As we begin a new year, I’ve been reflecting on how much has changed in cannabis policy over the past year. In terms of marijuana reform, 2018 was a huge year in many ways: multiple states legalized marijuana, pro-cannabis candidates won big, and Congress legalized hemp. But I think the biggest change was in how politicians — especially those with national aspirations — changed the way they talked about cannabis.
Marijuana legalization has been a mainstream issue for years, but it was generally driven by voters rather than politicians. But in 2018 politicians seemed to finally realize that cannabis reform is more popular than they are, and that they need to support it if they want to keep winning elections.
It’s easy to forget that 2018 began with Vermont legalizing marijuana possession and home cultivation for adults. This was the first time a state had ever legalized marijuana through the legislature, rather than a ballot initiative, and it was even signed by a Republican governor. While the new law does not allow for commercial sales, this moved the issue forward and created space for other state legislatures to go further.
Now, a much more comprehensive legalization bill is moving through the New Jersey Legislature with the support of the governor. Illinois and Connecticut both elected new governors in 2018 who spoke strongly in favor of legalization on the campaign trail. This year, there is a very good chance we will have legalization bills signed by Governor Murphy, Governor Pritzker, and Governor Lamont. Even New York, where Governor Cuomo recently changed his tune and supported legalization, is seriously debating adopting legalization in 2019. This seemed out of the question just a few years ago.
In many states, the debate is no longer about whether to legalize marijuana, but how. In New Jersey, a clear consensus for legalization exists among legislators, but the process has stalled over the details. The most recent delay has been over the tax rate for legal marijuana sales and which agency will ultimately control the program. New Jersey, Illinois and other states are spending time discussing how to include communities, particularly people of color, in the new cannabis economy through social equity and economic empowerment programs like those already enacted in Massachusetts and California.
It’s not only governors and state legislators who are finally catching up to the public on cannabis reform — we’ve had a lot of progress in Congress, too. I recently profiled the 5 best & 5 worst members of the House of Representatives. The very best member, Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO), is leaving the House but is now the governor of Colorado. Cannabis reform champions Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Barbara Lee (D-CA), and David Joyce (R-OH) all won their races easily. Only one of the best House members, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), lost his race, and that was for reasons that go beyond cannabis reform. Marijuana policy was not a major issue in that election, so it’s unclear where his Democratic replacement, Harley Rouda, stands on the issue.
Of the five worst House members, the very worst, Rep. Bob Goodlatte, retired and will not be returning to Congress. The second-worst member, Pete Sessions (R-TX), lost his re-election campaign to Colin Allred, who spoke in favor of medical marijuana for veterans during the campaign and is expected to push hard for reform instead of standing in its way. The three remaining members — Henry Cuellar (D-TX), Andy Harris (R-MD), and Joe Kennedy III (D-MA) — easily won re-election and will be returning to Congress.
Yet even with the re-election of many prohibitionists, cannabis reformers are still making gains. In a stunning reversal weeks after the election, Rep. Kennedy announced his support for legalization. He clearly saw that he was out of step with his constituents, and may have also realized that this position was holding him back from higher office. With nearly every front-runner in the Democratic presidential primary angling to be the best on cannabis, it’s clear that the issue has become a litmus test for anyone who wants a future in the party. As I profiled in a column earlier this year, this universal support for legalization among Democratic party front runners may push the current occupant of the White House to become the first sitting president to endorse legalization in some form.
Let’s not forget that 2018 was also the year that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) changed her stance on cannabis. Sen. Feinstein has been strongly opposed to marijuana reform for decades, even making my list of worst Senators for her early opposition to medical marijuana and recent opposition to legalizing for adults. But when faced with a strong primary challenger this year, she finally updated her position to be in line with her constituents, endorsing legalization and signing on to the STATES Act.
Cannabis reform has long been a unique issue, with most politicians trailing decades behind the public in their level of support. But that leads to unique opportunities, as it’s one of the few areas where politicians are still changing their views rather than digging in deeper.
Last year was the year the tide turned, with politicians on both sides of the aisle finally listening to their constituents on marijuana policy. Between winning elections and converting opponents, cannabis reformers have more allies in office than ever before. With continued pressure from activists, 2019 will be the year those allies turn their campaign promises into law.
Kris Krane : co-founder of 4Front, a leading investment and management firm in the cannabis industry. Follow 4Front on Twitter or subscribe to its newsletter.
BANGKOK — In a region known for its harsh penalties for illegal drugs, Thailand is set to become the first nation in Southeast Asia to allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes.
Thailand’s military government, which has called elections for the end of February, has backed medical usage, which must be approved by the nation’s monarch, King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
By a vote of 166 to 0, the military-appointed National Legislative Assembly approved legislation this week that would allow the use of cannabis under medical supervision. Thirteen members abstained.
The measure is expected to take effect next year.
“This is a New Year’s gift from the National Legislative Assembly to the government and the Thai people,” the lawmaker who headed the drafting committee, Somchai Sawangkarn, said during a televised session on Tuesday.
Thailand’s penalty for recreational use — up to five years in prison for possession of 10 kilograms or less — would remain in place.
Marijuana can be useful in treating a wide range of conditions, including glaucoma, epilepsy, chronic pain and the side effects of chemotherapy.
In the United States, California became the first state to legalize medical use in 1996. Now, it is one of 33 states that allow medical cannabis.
