While the world of cannabis has come along way in the last decade, it will go even further in this decade. Look forward to federal legalization sooner than we think.
WHERE WE’VE COME
The States tend to move in packs. Oregon was the first state to decriminalize the possession of marijuana in 1973, with over a dozen states the following suite in the next 15 years. Legalization, which not only allows possession but permits the legal production and sale of the plant, followed for medicinal marijuana in 1996 in California.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington voted to legalize the recreational use of Marijuana. In 2014, with the enactment of Initiative 71, residents of Washington DC legalized recreational use of marijuana, improving upon the previous initiative that legalized medicinal marijuana in 2014. Washington DC also has marijuana popups where the substance is gifted. In 2018, Vermont became the first state to legalize recreational marijuana by way of the state legislature rather than a ballot initiative.
Today, 11 states allow the recreational use of marijuana, 33 states fully permit the medicinal use of marijuana, and all but four states allow some form of medicinal cannabis use. Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, New Jersey, and North Dakota might be the next states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, while Idaho, Mississippi, Nebraska, and South Dakota may do the same for medicinal use.
As the list of states that allow medical marijuana use grows, so does the pressure to allow it federally.
FEDERAL LEGALIZATION WILL COME SOONER THAN LATER
There are many reasons to think that we can expect federal legalization soon.
First, hemp’s nationwide legalization in 2018 has put lawmakers in a bind. Surprisingly, law enforcement still has tremendous difficulty distinguishing hemp from marijuana. This has led some prosecutors and even one state Attorney General to broadly refuse to prosecute marijuana-related crimes. If marijuana laws are not prosecuted, the federal government has even less reason to uphold the federal ban.
A second reason is a nationwide fear of missing out. After Canada’s nationwide legalization, federal concerns over losing competitiveness in what may become a global market are a serious deciding factor. The Democratic Representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, who helped found the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, is spearheading the movement in congress with a focus on collective FOMO.
Sadly, the largest barrier in place to legalization appears to be the older segment of the population, who vote in higher numbers than the youthful segment. As this population declines in the next decade, we are likely to see a demographic change in the willingness of the overall population to adopt federal laws permitting the use of recreational marijuana.
WILL BIG MARIJUANA HAPPEN?
In the early 2020s, marijuana sales are estimated to exceed $20 billion per annum. There is widespread concern that once marijuana is federally legalized, large firms will dominate the market in an oligopoly. Among cannabis aficionados, it has long been thought that tobacco firms, whose large resources could be redeployed to marijuana, may capture the market from first movers after federal legalization.
But the concern may be unwarranted. Within the US, we have seen the marijuana industry develop without the brand-allegiance and commoditization that characterized the tobacco industry. Consumers exhibit regional and strain-specific preferences. According to Ryan Stoa, professor of law at Concordia University and author of Craft Weed, strain variety and interests in artisanal products will prevent there becoming a Big Marijuana, akin to Big Tobacco.
The future of marijuana is coming, and it sure looks hopeful.