A lot happened to marijuana in 2013. The first two American states to make the drug legal carried out their plans to see it through. Three more states adopted medical cannabis. An entire nation legalized.
But as for the future of marijuana reform, what lies ahead may be even bigger than what came before. Expect 2014 to be a major year for legal weed in the United States and around the world – and expect California to play a leading role.
That’s because the Golden State is poised to become the next to legalize. And what happens in the nation’s most populous state could have major ramifications for marijuana policy in the rest of the country.
An attempt to legalize pot here in 2010 failed, but public support has since reversed, with most Californians now telling pollsters they back legalization for recreational use. Indeed, according to one poll, most say they’d vote in favor of the idea if it’s on the ballot this year.
Four organizations are working separately to make that happen. If one of their ballot proposals makes it before voters in November (still very much an open question), odds are good it will pass, making California the third state to legalize cannabis. If not, the question will have to wait until 2016 – at which point it will almost certainly pass.
There are several other states considering the idea, from Nevada and Oregon to Maine and Rhode Island. A ballot proposal in Alaska is considered another good bet for 2014, though pot is halfway legal there already. Rhode Island’s legislature could act on a legalization bill that has strong support among lawmakers and residents.
But California is the whale. If voters there legalize, nearly 16 percent of the American population would live in states where adults are allowed to use weed for recreational purposes, with more to come.
Of course, the state is already behind the times. Voters in Colorado and Washington State passed ballot initiatives legalizing pot in 2012. The first retail stores selling the drug opened in Colorado New Year’s Day, while stores will open in Washington in the spring.
Both states spent 2013 drafting regulations and processing licenses for their legal-marijuana programs. Now that pot is officially for sale, all eyes will be on these two states, and on the federal government’s treatment of them.
Cannabis is legal at the state level in Washington and Colorado but is illegal at the federal level. The Obama administration has unofficially promised not to interfere with these states or others that legalize as long as they enforce eight federal priorities, such as keeping weed away from children.
What remains to be seen is whether state officials and the marijuana industry can meet those requirements and whether federal authorities really keep their promise. The answers could determine the fate of legal weed in the United States.
There’s big news on the way for medical marijuana, too. Florida is set to become the first state in the Deep South to legalize MMJ, as long as supporters can get their ballot proposal past intense political opposition before the state Supreme Court. Public support for medicinal weed is very high in the state.
The United States isn’t the only place to look for major developments in cannabis. The small South American nation of Uruguay legalized recreational pot in 2013, and there’s a good chance other Latin countries will follow. Legalization offers a way for these nations to fight the violent drug cartels that plague them.
2013 saw marijuana developments that began in 2012 snowball, and they’ll only get bigger in 2014. Time will tell what comes next, but one thing is certain: There’s no going back.