Last month, Britain began allowing doctors to prescribe medical marijuana for patients with “exceptional need” after two children with epilepsy were denied the use of cannabis, which they relied on in their treatment.
Some jurisdictions are stricter than others in defining which medical conditions can be treated with cannabis. In Canada, as well as several American states including California, the legalization for medical use paved the way for lifting restrictions on recreational use.
But in Southeast Asia, there has been little tolerance for medical marijuana until now. In Singapore, Malaysia and Indonesia, marijuana traffickers who are caught face capital punishment.
In Malaysia, a man who sold cannabis oil to patients was sentenced in August to death by hanging. The Malaysian prime minister, Mahathir Mohamad, said in September that the sentence should be reviewed.
In Indonesia, a British man told the BBC this month that he faced up to 15 years in prison after he was arrested with cannabis oil that he used to treat chronic pain from arthritis.
Details of how medical marijuana will be administered in Thailand remained unclear.
Only people authorized by the government will be allowed to plant or possess marijuana. Medical users will be required to have a prescription or medical marijuana identification card.
Thailand is headed by the king, but the government is run on a day-to-day basis by the military regime, which seized power in 2014 after months of strife between rival factions.
Parliamentary elections, based on a Constitution drafted by the military, are scheduled for early next year. Allowing the use of medical marijuana could win support from some Thais for military-backed parties.
Ryn Jirenuwat contributed reporting.
A version of this article appears in print on Dec. 26, 2018, on Page A5 of the New York edition with the headline: Thailand to Permit Use Of Medical Marijuana. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe
By Richard C. Paddock
Dec. 26, 2018
It took more than two years and several delays for Massachusetts to get from a successful 2016 referendum to the first legal recreational marijuana sales in the eastern United States.
As 2019 approaches, the focus for the state’s cannabis regulators is expected to gradually shift from getting the industry off the ground to expanding it geographically and perhaps into new frontiers, such as social consumption and scientific research into the public health impacts and medicinal benefits of marijuana.
The November launch of the state’s first fully-licensed pot shops , in Northampton and Leicester, brought cheers from customers and long lines outside the stores, even if the openings came well after the original July 1 target date for marijuana sales to debut.
Three more retail stores, in Salem, Wareham and Easthampton, were also granted permission to open their doors in the final weeks of 2018.
Sales of recreational marijuana and related products totaled nearly $9.3 million through the week ending Dec. 16, according to the most recent figures provided by the commission.
MORE PLACES TO SHOP
The slow rollout of retail stores will continue into 2019 and likely pick up steam.
Regulators have issued final retail licenses to stores in Fall River, Hudson, Great Barrington and Pittsfield. Those outlets have crossed most regulatory hurdles and need only to receive a “commence operations” notice from the commission to begin selling recreational pot to customers 21 and over.
The commission has also awarded nearly two dozen provisional retail licenses, with those applicants still awaiting receipt of final licenses and permission to begin selling.
As the volume of stores increases, so will pressure on regulators and merchants to maintain inventory and avoid product shortages that plagued the initial rollout of recreational marijuana in some other legal U.S. states and Canada.
Applications from other would-be pot shops are still being reviewed by the commission, which is also expected to continue granting an array of other licenses to applicants for marijuana cultivators, product manufacturers, testing labs and other businesses.
WHAT ABOUT BOSTON?
Conspicuously absent from the list of retail applicants who have been granted final or provisional licenses are any from Boston.
In fact, the nearest pot shop to the city and its immediate suburbs is in Salem, about a 25-mile (40-kilometer) drive from Boston. All of the other stores that have opened so far are an hour or more from the city.
As a result, more than half of the state’s total population remains without convenient access to legal recreational marijuana, with users in the region more likely to continue purchasing from the underground market.
Mayor Marty Walsh said in a recent interview on WGBH-FM that the city has signed four host community agreements with would-be cannabis companies and that he expects the city’s first retail store to open next year, likely near North Station. The store is owned by Ascend, a company operated by Andrea Cabral, who formerly served as Suffolk County sheriff and as the state’s secretary of public safety.
Not only has Massachusetts legalized recreational marijuana, it wants to go further than other states by studying the drug as well.
The Legislature approved language that calls on state regulators to develop a “research agenda” that will lead to understanding of “social and economic trends of marijuana” along with impacts on health and public safety.
Data collection, expected to begin in earnest in the coming months, will be used to study the impact of legalization on “at-risk” individuals, including teenagers; young adults aged 18-25; pregnant and breastfeeding women; and residents of inner-city communities that were disproportionately impacted by marijuana prohibition and the so-called “war on drugs.”
The research agenda also includes the “medicinal benefits” of marijuana, at a time when there is growing pressure on Congress to permit clinical testing of cannabis for possible pharmaceutical use.
The commission has so far received four applications from companies seeking to be authorized as marijuana research facilities.
Under an early draft of marijuana regulations, it was envisioned that Massachusetts could be the first U.S. state to legalize Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes where adult customers could order marijuana products and consume them on the premises.
The proposed social consumption rules were shelved, however, after objections were raised by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, among others.
The commission is expected to revisit the topic in 2019, but it seems unlikely that cannabis cafes will be opening anytime soon — if at all. Obstacles include state laws that prohibit marijuana use in smoking bars and no existing legal process for cities and towns to approve would-be cannabis cafes.
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