2018: The Best Year Yet for Marijuana Legalization

2018: The Best Year Yet for Marijuana Legalization

In a real way, the biggest development in global marijuana policy reform in 2018 was what didn’t happen, as in nothing bad.

There were no major setbacks, there were no disasters — there was nothing to stop or even slow the momentum that marijuana legalization and the attendant legal cannabis industry has enjoyed for most of the past decade.

Look: 2017 ended with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s promise that the country would legalize from Pacific to Atlantic. And it (and he) did. On the very first day of 2018, retail recreational cannabis stores opened in California. Red states legalized medical marijuana. Everything continued as before, and (almost) nothing was (too horribly) bad.

What’s the catch? Depends on your perspective. We saw big business’s first real big moves to capture a lasting slice of the action, and we saw some small producers squashed in the process. Medical marijuana patients in the United Kingdom have legal access, but without any way to get any. There are improvements to be made and much more to be done, but in recounting the biggest news from 2018, there is no disaster to lament. And that is the biggest news of all.

Here, then, in no particular order, are our most important stories of the year:

Red States Love (Medical) Marijuana

Voters in North Dakota said no thanks to one of the more ambitious recreational legalization efforts to be seen in the United States, but medical marijuana continued its winning streak at the ballot box — and in the Utah state Legislature. Better yet, the bills approved in Oklahoma in June and in Missouri in November are workable and viable. You can’t say quite the same thing about Utah, where patient advocates have filed a lawsuit challenging a “compromise” bill brokered by the Church of Latter Day Saints and their supporters among lawmakers, but even the willingness to negotiate reveals what in stark focus what everybody already knows: Medical cannabis is a political winner that transcends whatever aisles, divides, and walls that exist elsewhere in our great and groovy society.

Canada Legalizes Marijuana

The continent-sized country with the California-sized population, Canada remains legalization’s worldwide leader and — do you like metaphors? — the largest “test tube” for legal cannabis. Results from the latest stage of the experiment, which began Oct. 17 when retail stores opened for Canadian adults, is that it works — and seems to work awfully well. Share prices in Canadian marijuana company stocks skyrocketed, and these same firms continue to export medical cannabis all over the world. The biggest concern for some Canadians is how to negotiate the border with the United States.

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Legacy Intoxicants Discover Marijuana…

It was always a matter of time before Big Alcohol and Big Tobacco woke up to the real and tried to take over cannabis. This began in late 2017, when Constellation Brands, the parent company of Corona and a slew of other booze brands, bought a 10 percent stake in Canopy Growth Corporation, the darling and unicorn of the Canadian publicly traded marijuana companies — and it continued in August, when Constellation upped its big bet in Canopy to $4 billion. That followed a play by MolsonCoors, and that all preceded a $1.8 billion investment in Cronos, yet another Canadian firm, by Altria, the parent company of Philip Morris tobacco and Marlboro.

…and So Does Wall Street

There are ski jumps and sharks, and there’s the day Jim Cramer discovers who you are. Marijuana is now a fixture on “Mad Money,” which means everyday investors are plumbing the internet, their friends, and — yes — CNBC for stock tips. So ripe is the melon that, in October, John Boehner, the Republican former Speaker of the House of Representatives who joined the board of an Ohio-based marijuana company, jumped into the business of selling marijuana-related stock tips.

New York Figures It Out (Sort of)

Once the United States’s capital for petty marijuana busts, New York City is now a cannabis speculator’s dream. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s pre-Christmas announcement that his 2019 budget proposal just might include a marijuana legalization initiative had a nearly year-long build-up. There was Cuomo challenger Cynthia Nixon’s embrace of cannabis, which dragged Cuomo to do the right thing; there was the district attorneys in Manhattan and Brooklyn announcing that they were through with low-level possession arrests — and then there was New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s own tepid embrace of legal cannabis as a good idea. All this means that New York, the country’s largest city, its cultural hub, one of its main tourist attractions and the center of media and finance is inching towards legalization. Legal weed, outside of all three of Donald Trump’s main houses.

Everybody (Even Congress) Loves CBD (and Hemp)

Mitch McConnell has a hemp pen. The Senate majority leader flashed his cannabis sativa-fueled ink to sign the Senate’s version of the 2018 Farm Bill — which included a provision legalizing the production of industrial hemp. Now that everybody seems to have figured out what CBD is and where it comes from, the low-THC version of cannabis sativa is now a big deal in McConnell’s Kentucky, where farmers are betting big on hemp crops.

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UK Officials Shamed Into About-face On Medical Marijuana

The flight from Canada landed at Heathrow Airport in London in June. Within hours, officials with the Home Office seized its precious cargo — a vial of CBD oil from Canada, the epilepsy medicine for Billy Caldwell. Within days, Theresa May’s people were excoriated in the media and in the public for taking medicine away from sick people — sick children, no less — and within weeks, May’s government issued a promise to change the country’s drug laws to legalize medical marijuana by Nov. 1. As patient advocates have demonstrated, the law isn’t yet workable — there is no easy or cheap access, and doctors with the National Health Service can’t (or won’t) write prescriptions, but the boulder is rolling down the hill in the UK.

Jeff Sessions Gets the Boot, Leaves Legacy of Dust

What did Jefferson Beauregard Sessions accomplish during his year-and-a-half as attorney general of the United States? The former Senate backbencher from Alabama became marijuana legalization’s Enemy No. 1 on pure talk. But a series of increasingly shrill bellicose statements was followed up with absolutely no action. Either Sessions didn’t really want to do anything about the country’s marijuana industry, or Donald Trump wouldn’t let him — or maybe there just wasn’t enough support in the government for a countrywide crackdown on legal weed. Whatever. Sessions was let go after the midterm elections for his refusal to trigger a constitutional crisis and fire Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

Which brings us to the biggest development of 2018, which was — nothing. Nothing bad, as we said the outset. There wasn’t a setback, there wasn’t a crackdown. There wasn’t a crime spree, there wasn’t a huge batch of tainted marijuana giving us all the crazies, there wasn’t a giant spike in youth marijuana use. Marijuana legalization has yet to fulfill its worst or even its less rosy prophecies. We knew this would be the case, but now it is undeniable. And that’s the biggest news of all.