Marijuana progress 2018

The year 2018 saw many victories for marijuana reform and few losses. Here are five key victories that happened that year.

1. Canada Legalizes

The biggest victory is arguably the full legalization of cannabis by Canada on October 17, when Bill C-45 took effect. Canada is the first G-7 country to legalize and the second in the world to do so, after Uruguay did in 2013. Legalization has created a new industry and spurred investment in Canadian cannabis businesses. The United States government, in keeping with its prohibitionist law, issued a warning to Canadian cannabis business travelers that they could face a lifetime ban on entering the United States. The Financial Post reports that this threat was carried out against a Canadian investor who traveled to a cannabis expo in Las Vegas. Legalization also drew a sternly worded letter from the U.N. that reminded Canada that it is a signatory to conventions that prohibit marijuana. Despite these official rebukes, Canada’s example may inspire other countries to take similar measures. In Mexico, for example, a newly elected government may soon follow Canada’s example.

2. Hemp Legalization in the United States

On December 20, President Donald Trump signed the annual farm bill, which included a provision legalizing industrial hemp. This signaled a significant shift in the federal government’s prohibitionist policy, which began in 1937 with the Marihuana Tax Act. Before passages of that act, industrial hemp, which has thousands of uses as food, fiber, and oil, was a major crop in the United States. With legality, hemp is poised to become a major crop once more.

3. Pro-Cannabis Governors

The expected legalization of marijuana in New York would add significant momentum to the reform movement.

The November 2018 elections in the United States saw the election of several Democratic governors who campaigned on platforms of making marijuana reform or legalization a priority. In Illinois, J.B. Pritzker won the election with these words on his website: “The path forward for Illinois is clear: we need to legalize marijuana…There is an abundance of evidence that shows we can legalize marijuana in a safe way. It would have real benefits for Illinois, including reducing opioid overdoses and bringing in much needed revenue from taxation.” In Minnesota, Tim Walz won on a pro-legalization platform, and as did Gretchen Whitmer in Michigan, Ned Lamont in Connecticut, and Michelle Lujan Grisham in New Mexico. In New Jersey, Phil Murphy won on a promise to consider legalization, which may occur legislatively in 2019. Finally, in New York, after defeating a pro-legalization challenger in New York, incumbent Gov. Andrew Cuomo gave signs that he would consider a shift toward legalization.

4. Former Opponents Flip

Cuomo is not alone among prominent politicians who have changed their mind about marijuana. Perhaps most notably, California’s two senators, Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris (both Democrats), changed their positions on marijuana and disparate enforcement of marijuana law. Feinstein, for example, opposed California’s adult use initiative in 2016, but in 2018, facing a reelection challenge, said she would consider allowing the federal government to pursue a hands-off policy toward enforcement in legal states. Another prominent Democratic senator, Chuck Schumer of New York, also changed his prohibitionist position in 2018, the same year that, for the first time, a majority of Republican voters supported legalization in a national poll.

5. Red and Midwestern States Reform

The West Coast states have legalized and some East Coast states are following suit. Perhaps most indicative of the momentum of reform, however, is that voters in Michigan passed an adult use measure, and voters in Oklahoma and Utah passed medical marijuana initiatives.

Two Setbacks

While 2018 was a year of great victories for marijuana reform, there have been some setbacks. One occurred when the United Nations chose to delay the publication of a recommendation from its Commission on Narcotic Drugs that was expected to endorse rescheduling of cannabis. Speculation is that some conservative governments, including Russia and China, are behind the delay. Another dismaying sign is the revelation of a secret Marijuana Policy Coordination Committee within the Trump administration that sought to discredit marijuana reform. Even this bad news, however, has a positive element: the opponents of reform have now resorted to working behind the scenes to resist reform, as their arguments for the continuation of prohibition have simply lost credibility.

What do you think? What victories for marijuana reform lie ahead for 2019? Leave a comment below.

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