Since the end of the 2012 election, all eyes from the marijuana reform movement and industry have been set on 2016. Campaigns held off on 2014 efforts to ‘wait for 2016.’ People in the industry anticipating big victories on Election Day 2016 have said the words ‘imagine what it will be like by the end of 2016’ so many times I’d imagine they have lost track. And here we are. January 1, 2016. This is the first day of the biggest year in the history of marijuana in America, and beyond.
While I was hanging out with people during the holidays, we discussed what 2016 may have in store for the marijuana world. We all agreed that it will no doubt be a historic year, but we had varying opinions on what may happen, what is likely to happen, and what is probably a bit too bold for right now. But with that last one, we all still agreed that 2016 has the potential to see just about anything happen, so while something may seem far fetched at the beginning of 2016, by the end of 2016 it could very well have become a reality. Below are some of the things that I’ll be looking out for over the course of the next year:
Marijuana Initiatives – 2016 is a Presidential Election year, and there are numerous efforts underway to get enough signatures to put recreational marijuana and medical marijuana legalization on state ballots. California, Arizona, Nevada (already on the ballot!), Massachusetts, Maine, and Michigan are all likely to vote on recreational marijuana on Election Day 2016. Florida and Missouri are likely to vote on medical marijuana in November, with other states maybe joining them. With some hard work and luck, we could see the number of legal rec states climb to double digits, and see the number of medical states outnumber the amount of non-medical states in America (when you don’t include CBD-only states). This will literally be the biggest election cycle in the history of marijuana politics in America.
Legislative Marijuana Reform – I think in 2016 we will see marijuana legalization via a legislative action. Vermont and Rhode Island seem to be the most likely candidates, but there is an effort in New Mexico already via a prefiled legalization bill, and I’d expect quite a few legislatures to at least take a look at the idea, if not take the leap in an attempt to get out ahead of what seems like inevitable public policy reform. I think we will see at least one state legislature legalize medical marijuana, and not just a CBD-only version of medical marijuana legalization. Pennsylvania seems like the most likely candidate, but we will see what the year holds.
Banking Reform – I obviously can’t say for sure, but I think 2016 we may see true marijuana banking reform occur. The industry is just too huge to let it continue to be an all cash industry. Banking should be allowed for the industry because it’s the right thing to do, but I think the real reason reform will come about is because the banks will lead on it this year. The business need justification isn’t the route I’d like to see for reform, but if it’s what gets banking reform to occur, I can live with that. You have to assume that banks want it to happen. Imagine if things were not so widely known about the marijuana industry, and the banking industry was approached with the question of ‘We can create an industry almost overnight that will need to deposit and withdraw billions of dollars in transactions through your banks annually, are you OK with that? Keep in mind the industry is completely legal at the local level, and the industry is frothing at the mouth to get going right away.’ I think the resounding answer from the banking industry would be ’Yes!’ Banking reform is overdue, and I think 2016 will hopefully be the year to get it achieved in a meaningful, comprehensive, lasting way.
Tax Reform – 280e is about the least popular, least sexy topic in the marijuana world, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s extremely hard to get people to realize that until after they have done taxes and realize the hard way why it’s so important. A lot of the marijuana industry doesn’t get to write off nearly as many legitimate business expenses as other industries because marijuana is illegal at the federal level. If you are not familiar with 280e, you should be, especially if you are in the industry or want to be in the industry. The marijuana industry needs to be able to play on a level playing field that other industries get to experience, and without 280e reform, the industry will never reach its full potential.
Decriminalization Spreads At The Local Level – More and more municipalities decriminalized marijuana in 2015, and I expect that trend to continue in 2016. Pittsburgh just voted to decriminalize marijuana, Texas’ largest county has a law that takes effect today that decriminalizes marijuana under certain circumstances, and Philadelphia recently released numbers that it has saved over 1 million dollars after decriminalizing marijuana in 2014. More and more local governments will take notice of the savings and follow suit in 2016, which will hopefully contribute to the momentum of statewide reforms.
Opponents Will Start Pushing ‘Schedule 2’ – I recently read an article in which Kevin Sabet highlighted the anti-marijuana movement’s ‘victories’ from 2015. Something that Kevin Sabet has been touting is that the federal government is going to make it easier to research marijuana in very limited circumstances. This is a rhetorical tactic that tries to imply that the anti-marijuana movement isn’t really anti-marijuana because after all they support reform, just their version of it. They will point to their willingness to ‘allow more research’ as an example of how they are willing to meet the reform movement ‘part way.’ It’s all just smoke, but they know that it will get some play with the general public. It’s a way that they can soften their stance without really doing anything to truly soften their stance. I think that as marijuana opponents realize that moving marijuana to Schedule 2 doesn’t really do much (and that de-scheduling marijuana is what reformers really want), they will latch onto it as a way of demonstrating a kind of ‘false compromise.’ Politics is a game of using words to persuade others, and prohibitionists know that. That’s why Kevin Sabet always asks the question of ‘why isn’t decriminalization enough’ even though he absolutely will not directly express support for decriminalization.
