[Updated October 12, 2016]
What began as a pool of roughly 11 states that would potentially allow their citizens to decide if they wanted adult use cannabis legalization on their home turf has dwindled to only five.
The cannabis legalization movement in 2016 is providing both patients and recreational consumers with more pot freedom than they have enjoyed since…well, since cannabis was first outlawed on the federal level in August of 1937.
In other words, than since ever.
The trick? It all depends on where one lives.
In an attempt to leverage the momentum and political capital generated by current cannabis legalization in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska, and the District of Columbia, many states have bills or ballot issues pending that, if passed, will allow their adult citizens (21 or older) to legally possess and consume cannabis without medical necessity—sometimes via dispensary networks.
Five U.S. states will consider adult use (“recreational”) cannabis legalization this fall, including California (Prop 64), Arizona (Prop 205), Maine (Question 1), Massachusetts (Question 4), and Nevada (Question 2).
Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota will offer their voters medical laws. Ohio and Pennsylvania, via their state legislatures (not a popular vote), introduced medical cannabis laws in the first half of 2016.
In California, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) is expected to win the majority of votes (current polling suggests that 60% of California’s voters are in favor of the controversial proposition). The Golden State is already a billion dollar market for medical cannabis—let alone the grey and black markets that exist in the nation’s most populated state.
Most significantly: The addition of Cali to the list of adult use states will add nearly 40 million Americans to those who can legally indulge in the kind herb.
In one fell swoop, more than 12 percent of the nation would suddenly have the legal right to possess, consume, and probably cultivate cannabis.
When one considers that Colorado has only 5.5 million residents, Oregon sports a mere four million, Washington is home to 7.2 citizens, and Alaska has only 740,000 legal inhabitants, California’s population stats begin to take on significance.
If the state legalizes recreational cannabis in November—something that is likely to occur—it will, overnight, create the world’s largest legal recreational market for cannabis.
Lured to Legitimacy
Many cannabis breeders, cultivators, and resellers operating on the black and grey markets will be lured into legitimacy. There’s significant value and health benefits in not having to look over one’s shoulder for the five-oh or wonder if black helicopters will land on your farm.
No risk of legal penalties, at least from authorities in California (the feds are a different story) will be very appealing to tens of thousands of people currently making a living from the recreational cannabis market in California.
This isn’t meant to diminish the positive influence of pioneering states like Colorado and Washington. For very sick patients and those who embrace cannabis as a lifestyle, these states are currently among the best places in the nation to reside or do business. They not only embrace the cannabis culture, they help define it.
California and Washington, D.C. are typically at odds, both culturally and economically. California is home to Hollywood, Silicon Valley, SpaceX, Apple, Tesla Motors, Pixar, Oracle…you get the idea. The state holds sway, even among those groups and interests that are opposed to its culture of progressive liberalism.
How are we, as individuals, positioning ourselves for the inevitability of forthcoming legalization?
Yes, existing legal states are doing amazing things, nurturing a culture of healthy open-market, yet regulated, competition among cannabis businesses. For patients and consumers, this means lower prices, higher quality, and immensely better selection. With some startups basing their entire business model on something as specific as infused coffee or medical baked goods, legal states are certainly doing something right.
Even Alaska and Colorado are considering legalizing cannabis smoking lounges and social gathering places. Drinkers have bars, after all.
There are also plenty of problems inherent in the few existing state models, however.
Tax rates are excessive (Washington State charges 37% in sales tax) and restrictions and red tape are often unfair and not endured by those in similar industries, such as pharmaceuticals and alcohol.
When, Not If
California legalizing recreational cannabis is a matter of when, not if—and it will most likely occur on November 8. Unfortunately, many other “influence states” with large populations aren’t as excited about legalization as California. Texas, the second most populated state in the nation at 27 million*, likely won’t legalize cannabis for many years.
New York has 20 million* inhabitants and is basically tied with Florida for third most populous state in the country. The Empire State has already proven its Luddite nature by implementing one of the most short-sighted and restrictive state medical programs in the nation (it allows no smoking whatsoever).
Some critics have deemed it designed to fail, while others have simply called it lacking compassion and even mean spirited in the number of seriously ill patients that it excludes from eligibility.
Meanwhile, Florida’s conservative politics and widespread corruption promise to make it one of the last states to implement a real medical program or to even consider recreational legalization. In fact, states like Florida, Texas, and New York will probably jump on the adult use cannabis bandwagon if and when it is legalized at the federal level—not through their own efforts.
What will happen in your state in 2016—and how will you be a part of it?
In the few states where cannabis is already legal for lifestyle enhancement, opportunities for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs are ample and economies are booming.
First: Get It Legal
For those who wish to own or manage a dispensary or cultivation facility or start a web 3.0 business focused on cannabis and its millions of fans, the first move will be working with national, D.C.-based nonprofit groups like Marijuana Policy Project and NORML, while also partnering with new cannabis businesses to gain funding and marketing outreach.
After all, the culture war won’t be won with empty pockets. The prohibitionists have plenty of money and influence. Simply being “right” means little in our modern, corporate-driven society.
Elected representatives and business leaders alike shun science in an effort to play politics and maintain shareholder confidence—instead of educating those stakeholders in the objective realities of the situation.
While the cannabis legalization movement has never been healthier, this is the time that conservative forces will bring out their big guns in terms of money, influence, and even celebrity pot bashing.
There is no true victory in this culture war until all patients in America enjoy safe access to properly cultivated, high-quality strains of cannabis medicine, including concentrates, edibles, and topicals.
Until this happens, no one who respects science or has an ounce of true compassion for other humans should sit back and declare a win—including those in legal states.
*Population stats sourced from the U.S. Census Bureau.
All text and photos Copyright © 2003-2016 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.
Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer, instructional designer, and photographer who has contributed feature articles to magazines such as High Times, MERRY JANE, Herb.co, SKUNK, Heads, Weed World, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, Green Flower Media, and Treating Yourself. He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana and developed a series of 175 long-form educational articles for Whaxy.com.