2016 is shaping up to be a breakout year for cannabis. At least five states, perhaps more, will likely join the ranks of the legal adult use states; a few others may be added to the roster of medical use states, including Missouri and Utah. Cannatech companies will continue to shoulder their way into the mainstream. And mainstream media will continue its crush-like obsession with the plant—as I write this paragraph, one popular cable channel has touted its latest feature on the industry twice in the same commercial break.
Here in Maine, we can predict three major developments:
First, Maine’s legalization bill will most likely make the ballot, and if so it will pass with between 55 and 60 percent of the vote. With 10 days left to collect, the buffer for duplicates and other rejected signatures should be comfortable enough to ensure the petition’s approval. According to campaign director David Boyer, organizers have collected more than 90,000 signatures, with signees from every one of Maine’s 450 districts.
The November “no” votes will come from a group of unlikely bedfellows—those who truly fear the potential social ills of a legalized landscape (including that it will somehow damage or destroy the medical use program), and those who are making a comfortable living in the current grey zone of quasi-acceptance without regulation or taxation.
The campaign will not be able to coast to victory, but a thoughtfully run campaign which addresses some of the real concerns of the undecided will lead Maine to become part of the second wave of legal adult use states.
Second, the opposition’s tactics will continue to evolve. Opponents of legal cannabis still have a job to do, despite the awkward fact that legal states like Colorado have thus far failed to collapse.
Aware that they have lost credibility with a public that is increasingly educated about the plant’s safety profile, opponents have been engaged in a retrenching action over the last several years.
Gone are the simplistic “just say no” slogans. Instead, the opposition has coalesced around so-called “Smart Approaches to Marijuana.” And, faced with the inevitable, their focus has shifted to maintaining the maximum possible limitations on any legalization program.
According to the Project SAM website, “A rational policy no longer relies only on the criminal justice system to address people whose only crime is smoking or possessing a small amount of marijuana.”
Emphasis added, because that one word gets to the heart of the divide. Most U.S. citizens no longer believe that growing, possessing, or using cannabis should be a crime at all.
Mainers have lived with a successful medical cannabis program since 1999, and therefore we are unlikely to see any truly outrageous policy enactments (looking at you here, Illinois). But the SAM group will continue to do their level best to restrain, restrict and repress Maine’s legal adult use market. Expect anti-cannabis advocates here to advocate for special restrictions on edibles, prohibitive tax rates, impractical impaired driving rules, and perhaps even a requirement that women of child-bearing age receive special counseling about medical or legal use before making a purchase.
Third, refinements to the medical program will continue, fueled by data that has not been available to program managers until this year. In January 2015, the Department of Health and Human Services implemented a new system for patient certifications. January 5 of this year marked the first full year of this new method, and so we will have data on patient numbers and geographical distribution, which can be used to evaluate the medical program’s reach.
Further, as the Department of Agriculture prepares to manage the adult-use program, they will likely consider what is and is not working in the medical cannabis program. Given the regulated medical program’s success, it makes sense that this would be used as a scaffolding for the expansion of legal access to all adults.
Wherever you fall on the cannabis continuum, health and happiness to you and yours in 2016!