As we usher in the new year, it’s high time we take a minute to reflect upon the progress and setbacks of the legalization movement in 2016. From President-elect Donald Trump’s rise to power to the DEA’s threats against cannabis, cannabis rights are still under fire – but with the majority of states voting for pro-cannabis measures, and many mainstream headlines going to cannabis, it’s proof that the plant is making a historic comeback.
‘Reefer madness’ spread throughout the nation in 2016, cannabis even became an olive branch amid racial tensions for many in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
One of the most unifying legalization efforts this year was put on by grassroots coalitions on the East Coast with the Unity Cypher. Spanning from Maine to Miami, the torch-like joint was puff, puff passed to show that the East Coast is primed for legalizing the plant.
Election year in America brought hope to cannabis advocates and medical marijuana patients as 420-friendly Bernie Sanders tried his hand at winning the Democratic nomination for the White House.
READ MORE: Debate Night in America Yields Three ‘Marijuana’ Mentions
But in the end, the Hillary Clinton coalition proved too powerful for ‘Berners’ to overcome.
It was a long, drawn out battle to the White House and the ultimate winner was President-elect Donald Trump.
Trump enjoys flip-flopping on issues from nuclear proliferation to abortion, so there’s really no telling where he will stand on medical marijuana and legalization. Many cannabis supporters hold on to the hope that Trump will be the Republican to finally support cannabis because of his love of money and business.
READ MORE: America Wants Legalization, Trump and Pence Don’t
The uncertain political climate didn’t stop a slew of states from passing cannabis initiatives on Election Day. Massachusetts, Nevada, and California voted for adult-use. Florida, Arkansas, and Montana approved medical marijuana measures in November 2016.
READ MORE: Top Ten Pro-Pot Politicians
Also making news this year was Representative Dana Rohrabacher, as he became the first sitting lawmaker to admit to the illegal use of a cannabis product for pain. It almost didn’t happen, he was a last-minute addition to the schedule at the NORML lobby days in May.
Rep. Rohrabacher said he found a THC-infused wax candle, something to help him manage the pain from the arthritis in his shoulder. His injury stems from his time surfing, he explained. “I tried it about two weeks ago, and it’s the first time… in a year-and-a-half that I’ve had a decent night’s sleep, because the arthritis pain was gone,” he admitted.
The DEA doesn’t have the authority to make a law and schedule controlled substances without an act of Congress, yet they keep trying. Their latest attempt involves a tweak to a policy that affects the legality of CBD products in America.
There’s heated response to the DEA’s aggressive attempt to bring CBD, a non-psychoactive compound, into the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule 1 drug.
“We will see the Federal Government in Court” said Hoban Law Group, one of America’s most experienced firms in the cannabis and hemp industries.
READ MORE: The FBI and DEA Basically Just Produced Reefer Madness 2
This summer, the National Conference of State Legislators voted to reschedule marijuana, but the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) didn’t.
They didn’t reschedule cannabis but they did release a new policy that will supply quality cannabis to the world of American researchers. The new policy statement from the DEA (in consultation with NIDA and the FDA) outlines a new approach to the availability of medical grade marijuana for science.
Taking hits on and off the field
Former all-pro NFL defensive lineman, Leonard Marshall, and his seven-man bench of former professional athletes and scientists took to the stage at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo in New York City this summer to discuss the risk of traumatic brain injuries and Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, more commonly known as CTE.
CTE hit headlines hard earlier this year with the release of the movie, Concussion, starring Will Smith. It’s a degenerative brain disease that can be caused by repeated hits to the head, a common occurrence on the football field.
Since the discovery of the neurodegenerative disease, many athletes and scientists have come together to educate industry leaders and the media as to what research is going on surrounding cannabinoids and the brain.
Former NFL player Eugene Monroe is also asking the League to allow for all his fellow players to use cannabis for their pain. Monroe has already donated $80,000 to Realm of Caring, an advocacy group in Colorado aiming to help traumatic brain injuries and CTE with medical marijuana.
The interest in the medicinal effects of cannabinoids is growing as more states go medical. That’s why medical and industry professionals from around the world converged in Downtown Denver at the Marijuana for Medical Professionals conference last month. The “Father of Cannabis” spoke at the event.
Dr. Raphael Mechoulam is known for laying the scientific foundation upon which all modern cannabis knowledge is built. His keynote was educational, as well as a call to action: It’s time to perform clinical trials.
A current leader in cannabinoid clinical trials, GW Pharmaceuticals scored big this year with their drug Epidiolex. It is used to treat children with Dravet syndrome, a rare and debilitating type of epilepsy for which there is no treatments approved in the U.S.
Killer pill, America’s war on opiates
Efforts to bring attention to the opiate epidemic peaked in 2016 with anti-opiate PSAs, presidential proclamations, and restrictive opiate legislation.
President Obama declared an Opiate Awareness week, legislation to curb opiate prescriptions passed, and celebrity Allison Janney, known for her role as White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg on the television series “The West Wing”, even crashed the real White House briefing earlier this year for the cause.
Ringing in the new year will be bittersweet for families affected by the powerful and deadly opioid epidemic in America. The federal government announced they are reducing the amount of opioids to be manufactured in the new year – however, an exemption allows companies in the manufacturing business to appeal the cap on their money-making pills.
Cannabis could be America’s answer to the dire situation with the nation’s opiate addiction.
Medical states have less opiate deaths. A revealing study published in JAMA shows that from 1999-2010, MMJ states saw a 24.8% lower mean annual opioid overdose mortality rate compared with states that do not have medical cannabis laws.
The cannabis industry experienced some growing pains this year. Some companies were large enough to expand through licensing and franchising, others like The Marijuana Show shared in their successes by investing in green startups.
One startup, High West Cannabis, is hitting the ground running in January with that entrepreneurial enthusiasm. Bryan Surface and Steve Sutton are heading up the new business, making room in the crowded recreational cannabis industry and showing it’s never too late for a great business idea.
Meanwhile, there are hurdles that remain for any business operating in the cannabis space – like ever-shifting regulations and the unfair banking and taxing regulations that punish small cannabusinesses simply for handling the plant.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) fought for cannabis business at the federal level this spring at their sixth annual lobby days in Washington, D.C.
Canada has paved the way in national legalization. Expectations of their new recommendations for a national roll-out make Prime Minister Justin Trudeau a true trailblazer, and a leader in responsible cannabis reform.
Meanwhile, countries like Ireland, South Africa, and New Zealand are making small strides in the cannabis movement as well.
New Zealand, for one, is at their cannabis tipping point. A new CBD gel is being tested on patients in New Zealand with a specific form of epilepsy, and advocates are battling the court system for access to legally obtained medical marijuana from overseas.
Want to get involved but unsure of where to start? You can read a wrap-up of how to succeed in the cannabis industry and take advantage of the knowledge of hundreds of people who have been there. HINT: If you’re not ready to dive in full-time, advocacy is always a great place to begin your canna-journey.