As we begin this New Year, we’re taking some time to reflect on all that’s transpired in the cannabis arena over the past 12 months. It’s clear that 2018 was one of the most pivotal and exciting years for the burgeoning marijuana industry. In addition to seeing successful state legalization efforts across the country, we saw signs of support from both political parties (including the President), and witnessed the first legalization of recreational marijuana in an industrialized country with the passage of the Cannabis Act in Canada.
Despite a shaky start to the year, triggered by then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ revocation the Cole Memorandum, five states approved legalization initiatives (including Vermont’s vote to approve marijuana in the same week Sessions revoked the Memo). With Vermont and Michigan approving recreational marijuana in 2018, and Oklahoma, Utah and Missouri approving use of medical marijuana, there are now 32 states with some form of legalized marijuana, including 10 which have legalized adult-use marijuana.
This year also saw bi-partisan support for cannabis legalization and its potential social and economic impact. There were a handful gubernatorial races in which candidates made cannabis legalization a key campaign issue. Democrats J.B. Pritzker (IL), Tim Walz (MN), Gretchen Whitmer (MI), Michelle Lujan Grisham (NM), and Ned Lamont (CT) each won their respective elections while promoting the potential benefits of legalizing marijuana. On the other side, we saw Republican support, including Senator Cory Gardner (CO), who went so far as to block the President’s nominees for the Justice Department in response to Sessions’ revocation of the Cole Memo. This led to President Trump confirming that he would support a bill that protects state marijuana initiatives from federal interference.
Last, but certainly not least, 2018 saw the end of cannabis prohibition on an international scale in Canada. Becoming just the second country in the world to legalize cannabis (after Uruguay), Canada has already seen the potential economic impact, including the formation and growth of multiple publicly traded cannabis companies.
As we look forward to 2019, it seems inevitable that we’ll continue see more and more successful state legalization efforts. Many speculate that New Jersey, New York and/or Illinois may all legalize cannabis in 2019. In New Jersey, lawmakers recently progressed a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana, with the only apparent roadblock being how to tax recreational sales. In New York, Governor Cuomo recently instructed the legislature to put together a bill to legalize recreational marijuana – this comes after the commissioner of New York’s Department of Health publicly announced that the benefits of recreational marijuana outweigh the risks according to their review. In Illinois, legalization efforts have received support from Governor-elect J.B. Pritzker, and the mayor of Chicago recently proposed legalization as a potential solution to pay for underfunded pensions and other liabilities.
We’re looking forward to seeing what 2019 will bring.