USA: The Polls, Pot and a New President
While Recreational and Medical Cannabis Pass Muster in Several New States, What Does Trump’s Election Mean for Cannabis in the US?
On November 8 in the United States, people came out to vote on presidential candidates as well as cannabis. Donald Trump shocked the country by emerging as the victor in the presidential election and several states voted to move forward with new policies regarding marijuana. Moving forward, it remains to be seen how the nationwide election will affect cannabis policy decisions at the state level.
After Election Day, California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts emerged with legalized recreational use, sales and consumption of cannabis. Meanwhile, Arkansas, Florida, Montana and North Dakota voted to allow legal access to medical marijuana. Here’s how the votes played out:
Voters in California said yes to Proposition 64, a bill that made it legal for people over the age of 21 to use, possess, grow and sell marijuana. Using cannabis in public remains illegal and residents are allowed to grow no more than six plants in their homes. Although possession, cultivation and use are legal immediately, it will take a bit for retail sales to begin in the state, as shops won’t be allowed to open until January 1, 2018.
This was an incredibly important vote, as California is the world’s sixth-largest economy. “As goes California, so goes the nation” is a popular saying pointing out the influence of the Golden State. With the passage of Prop 64 in California, there is now a solid block of marijuana-friendly states running from Canada all the way down to Mexico.
One of the states in that west coast block is Nevada, where voters said yes to Question 2. Like Proposition 64 in California, Question 2 also makes the possession, cultivation and sale of marijuana legal for people over 21. Legalization won’t go into effect until January 1, 2018.
Despite Nevada’s reputation for casinos and the bright lights and fast dealing of Las Vegas, voters in the state tend to be rather conservative, making this an interesting policy shift for the state.
Voters in Maine voiced their opinion on Question 1, barely passing the bill to legalize cannabis possession, cultivation and sales in the state. Medicinal cannabis use was already legal in the state and the bill legalized recreational use for people over 21.
The bill passed by just a few thousand votes. In fact, the contest was so close that the opposition to legalization has demanded a recount. Until then, advocates of legalization are celebrating… albeit cautiously, especially in a state where both the governor and the attorney general oppose legalization.
Marijuana advocates have tried for years to pass legalization in a state that tends towards extremely progressive views, but they’ve only just succeeded this year. As of December 15, adults over the age of 21 will be able to use, possess, cultivate and sell marijuana.
Cannabis has been decriminalized and legally available for medicinal use for some time, leading the state’s attorney general to voice her opposition to the bill amongst concerns about the consequences of legal commercial sale. However, voters disagreed with her 54% to 46%.
Three States Vote to Allow Medical Access
Meanwhile, medical cannabis was on the ballot in several states. Some of these states already allowed access for certain patients, while for others, the journey into medical marijuana is a new frontier.
Citizens there voted yes on Issue 6, an amendment to the state’s constitution that allows for patients who meet certain criteria to legally obtain and use medical marijuana. Patients must have one of 17 conditions including cancer, fibromyalgia, PTSD, HIV/AIDS, Tourette’s syndrome and Crohn’s disease.
Those who are looking forward to having the drug as a treatment option will be forced to wait a while, however. The law doesn’t allow people to grow their own plants and legal distribution of medical cannabis won’t begin until November 9, 2017.
In Florida, CBD cannabis products were already available for patients with cancer, chronic muscle spasms, chronic seizures and epilepsy, while full-strength THC products were available for those with terminal conditions. The passage of Amendment 2 will expand medical cannabis availability to those with conditions like glaucoma, HIV and AIDS, PTSD, ALS, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s, MS and many other chronic and debilitating diseases.
However, the expanded law won’t go into effect until it has passed through the Florida legislature. They’ll decide how the law will be implemented. The laws that are currently in place require a patient to undergo a 90-day waiting period and have their doctor recommend medical cannabis. The legislature can keep these laws in place, make additions to them or scrap them altogether. It has until July 2017 to lay out the rules. In October 2017, the state will start issuing ID cards to patients and allowing potential growers and suppliers to apply for licenses.
Even medical marijuana advocates were surprised at the successful passage of the North Dakota Compassionate Care Act. It not only passed, but won handily with 65% of voters saying yes. It will allow patients with PTSD, glaucoma, cancer and other conditions to legally purchase, use and grow cannabis. Patients are allowed to possess up to 3 ounces.
The fact that the North Dakota law allows individuals to cultivate plants for personal medical use is important, since getting commercial grow/distribution operations up and running takes time. The law will go into effect in December.
Medical marijuana has had a bumpy ride in Montana. In August, the state’s marijuana dispensaries shut down after a state Supreme Court upheld a 2011 law that restricted medical providers to three patients each and demanded investigations of doctors who recommended cannabis for more than 25 patients.
With the passage of Initiative 182, dispensaries can re-open with no patient limits and pro-cannabis doctors can operate freely. Doctors are allowed to recommend cannabis for patients with debilitating conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, HIV/AIDS, chronic pain, MS, Crohn’s disease and epilepsy, among many others. Patients can apply for an ID card that will allow them to legally possess, purchase and use cannabis, as well as grow plants for their own private medical use.
Will the Election of Donald Trump as President Extinguish the Marijuana Industry?
Marijuana advocates were running high when it looked as though Hillary Clinton was sure to end up in the White House. The surprise election of Donald Trump has harshed their buzz and left everyone wondering what will happen at the federal level.
The federal government has a lot of influence over what happens in terms of cannabis legalization. Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, but under President Obama, the Drug Enforcement Agency has not aggressively pursued enforcement in states that have legalized it for recreational or medical use. He has also directed the Justice Department to focus its resources on targeting large traffickers in illegal drugs while turning a blind eye to retail producers and distributors. All of that could change under a Trump administration.
While Donald Trump has expressed support for medical marijuana and has stated that he believes that marijuana legislation should be left to the states, some of those in his inner circle have expressed negative views regarding legalization.
Advocates are perhaps most concerned with those in Trump’s inner circle. Vice President Mike Pence has stated his skepticism about the usefulness about marijuana as a medicine. He has also voiced support for increasing penalties for possession during his tenure as Indiana governor.
Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie are staunchly against full legalization. Christie signed a medical marijuana bill that has been criticized as being one of the most restrictive in the country. It severely limits the number of qualifying medical conditions covered and only allows six dispensaries to operate in the state, as well as demanding strict licensing regulations. Giuliani believes that marijuana is a gateway drug that causes people to move on to harder substances.
Many in the cannabis industry are doubtful that the Trump administration will launch a full-out war on marijuana due to the huge amount of tax revenue that’s being generated in states that have legalized it. However, they do feel that the country is unlikely to see any forward progress at the federal level.
This means that marijuana distributors will continue being forced to operate on a cash-only basis due to federal banking laws. It also means that businesses in the industry can’t take corporate tax deductions. Some operators are currently being investigated by the IRS, spurring concerns that those in the industry could be targeted via those channels.
While advocates are hoping that they won’t face a total backlash from a conservative federal government, they are cautiously preparing to fight. Taylor West of the National Cannabis Industry Association says that it’s important to work to educate the members of Congress who have been elected in states that have recently legalized cannabis for any purpose. He would also remind the Trump administration that 60% of Americans have access to legal marijuana – whether medicinally or recreationally. No matter what the opinions of government leaders are, the tide is turning and the majority of people favor having a choice.More Cannabis News can be found at our Cannabis News Desk.
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