaska Gets Ready for 2016
After voters approved Measure 91 back in November 2014, there was some concern that it would take Oregon a few years before the cannabis industry was fully operational. However, lawmakers managed to come together on a plan earlier this year that allowed the launch of a temporary recreational market – giving some medical marijuana dispensaries the ability to sell limited amounts to the recreational sector starting in October.
In Alaska, which also approved a cannabis market in 2014, regulators did not succeed in drafting any level of prosthetic legislation to get legal sales up and running in a more timely fashion. They are, however, crafting rules that could make The Last Frontier one of the most frequented areas of “toker tourism” in the United States. Although the details of Measure 2 strictly prohibit the consumption of weed in public places, there wasn’t a clear definition over exactly what that meant. Seeing a demand for on-site consumption, state regulators essentially eliminated the term “public” in regards to retail pot shops. If approved, this means Cannabis Cafes, similar to what has become popular in Amsterdam, could open up in 2016.
New York Dabbles in Medical Marijuana, But Prohibition Is Still Alive and Well
One of the most followed events of 2015 was the regulatory debacle surrounding New York’s restrictive medical marijuana program. Although the Compassionate Care Act was approved in June 2014, it took the state until the Spring of this year to issue the final rules intended to guide the industry, as smokeless marijuana products are sold to patients suffering from about 10 “serious or life-threatening” conditions.
There was hope that amendments would be made to some of the ridiculous rules outlined in the guts of the program, but Governor Cuomo was hell bent on maintaining a small program. It is for this reason that the State Health Department issued only five producer licenses, giving each grower the ability to open four dispensaries across the state – providing limited access for many potential patients.
By the time those five applicants were finally granted licenses, which happened over the summer, it seemed the program would be hard pressed to make its official launch date of January 2016.
Meanwhile, lawmakers insisted on passing an emergency access bill that would give terminally ill patients the ability to get their hands on medicine before the program got underway. Although Governor Cuomo eventually signed the bill, no one stopped to consider how dying patients were supposed to go about obtaining cannabis products any earlier than the rest of New York. After all, there weren’t any doctors available to recommend medical marijuana until at least the end of October, and no cannabis to distribute even if they did.
As of December, the Health Department claims the program is still on track to launch at the beginning of 2016.
Florida Finally Reveals Growers for Restricted Low-THC Program, Comprehensive Medical Marijuana on the Horizon, But the Dream of Ending Prohibition Is Dead
In 2015, after nearly a year and a half of determining how to implement a low-THC medical marijuana program, Florida finally announced the five cultivation facilities charged with growing the non-intoxicating strain for patients suffering from conditions such as cancer and epilepsy. And while it is a miracle the state managed to get this far, it will be even more impressive if officials can find a way to get the program into operation before voters make a move towards a comprehensive proposal in next year’s election.
Indeed, while Florida officials anticipate around 20,000 patients could have access to low-THC products by 2017, a group known as United for Care is coming into the New Year with an initiative that stands a good chance at legalizing a full-scale medical marijuana program in 2016.
Unfortunately, Regulate Florida, the group working to repeal prohibition in 2016, pulled out of the campaign at the end of this year due to their inability to secure the necessary signatures.
Ohio’s Bid to Legalize Recreational Marijuana Goes Down in Flaming Infamy
One of most highly publicized legalization events of 2015 was the wild-eyed madness surrounding ResponsibleOhio and their proposal to create a monopolized marijuana market. The group, which consisted of a few wealthy investors, wanted to establish a taxed and regulated pot market in Ohio, but without providing an opportunity for free trade. The whole plan was controversial; creating somewhat of a wedge between those marijuana activists who thought the group was a bunch of crooks and others who believed that legalization under their proposal was better than the current model.
Ohio officials were not fans. The Secretary of State teamed up with the State Legislature to put a competing initiative on the ballot in hopes of sabotaging the multi-million dollar campaign and ruining any chance of these types of shenanigans from ever happening again. In the end, the initiative proposed by ResponsibleOhio failed to garner enough support at the polls to move its plan for total domination into law.
