Iowa Caucuses and initiative ballot deadline in Maine
The Iowa Caucuses are the unofficial start of the 2016 presidential race, and the importance of this presidential race to the future of marijuana reform simply can’t be understated. As long as marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I illegal substance under federal law, the president has huge discretion over the issue. While President Obama has taken a mostly hands-off approach in the last few years, the next occupant of the White House might adopt a completely different policy. According to the Marijuana Policy Project, candidates in both major parties run the gamut. A few candidates, like Bernie Sanders (D) and Rand Paul (R), are actively pushing for significant, positive changes to federal marijuana policy. Several have been fairly neutral or mostly quiet on the issue, like Hillary Clinton (D), Ted Cruz (R) and Donald Trump (R). But a few candidates like Chris Christie (R) and Marco Rubio (R) have made it clear they will use federal law enforcement to go after businesses and individuals in places where marijuana is legal under state law.
February 1st is also the last day to submit signatures for ballot measures in Maine. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Maine claims they are currently well on their way to making their goal.
Alaska begins accepting applications for adult use marijuana businesses
In 2014 voters in Alaska adopted marijuana legalization, and this year the state will finally start setting up a regulated market for all adults to legally buy it. On February 24th the state will start accepting applications from potential businesses, and within 90 days (May 24th) the state will issue its first licenses. This means stores should be ready to start selling marijuana to adults 21 and over by the fall. This will make Alaska the fourth state where adults can legally buy marijuana, but what makes Alaska unique is it is the first state where individuals will be allowed to consume marijuana on site at the retail locations they purchased it from. Alaska could become the model for how marijuana cafes are regulated and run.
Vermont legislature is roughly set to adjourn
Vermont is by far the state most likely to legalize marijuana via the state legislature this year. Recently in his final State of the State address, Governor Peter Shumlin (D) called on the state legislature to pass a bill legalizing marijuana, and marijuana legalization has conditional support from House Speaker Shap Smith (D). But with so many other issues for the legislature to deal with and details to be worked out, it is possible any legalization effort may become a victim of limited time.
Deadline for Adult Use of Marijuana Act in California
Over a dozen marijuana initiatives have been filed in California, but the Adult Use of Marijuana Act stands the best chance of making the ballot and winning. It has the support of MPP, DPA, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and the financial backing of billionaire Sean Parker. Even with all the support, though, gathering enough signatures in a relatively short window of time is never easy in a state as large as California. Since California is by far the most populous state in the country, the legalization of marijuana there in 2016 would have a significant national impact.
Deadline for ballot initiatives in Arizona
The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol in Arizona has until July 7th to gather 150,642 valid signatures to make it onto the ballot this November. The campaign has been active for a while and claims to be making good progress.
General Election Day
This could easily turn out to be the single most important day for marijuana reform ever in our nation’s history. For starters, is it the day voters across the country select the next president, who as the head of the executive branch will hold the fate of the marijuana industry in their hands. It is also the day millions of citizens in several states will get a chance to directly vote on marijuana policy at both the state and local levels. Roughly half a dozen states will likely have full legalization initiatives on the ballot, and on the local level in Oregon, voters in numerous towns and counties will get to decide whether or not to ban local marijuana businesses.
Big victories for most of the state legalization initiatives combined with the election of a relatively supportive new president could easily create the political momentum for national reform in the very near future. On the other hand, big losses combined with the election of a president opposed to marijuana legalization could set things back by a decade.