2020: Best Year Ever – for Cannabis Reform
Anyone concerned about the cannabis reform movement and the legalization efforts for both Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis programs across the country might find 2020 to have been one of the most effective years for reversing the stigma created by 70-years of lies and propaganda, and allowing expanded access to this highly beneficial plant medicine, while beginning to repair some of the damage created by the failed “war on drugs.”
By most accounts, 2020 was a year that we are all grateful has finally come to an end. An impeachment of the President Trump, the COVID-19 pandemic, mass protests, social unrest, economic collapse, a challenged presidential election and a suicide bombing; good riddance 2020.
As 2020 began, and the impeachment trial of President Trump was ending, rumors of a novel coronavirus in China were emerging, and by the Spring, the COVID-19 pandemic was in full effect. Despite some attempts to shut down the cannabis industry to help “slow the spread”, cannabis medicine emerged as an “essential business” in California and many other states. As threats of lockdowns drove huge cannabis sales numbers in every legal state, people who could afford it, were stocking up on their medicine or their “recreational” supply, preparing for the stay at home orders.
Delivery laws were changed, dispensaries adapted to curbside pick-up where possible and social distancing and mask rules were in effect as sales continued to grow throughout the Summer. Isolated Seniors found some comfort in plant medicine.
Then in the Fall, the election, and despite the close race at the top of the ticket and balance of power in question, one big winner emerged on election night: cannabis. Cannabis measures on ballots in five states all passed with huge margins. In fact, in most races, cannabis garnered more votes than any official on the ballot.
A majority of Arizona and New Jersey voters said yes on ballot measures to make adult-use marijuana legal. Voters in South Dakota approved marijuana for medical use, and a slim majority voted for adult-use. Mississippi voters approved an initiative to establish a medical marijuana program for certain patients with debilitating conditions, while voters in Montana voted for two initiatives to legalize, regulate and tax recreational marijuana for adults 21 and older. We saw that cannabis is not a red or blue issue. Cannabis crosses all boundaries of politics, class and culture.
And in the final weeks of 2020, the year where everything changed, the US House of Representatives passed the MORE Act, if enacted, would effectively deschedule cannabis and expunge the records of non-violent cannabis convictions, among other reforms. The vote marked the first time in 50 years that a chamber of Congress has revisited the classification of cannabis as a federally controlled and illegal substance.
The U.S. Senate separately approved a bill that would allow for the expansion of scientific research into cannabis derivatives including CBD. The bill, known as the “Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act,” was advanced by unanimous consent, however, it is unlikely the House will vote on this version. The House passed a similar measure, although provisions in that bill that would allow researchers to use cannabis products from state-licensed dispensaries are not included in the Senate proposal. The Senate version does nothing to change the federal scheduling of cannabis, nor does it allow for banking in cannabis. McConnell, a long-time prohibitionist, who currently leads the Republican-controlled Senate, is from a hemp-heavy state where some may think that cannabis normalization may conflict with the future financial gains of the emerging hemp industry. Maybe the Georgia run-off election will shift the balance of power in favor of cannabis reform and we will see greater gains with a new administration.
Overall, 2020 was one of the best years for cannabis reform and the cannabis industry, both medical and adult-use, and 2021 could be even better. Despite President-elect Joe Biden’s long history as a prohibitionist and drug warrior, VP Harris has indicated decriminalization is definitely on the table. To what extent is yet to be determined, but the Progressive Caucus is pushing for action within the first six months. There are few things that the vast majority of Americans agree on, and cannabis reform is one of them.
Moving forward, in the states, programs voted for in 2020 will be implemented, some faster than others, with New Jersey opening the floodgates for the East Coast. State legislatures are making moves in many conservative states, including Texas and Nebraska, to legalize adult-use for tax revenue to pay off massive economic losses due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Decriminalization and expungement efforts for low level cannabis crimes will be expanded throughout localities and states including Gov. J.B. Pritzker of Illinois on Thursday announcing more than 500,000 expungements and pardons for people with low-level marijuana offenses on their records.
On December 2nd, in a historic move, the United Nations descheduled cannabis in a 27-25 vote, with the United States among those voting in favor. Following a recommendation from the World Health Organization, the United Nations’ Commission for Narcotic Drugs voted to remove cannabis from Schedule IV (equal to the US Schedule I) of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. This was a really big deal that barely made a blip in the news.
Look for 2021 to be another year of unprecedented expansion of access to cannabis, using the plant and its derivatives to address the opioid crisis, and the chronic conditions of aging. Researcher Christopher Kaufmann, assistant professor in the Division of Geriatrics and Gerontology in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego reports, “Pain, insomnia and anxiety were the most common reasons for cannabis use and, for the most part, patients reported that cannabis was helping to address these issues, especially with insomnia and pain.”
Other interesting developments to look for in 2021 will be on using cannabis medicine for COVID symptoms, more states legalizing and expunging records and politicians using cannabis industry tax revenue for the recovery of desperate state budgets.
Cannabis can save the world! As soon as the last few prohibitionists are convinced, like the vast majority of the American population on both sides of the political aisle, to support legalization. A Gallup Poll released Nov. 9, 2020 indicated that 68% of Americans favor legalizing marijuana – double the approval rate in 2003. As we enter this new decade, the popularity and belief in the medicinal benefits of cannabis will grow exponentially, fed by the light of truth and tended by educators, activists , caregivers and the patients that use plant medicine to find relief.
Dave Coennen, Farmacann Education & Outreach