Marijuana law reform made huge gains in the 2018 midterm elections, both at the state level and in Congress, and reforms are also being considered at the international level.
Michigan became the first state in the Midwest to legalize adult use possession, and regulate cultivation and sale by passing Proposition One. The law allows individuals to cultivate up to 12 plants per household, and imposes a ten-percent excise sales tax on marijuana purchases, in addition to the state’s six percent sales tax.
Utah voters narrowly approved Proposition Two, the Medical Marijuana Initiative. The strong influence of the Mormon Church in Utah, which opposed the measure, made this campaign unique in the history of drug-policy reform.
Lawmakers hammered out a compromise between both sides prior to the election, resulting in a bill filed with the state legislature to replace Prop Two. Many reform advocates oppose this compromise bill. In spite of their opposition, and the result of November’s vote, the Utah state legislature approved the measure overwhelmingly in a special session on December 3.
Missouri voters had three medical-cannabis initiatives to choose from in the 2018 cycle. Amendment Two and Amendment Three were amendments to the state constitution, while Proposition C was a statute. The only measure to pass was Amendment Two, which allows patients to cultivate up to six flowering plants and imposes a four-percent sales tax.
Amendment Three failed to include specific language allowing home cultivation, while Proposition C prohibited it. A-3 would have imposed a fifteen-percent sales tax, while Prop C had a two-percent rate.
Some marijuana reform opponents are leaving Congress, including Representative Bob Goodlatte (R-VA), who decided not to run for reelection. Some newly elected members of Congress, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, have embraced legalization and are calling for an end to the drug war.
2018 saw the defeat of a longtime ally of marijuana reform, Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA). His opponent, Harley Rouda, didn’t say much about marijuana during the campaign. However, according to the National Cannabis Industry Association, Rouda supports legal adult use and regulated production and sale, safe and legal medical access, and hemp legalization.
The forced resignation of Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III from his position as US Attorney General was initially hailed as a victory. His replacement, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker, is a drug warrior who opposes legalization and other reforms, so there’s no real net gain there. Whitaker doesn’t have Sessions’s political stature nor his connections, which may limit his impact. On the other hand, it would be foolish to underestimate Whitaker just because he’s an unknown quantity.
Republicans maintain control of the Senate in the next session, which means they control appointments to cabinet agencies. Senate Judiciary Committee will still be run by unreconstructed drug warrior Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA). The Democrats however take control of the House and its committees. That means pro-reform legislation, which had been blocked by Republican chairs, can now get hearings and votes in the House.
Cannabis is regulated internationally via UN treaties, starting with the Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961. Cannabis is in Schedule IV of that Convention, which is essentially the “prohibition” schedule.
Nonetheless, in the past few years, Canada and Uruguay have legalized adult social use of cannabis and enacted laws to regulate its production and sale. In addition, several nations around the world have legalized medical use of cannabis.
Some nongovernmental organizations, including Veterans for Medical Cannabis Access, are working to get the scheduling of cannabis changed at the international level. The combination of their efforts and political reforms around the world provided the impetus for a critical review of cannabis and cannabis resin by the World Health Organization. That review took place at the forty-first meeting of WHO’s Expert Committee on Drug Dependence in November 2018.
The ECDD’s recommendations will be released in the next few months and are expected to be taken up by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs in March 2019. The CND is under no obligation to follow the recommendations of the ECDD, and prohibitionist nations like China and Russia are very powerful members of the CND, so even if the expert committee recommends it, rescheduling is uncertain.