Marijuana: Six Industry Issues to Watch in 2017

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.

Keep reading for more of what to expect in 2017.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Kate McKee Simmons interned at the National Catholic Reporter, was a reporter for the New York Post, and spent a brief stint in Israel learning international reporting before writing for Westword.