This was the biggest year on record for marijuana: Four more states legalized recreational marijuana, and Colorado passed one billion dollars in sales. If 2016 was any indication, the marijuana market will just keep growing. Here are six things to watch for in 2017:
1. President Donald Trump
Marijuana advocates are keeping a close eye on the president-elect: Trump has made statements against legalization, but he's also voiced approval of the economic benefits that the industry provides. Then again, he's also nominated Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions, a vocal opponent of cannabis, to be attorney general.
"Good people don't smoke marijuana," Sessions said at a Senate hearing last April. "We need grownups in Washington to say marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized, it ought not to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger."
The U.S. Attorney General's Office is given wide discretion in terms of what to prosecute; under the supremacy clause, federal law preempts state law. Therefore, a federal court could require a state to stop certain behaviors if such behaviors, like the recreational sale of marijuana, is in conflict with federal law.
That's why members of the marijuana industry feel that Sessions presents a very real danger to the legalization effort. If he does try to dismantle the industry, it's possible that the Supreme Court would overrule him, defending states' rights against the former champion of those rights.
2. The Drug Enforcement Administration
While we like to think that the federal government can't touch us out here in Colorado, that's not the case. There was hope earlier in the year that the DEA might reschedule marijuana and remove it from Schedule I classification. Instead, the DEA chose to leave marijuana in the same category as heroin and ecstasy, and even took it a step further.
In November, the DEA made an announcement clarifying that CBD, the medical component of the marijuana plant, is also a Schedule I substance. Each company with products containing CBD, or hemp, has to register with a new code to the federal agency. And they must comply by mid-January.
3. Denver's Social-Use Initiative
This year, Denver became the first city in the country to legalize the social consumption of marijuana. Implementation will take some time, but the city will begin accepting applications this summer. This initiative will change how cannabis is consumed and could have implications far beyond city limits.
Colorado has proven to be a strong leader when it comes to legalization, and if social use goes well in Denver, it's likely to spread across the state and even the country over the next few years.
4. Implementation of Legalization
It's not just about election day. After voters approve legalizing medical marijuana or even recreational marijuana, the real work comes as states attempt to implement regulations for a federally illegal industry. Since Colorado was the first to sell legal marijuana, other states and even countries have reached out to our officials for advice on setting up systems in their own governments. This autumn, Denver hosted the second Marijuana Management Symposium, where city and state reps provided insights into Colorado's successes and struggles with legalization.
There's sure to be more inter-governmental collaboration in the future, since four more states legalized recreational marijuana in November. It could well be another year before those states start actually selling recreational pot, but we'll be watching as they introduce their own rules and regulations.
Speaking of implementation, California's legalization is already a mess. As we reported last month, the initiative that voters approved accidentally eliminated the medical marijuana sales tax that was already in effect. That means that the medical industry could go untaxed until January 1, 2018.
California is a huge state, with the sixth-largest economy in the world. It was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, and the recreational industry has been itching to work its way into the state. Everyone's excited for business to start booming, but the state government and California's many municipalities are going to have to work out some logistical issues before many businesses will feel comfortable opening up shop there.
6. Better Health Standards
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This year, Colorado turned the edibles market on its head and required not only a THC label on packaging, but on the edibles themselves. Companies had to redesign all their molds, discontinue certain products, and throw away or sell off their already-made items. Some edibles companies even partnered with dispensaries to sell obsolete items to veterans for a penny.
Other moves could bring better health standards to the industry overall. L'Eagle was the first dispensary in 2016 to receive a Certificate of Environmental Excellence from Denver, awarding its grow operation a designation as one of the most sustainable and environmentally friendly businesses in the city. We need more of this: Since grow operations use a lot of electricity, water and other resources, customers should demand that their weed be grown in facilities that use sustainable practices.
While they're at it, why don't they demand clean products, too? When you look at the microscopic level, it's easy to see what bud is clear of pests, dust mites and spider web. The Organic Cannabis Association is one of the groups certifying pesticide-free grow operations; to help aid the effort, start asking about organic marijuana when you go to a dispensary. Right now, most people are looking for the most bang for their buck, which usually means asking for the highest THC content.