Big Push To De-Schedule Marijuana – This last year Bernie Sanders introduced a bill that would de-schedule marijuana. The bill wouldn’t lower marijuana from Schedule 1 to something else – it would de-schedule marijuana altogether. Such a move would remove marijuana prohibition at the federal level. That’s not to say that marijuana would be legalized at the federal level. Rather, it would remove the federal barrier and allow states to decide the issue on their own. I think it is too bold to say that such a bill would pass in 2016, but I think it will get a much more high profile, high effort push than ever before.
Oregon’s Marijuana Culture Will Be ‘Discovered’ – This is admittedly a lot of home state pride talking, but I honestly think that Oregon has the best marijuana in America. It’s also some of, if not the, cheapest in America (brick weed doesn’t count!). Marijuana flower is available in Oregon to all adults over 21 right now, and soon edibles and other consumables will be available for purchase too. That combined with Oregon’s scenic beauty and seemingly never ending recreation opportunities will make Oregon a top destination on any marijuana consumer’s travel list from around the world starting in 2016, if it isn’t already.
Bad Apples And Actors Will Be Exposed – For the most part the growing marijuana industry has been very positive. Numbers are good, everything is growing, and there are tons of success stories out there. The marijuana industry is a sexy thing right now, which is why so many people are clamoring to get into the industry, and those that are already in the industry are jockeying for position. I think in 2016 we will see some more of the ugly side of things become known. A vast majority of people in the marijuana world have good hearts, and are honest, hard working people. But there are also some bad actors and bad apples. Because the industry was in the shadows for so long, those type of people have been able to operate in the shadows undetected. But as the industry grows, and marijuana continues to go mainstream, those bad actors will get exposed and banished from the industry. It will be tough to see the industry go through those growing pains, but those types of people should have no place in this new industry. The marijuana industry has the chance to be different than other industries, and to operate with a level of equality and integrity that other industries have fallen short of. A responsible industry should want to remove the bad apples, and in no way should support them being a part of the next great American industry.
Big Push For Small Businesses – The marijuana industry has been a cottage industry for many decades. It wasn’t until recently that corporate America wanted in on the action. I know that there are a lot of people that want the marijuana industry to stay as much of a cottage industry as possible, and embrace the ‘locally owned and operated’ type businesses. I am certainly one of those people. I’m not necessarily against large companies in the marijuana industry, but I try to give my dollars to small businesses whether they are marijuana related or not. I think that the marijuana consumer base will have that mentality more often than consumers of other products because of the buying habits of the past. People have always liked to know where their marijuana comes from, way before it was fashionable for food and other things.
More Corporate Infusion – I once wrote an article titled, ‘Big Marijuana Doesn’t Scare Me, Big Marijuana Done The Wrong Way Scares Me.’ That’s honestly how I feel. Any rational person will recognize that the marijuana reform movement has gained increased acceptance among swing voters, politicians, and funders because of the growth of the marijuana industry. One of my political science professors in college would always say, ‘Do you want people to vote for something? Make it profitable.’ It’s true. It’s not how I would like things to work, but it’s how politics works nonetheless. With all of that being said, too much corporate infiltration is obviously a bad thing because with corporate weed comes the potential for corporate greed. There will be more celebrity marijuana strains introduced in 2016, along with other types of endorsements. More money will be infused into the marijuana industry than ever before in 2016.
More Politicians And Media Outlets Will Get On The Right Side Of History - Every year more and more politicians and mainstream media outlets change their tune on marijuana. Sometimes it’s subtle, and is more of a ‘softening of stance’ that a full flip flop. Other times politicians and media outlets aren’t so subtle, and just abruptly change their tune overnight. I don’t really like marijuana opponents, but I have to allow them to get on the right side of history if they choose to do so. They should be commended when it’s sincere, and called out when it’s not. People and entities should believe in reform because it’s the right thing to do, and not just because supporting reform gets votes, donations, and eyeballs.
More International Victories - Uruguay is supposed to start selling recreational marijuana in 2016. Canada is poised to legalize marijuana in 2016. There will no doubt be other nations that step up and reform their marijuana laws in one way or another. 2016 isn’t just a big year for marijuana in the United States, it’s a big year across the globe.
Reform For Veterans – Medical marijuana helps veterans. That is an undeniable fact. There are too many veterans that will testify to how medical marijuana helped/saved their lives, and for a vast variety of reasons. Not only should there not be barriers to medical marijuana for veterans, I think that medical marijuana should actually be encouraged because of how effective it is at helping veterans who suffer from a lot of different things. Veterans fought for our country, the least our country should do is allow them to use safe, effective medicine. I think 2016 will hopefully be the year when there is comprehensive reform on this issue.
Obviously this isn’t an end all, be all list. If there are things that you think I missed, that I could have spoke more about, or that I’m just flat wrong about, by all means post something in the comments. As I’ve always said, I’d rather be wrong and facilitate discussion than be right and have no one ever talk about it. What do you think will happen in the world of marijuana in 2016? I look forward to reading your comments.