Massachusetts and Maine Put Together Strong Plans to Legalize Weed in 2016… So Did Arizona
Big news for 2015 was the official launch of campaigns in Maine and Massachusetts to end prohibition along the East coast. In Maine, what started out as two competing initiatives, both vying for the same outcome under slightly different terms, shifted to a more common sense approach by late 2015. The two organizations basically decided it would be better to put one solid initiative on the ballot next year than risk losing altogether. At the same time, two competing groups in Massachusetts battled it out over their respective concepts for legalization. There were rumors that they might follow in the footsteps of activists in Maine and form some kind of alliance in order to strengthen their position, but that didn’t happen. In the end, only the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol managed to get the required signatures turned in before the deadline.
In Arizona, another Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative also began working to collect the necessary signatures to get on the ballot in 2016. Reports indicate the group is well on their way to meeting the signatures requirements before the deadline.
Washington DC: Legalization Becomes Official, But Still No Retail Sales
In February of this year, it became legal in the nation’s capital to cultivate, possess, and transfer marijuana. Voters in the District of Columbia approved Initiative 71 in 2014, giving way to an interesting realm of marijuana reform in a place arguably considered the war nerve of nationwide prohibition. Lawmakers in the District of Columbia were eager to take their legalization endeavors up a notch by passing legislation that would allow weed to be sold in a manner similar to beer. Unfortunately, an amendment strapped to the back of a federal spending bill, which was signed into law by President Obama, prevented the DC Council from enacting legislation to bring this concept to fruition. In December, it was revealed that Harris’ rider had been renewed for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget, preventing the District from moving ahead with recreational sales for at least another year.
Texas Attempts to End Prohibition, But Legalizes Worthless Medical Marijuana Program Instead
In 2015, Texas Lawmakers, for the first time ever, managed to get a proposal aimed at ending prohibition up for consideration in the State Legislature. The bill submitted by Republican Representative David Simpson suggested that Texas should legalize cannabis because “God” put it on this planet for the benefit of the population. Unfortunately, around May, the proposal and one seeking to decriminalize minor pot possession ended up in the garbage outside the state Capitol. Instead, lawmakers focused their energy on a measly medical marijuana bill that sought to provide access to “Low-THC” cannabis oil for epilepsy patients. This measure moved forward with rapid enthusiasm, and by summer, Governor Gregg Abbott was signing it into law. The program is supposed to be up and running by 2018.
California Regulates Medical Marijuana After 20 Years, Prepares for Full Legalization
After nearly two decades, California lawmakers finally buckled down in 2015 to pass a set of regulations aimed at controlling the state’s medical marijuana industry. The rules will force pot businesses to obtain operating permits and an annual state license beginning in 2018.
Meanwhile, and this is no exaggeration, marijuana activists across the state spawned more initiatives to legalize marijuana in 2016 than most wild animals can produce offspring in a 12-month span. However, a proposal overseen by Napster billionaire Sean Parker, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, and the defected clan from ReformCA appears to have the best chance for success.
Fancy Federal Bills Emerge, But Nothing Happens
Federal lawmakers introduced a couple of bills in 2015 that sort of become a household names across the nation, even though there has not been much action in regards either proposal to warrant excitement. The CARERS Act, which was submitted in the House back in March, was carried in an the shoulders of Senators Cory Booker, Rand Paul and Kristen Gillibrand and paraded around in front of every major news organization willing to listen to their plan to legalize medical marijuana nationwide. The bill has only picked up around 20 co-sponsors throughout the course of 2015, and cannot get a hearing due to a lack of Republican support. The same goes for the “Respect State Marijuana Laws Act of 2015,” which was introduced in April by Representative Dana Rohrabacher of California. This bill could have ended prohibition across the United States by simply amending the Controlled Substances Act. But just like the CARERS Act, it has not been able to gain enough traction in the Republican muck to stand a fighting chance.