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We are getting there, slowly but surely. As the cannabis industry in Colorado matures and begins to define itself more and more, other states are coming into the fold. Medical marijuana is taking the nation by storm and leading to a much more open view of cannabis in general, both for medicinal reasons and for pure enjoyment. Sometimes those of us in Denver forget that the entire nation isn’t like this, with a dispensary or two in every neighborhood, weekly cannabis-industry sponsored parties and open discussion and in many cases partaking of cannabis at social gatherings across the state. Well, it’s coming soon to your state, so get ready (assuming you aren’t already ready)! Here’s a quick breakdown of how things are looking for 2016.

States with Legalization Initiatives We Hope Will Be on the Ballot in 2016

In Nevada, home to Sin City, the legislature has declined to legalize cannabis. However, the vote now goes directly to the voters, the majority of whom approved of it in 2013. With all the fantastic changes that have occurred since then, there is little chance that it will be turned down by the voting populace, according to Alternet. Nevada’s ballot Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is backed by The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP). This campaign has three main tenets (as if we needed more reasons to legalize cannabis):

  1. It will make communities safer by replacing the black market drug exchange with licensed businesses and regulations.
  2. It will (and clearly has) bolstered the economy substantially – what was Colorado’s February, 2016 number, again? Oh, yeah — $92 million. Those are no small potatoes.
  3. It just makes sense. This is my favorite – why regulate alcohol and not marijuana, when alcohol is so much more addictive, dangerous, and overall damaging to both society and the human body? People, it just makes sense. Of course, if you don’t have any sense, then it doesn’t. Lucky for us, those who don’t think it makes sense are becoming the minority in this country.

MMJ is also presently supporting ballot initiatives in Arizona, California, Maine, Ohio, and Massachusetts. The purpose of these ballot initiatives is to tax, regulate, and make cannabis use and possession legal for those who are 21 years of age and older. In Arizona, the process of collecting the 150,000 signatures needed to put it legalization on the ballot has begun. In California, the Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act will be on the ballot in November, as well – which will “effectively end marijuana prohibition in the Golden State.” The campaign in Maine has already received 100,000 signatures (a lawsuit has been filed following the Maine Secretary of State’s unlawful disqualification of the measure), and Massachusetts only needs 64, 750 to get the initiative on the ballot. C’mon, Boston, we’re pulling for you!  If you can win the World Series, you can sure as hell legalize marijuana. We’re also hoping that New York, Vermont, Minnesota, Maryland, Delaware, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania, and Rhode Island will follow suit, since all of them allow legal medicinal marijuana use currently.

What is the Difference between Legalization and Decriminalization?

It’s important to know the difference between decriminalization and legalization – not knowing the difference could get you into trouble. Decriminalization means that the penalties for having marijuana on your person, in your car, or on your property have been in some way reduced. This doesn’t mean, however, that cannabis is legal in those states. Thus far, only Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for purchase from dispensaries and the like. The rest of us still have to rely on our dealers for smoke, hash, shatter, or oil. The bottom line is that you still have to closely investigate the laws in some states to make sure you can’t be prosecuted or won’t be prosecuted for your use of cannabis.

Pending legislation or 2016 ballot measures are also expected for Florida, Nebraska, Kentucky, Missouri, South Carolina, and Tennessee. States where legislation on medical marijuana measures failed in 2016 include Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Mississippi, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and (surprise!) Utah. Florida’s Amendment 2 to allow medical marijuana for those with debilitating illnesses and conditions collected 716, 270 signatures (more than the required 683,149). Take a peek here to see which measures have previously failed in each of these states. Illinois and New Hampshire may pass decriminalization of possession laws in 2016, as well.

Where is Marijuana Still Illegal?

Although we’re doing well, and nearly at the halfway point, there are some states who are still behind the curve, or just don’t want marijuana legal in their states, whether it’s a religious issue, and imagined crime issue, or a personal issue. Some of these include Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin. Some of these states allow medical cannabis or cannabinoids for specific medical conditions.

Moving Cannabis to a Schedule II Drug Federally

Congress is also working on a larger, more comprehensive bill that would support rescheduling of marijuana as a schedule II drug, enabling increased national research on cannabis and its medicinal effects on people and animals. This bill is known as the CARERS Act (S. 683 or H.R. 1538), and is sponsored by Kirsten Gillibrand, Dean Heller, and Rand Paul, following their recent letter to the DEA concerning cannabis. Here is the DEA’s response, which seems promising in that it doesn’t completely shut the whole idea down. This bill is unique since it would allow states to make marijuana legal without the influence or permission of federal government, as well. The bill has basically stalled and been killed through inaction, but we have hope that it will be revived if the DEA consents to rescheduling cannabis federally. Senator Chuck Grassley of the Senate Judiciary Committee stated that he opposed “moving marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II drug,” based on current science, but wants to help epileptic children by using components of the plant, according to Leafly. Grassley believes the key to helping epileptic children is, and I quote, “aggressive medical research.” Well, guess what, Mr. Grassley! Aggressive medical research into cannabis will never be accomplished or allowed legally until cannabis is reclassified. CARERS would also allow cannabis companies to use the banking system and conduct in-depth research.

Other Federal Level Cannabis Promotion Legislation and Measures

MPP has been working on the Respect State Marijuana Laws (H.R. 14) in the meantime, and hopes to gain progress for veterans concerning medical marijuana, as well. Bernie Sanders’ Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act of 2015, the Veterans Equal Access Act, the States Medical Marijuana Act Property Right Protection, the Small Business Tax Equity Act, the Marijuana Business Access to Banking Act, the Clean Slate for Marijuana Offenses Act, and the Stop Civil Asset Forfeiture Funding for Marijuana Suppression Act are also being pursued across the nation.

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