In a few bleak weeks of February, it seemed that the ground might give way—right below the fragile legal RMJ structure in four western states. More than once, the possibility of the U.S. cannabis sector not surviving under a new wave of federal attacks crossed our minds. But even as new countries decided to increase medical access—and as millions poured into investing in every facet of the segment—the year is drawing to a close with little damage, and with greater positive prospects in Canada and California. Repeated wild punches from the AG, the DEA, the FDA and prohibitionist hype have yet to land a real blow.
Top 10 Cannabiz News Stories In 2017:
10. More Than Half: Gallup survey finds a striking 64% of all American favor cannabis legalization (over 51% of Republicans) and 92% support MMJ passage.
9. Bills, bills, bills: Vermont’s legislature passes its May 24th bill legalizing adult use, but Gov. Phil Scott vetoes measure. Efforts in Rhode Island and Delaware fail, and a much-improved Texas MMJ bill (late May) dies at the 11th hour. West Virginia adds MMJ by legislature. Many state advocates collect signatures for 2018 efforts, and cities (like Atlanta, Philadelphia and Houston) and states increase decriminalization protections. But throughout the year, Maine’s governor and Massachusetts’ regulators have slowed down RMJ implementation. Gains in late year elections from supporters in Virginia, New Jersey and even new Alabama Senator Doug Jones, who is for MMJ access and MJ decriminalization.
8. Across the Globe: 2017 was a milestone for global expansion of MMJ access and decriminalization, with Israel continuing leadership on major advanced research. More than 20 new countries added MMJ access including Mexico, South Africa, Greece, Croatia, Germany, Finland all joining last year’s moves into MMJ/RMJ from Spain, Netherlands, Portugal and most of South America.
7. CBD Confusion: Industrial hemp advocates push HR-3530 to take hemp off the CSA schedule, but no change is in sight from the feds. FDA continues its letters to certain CBD sellers telling them to avoid making health claims, and the DEA goes to court to defend its push to claim CBD is a schedule 1 drug. The United Nations asks the FDA to provide US input on the benefits of CBD as medicine, getting more than 5800 comments, most of them positive. Denver began publishing an “approved list” of CBD companies which submitted to a checklist of safety, labeling and sourcing review.
6. All About the Money: Colorado saw a group of negative legislative changes (ie., cutting home grow plants from 99 to 6 per adult) and new state taxes, even as the 2017 record tab for local and state governments will receive over $224 million, on record annual sales surpassing $1.49 billion. Washington state surpassed $1 billion in sales, while total legal sales soared 28% across the US, to $7.2 billion. Denver’s Licensing office continued their anti-cannabis oversight, offering untenable rules for setting up social consumption venues, despite the 53% voter passage for such access in November 2016. And at year end, industry growers held on, as the average wholesale price per pound collapsed to under $1200.
5. Canadian LP’s: The book value of publicly traded Canadian licensed producers (LPs) rose exponentially, as millions in investments flood into the industry. With Toronto/Vancouver exchanges at high rigor, investors are acquiring ground-floor positions in Canopy Growth, Aphria, and Aurora, to name the top three, as LP’s move beyond their half-million MMJ Canadian patients, to serving international markets through allowable trade for flower and cannabis oil, pre-planning for 2018 Canadian legalization, and the next round of LP licensing.
4. Federal Support: Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) emerged as “cannabis lawmaker of the year,” in August dropping a MJ legalization bill heavy on criminal justice provisions. 2017 brought a flood of Republican sponsors and new supporters, especially for research and for MMJ freedom. Late year attempts to reduce overtaxation resulting from 280E failed from Sen. Cory Gardner, but the renewal of the MMJ protections under Rohrabacher-Blumenauer seemed assured at year end. More than 20 House and Senate bills promoting cannabis reform were introduced, but not one has a chance of a hearing or debate.
3. California Rules: In 2018, the future of cannabis success flows through California, which spent much of 2017 getting new RMJ rules set, even as the state’s Bureau of MJ Regulation raced to issue rules. San Diego, West Hollywood, Santa Cruz, Berkeley and Los Angeles are ready to permit RMJ sales on New Year’s Day, while more than 70% of California cities have approved MJ bans, or just delayed setting any local rules. Even as the billion-dollar potential rises, problems for California’s MJ business include a low conversion of northern growers to a legal regime, the immense job of testing for pesticides/impurities where more than 90% of current MMJ has no testing, moving from local collectives to newly regulated stores, and the consumer interface of paying higher taxes and potential higher prices than grey/black market sources.
2. Enter AG Jeff Sessions: This throwback to Nancy Reagan thinks that cannabis is just as harmful as heroin. His constant attacks on science, the law, and MMJ patients have been relentless, bordering on “obsession,” said former AG Eric Holder. Perhaps his boss Trump is the only reason the Alabama ex-senator hasn’t marched federal agents into Nevada and California (see item 10 above). Claiming he will re-adjust the DOJ’s Cole Memo, Sessions has yet to signal respect for any state’s rights on the issue, and has conducted a constant plan to hobble legal RMJ. Sessions does not want Rohrabacher-Blumenauer MMJ protections extended, has blocked movement to additional sources of independent MJ flower for research, and is woefully ignorant of the potential for cannabis options as an opioid alternative. Even his own handpicked Cannabis Task Force, charged to report on the dangers of weed, made a July 27th finding that the DOJ should probably leave states alone.
1. Nevada’s Booming Business: In passing its first $100 million in sales by mid-October, the risk-taking of up to 80 pioneer cannabis dispensaries in Nevada set a new standard for positive management and a strong consumer perspective (ie., MMJ patients are always served first at centers) starting RMJ on July 1st. Heeding Republican Governor Brian Sandoval’s push for $100 million education funding from pot sales, state health and revenue officials pushed through late Spring rules which allowed the expansion by MMJ centers to add new RMJ business. At year-end, Washoe County (Reno/Sparks) hosted ten centers, Clark County (Vegas/Henderson) hosting 61, and one in Pahrump. Names to watch in the year ahead in the Vegas cannabis leader club include: Andrew Jolly (The Source), Tim Conder (Blackbird Logistics), Tick Sergerblom (State Senator), Benny Tso (Las Vegas Paiute Tribe), Alicia Ashcraft (Ashcraft & Barr), Leslie Bocskor & Joe Brezny (NV Lobby/Advocacy) and John Laub (LV Medical MJ Assn).
Special Recognition: St Rep Allen Peake who faced felony exposure to illegally bring (and donate) CBD for sick patients in Georgia. And go revisit YouTube for John Oliver’s HBO report in April crushes cannabis opponents at all levels.