By Sean Donahoe
Last year started with breathy excitement from Colorado, with national network clips of eager customers lining up in the snow to buy legal weed. The beginning of adult-use sales in Colorado and Washington this year was followed by articles on reduced crime, increased revenues, booming economies, innovative new cannabis products and services, and thousands upon thousands of happy cannabis consumers. At the federal level we saw gradual progress on banking reform for the legal cannabis industry with guidance by the US Treasury Department’s FINCEN and a dramatic one vote passage of the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment which called for the DEA respecting state cannabis laws.
Back here in California, cannabis policy reform organizations and a varied set of Sacramento stakeholders worked with ex-Assembly member Tom Ammiano on AB-1894 which would have brought a reasonable set of regulations to our cannabis industry. The continuing opposition from the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities, the timidity of many Assembly members to pass anything cannabis-related in an election year, and the parallel competition from Senator Lou Correa’s law enforcement-backed SB-1262 prevented Ammiano from closing out this item on his legislative bucket list. As the summer and the legislative session wore on, disappointed stakeholders worked with SB-1262’s author but the bill sponsors were only willing to negotiate only so far. Good compromises on provisional state licenses, few restrictions on medical recommendations, few restrictions on multiple license ownerships, and a very workable skeleton regulatory framework were agreed upon by all parties, but local jurisdictions still retained the power to prevent safe access to medicine and there were few features that would have brought cannabis cultivators into the light.
In 2014, we also saw adult use legal cannabis passed by voters in Alaska, Oregon, and DC. Measure 91 in Oregon was a huge 56 percent win with few restrictions on industry, reasonable tax levels, and limits on localities ability to opt-out of adult use sales. That last feature is important to look at in the context of the poor performance of local ballot measures here in California. The few voters that came out to vote supported higher taxes on medical cannabis but largely rejected its cultivation or sales. There was one exception with the passage in Santa Ana with a relatively restrictive dispensary city-backed ordinance. This should hopefully start a trend of allowing licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in Orange County and our vast California suburbs. But both here in California (as well as in Colorado, incidentally) the few campaign committees which hired professional political campaign consultants were the ones that were able to beat out the remnants of reefer madness and law enforcement opposition, as well as convince supportive voters to turn out. Looking towards the year ahead, the cannabis industry and movement should continue to organize itself statewide throughout 2015, working optimistically towards passing reasonable medical regulations and getting everything dialed-in for our big push ahead to legalize here in California in November 2016. We should ask ourselves—are we ready? Will it pass? To the last question, I really don’t know. But the best way to predict the future is to create it.