For many of us, 2016 was a year like no other in memory. Merriam-Webster announced last week that “surreal” was named its Word of the Year. Surreal, indeed.
For the cannabis industry, however, the operative word was “progress.” Not everything was rosy for marijuana, but there were a lot of encouraging headlines made in 2016. Here are some of the year’s cannabis highlights:
1. Election Day: The voice of the people is heard loud and clear
History was made on Nov. 8 when eight states out of nine (the lone exception being Arizona) voted for some form of progressive marijuana reform. Nearly 20 percent of Americans now live in states where adults can enjoy cannabis recreationally without fear of arrest. California, Massachusetts, Nevada and Maine joined Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. with full adult legalization. Medical marijuana laws are now on the books in 28 states, giving more than 60 percent of Americans access to medical or adult-use cannabis.
On the night of the historic vote, Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said: “This represents a monumental victory for the marijuana reform movement. With California’s leadership now, the end of marijuana prohibition nationally, and even internationally, is fast approaching.”
2. More research shows the promise of cannabis
It was also a breakthrough year for medical research. One of the largest studies conducted was in New Zealand. A team of researchers from around the world published a 20-year study in JAMA Psychiatry that examined the effect of cannabis on about a dozen common health measures. The study concluded that cannabis had “no negative impact on a dozen other health factors, including lung function, systemic inflammation, BMI, or metabolic health.” The only adverse effect was on periodontal health.
Another promising study conducted by the National Institutes of Health showed “a continued long-term decline in the use of many illicit substances, including marijuana, among the nation’s teens.”
There were other research conducted in 2016 that showed cannabis as a promising substance for a variety of ailments. The DEA’s refusal to reschedule cannabis was a disappointment, but more studies will be conducted at the state level as more states legalize and regulate the herb.
3. Obama commutes more victims of drug war
President Barack Obama cut the sentences 1,176 citizens sentenced under the harsh drug laws of the Just-Say-No 1980s. Obama commuted more sentences in a single year than any president in history and more sentences than the last 11 presidents combined. That’s right. More than every President since Harry Truman … combined.
4. Pro athletes come out of the cannabis closet
For years, a growing number of professional athletes have rejected opioids and opted for medical marijuana to treat pain and inflammation. NBA Coach Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors made this bold statement after admitting he used the herb to help with post-operative back pain: “Medicinal marijuana is much better for you than the opioids that are prescribed. You realize that the stuff that is invented by mankind is horrible for us. Medicinal marijuana is nothing compared to that, and yet the perception is the pills are fine, so we’ll give those to the athletes.”
The athlete chorus of support is getting louder. Current and former NFL players are coming out in support of loosening the league’s drug-testing program.
As the Drug Policy Alliance points out:
The NFL is also dealing with a concussion crisis — many players are retiring early and some people are choosing not to play football at all because of the consequences that can come later in life after having too many head injuries. The non-psychoactive part of marijuana known as CBD has the potential to treat and even prevent concussions. The NFL should set an example by investing in marijuana research to see how it can help improve the health of its players.
5. Luxury brands become part of the landscape
As the cannabis industry matures, the market has expanded to include more luxury brands than ever before. Sure, you can still go old-school and purchase lower priced bud and rolling papers. But a new, high-end clientele has entered the market and companies are discovering a whole new sector. From pricey vaporizers to fine edibles, marijuana is getting a bit of a sophisticated makeover as it becomes more mainstream.
Even retailers are getting in on the luxury game.
6. Polling keeps showing support
It doesn’t matter if the polling is done by Gallup or Harris or Pew or any of the other survey outfits; marijuana has never enjoyed the popularity and support it does today.
In October, the Pew Research Center survey showed widespread support for sensible cannabis laws in nearly every demographic. Nearly six out of every 1o Americans (57 percent) is in support of full legalization.
“It’s more clear than ever which way the country is moving on marijuana,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.
7. Other nations jump aboard the cannabis train
It’s not just the United States that is changing history. Nations around the globe are reviewing their arcane cannabis laws.
To the north of us, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau promised to legalize recreational cannabis use and sales. To our south, Mexico announced may relax its medical marijuana laws and will even consider legalization.
Israel continues to lead the way in cannabis research.
What will 2017 hold?
Clearly 2016 was, on balance, a breakthrough year for cannabis. As 2017 approaches, there may be some roadblocks along the way, but momentum is on the side of progressive legislation. Here are some prediction for the coming year.