2016 was a landmark in the history of cannabis policy in the United States. Eight states in total expanded access to either medical or recreational cannabis, paving the way for a renaissance in the economics and culture surrounding cannabis. That renaissance will hopefully come sooner rather than later. In the meantime, here are five predictions that may or may not come true in 2017 around the issue of cannabis.
1. The Trump administration won’t be as bad as we fear
President-elect Donald Trump’s selection of Sen. Jeff Sessions for the position of attorney general has been met with a great deal of hand-wringing among cannabis activists and observers.
Critics point to his past statements on cannabis policy, saying that he will be a foe to the fledgling industry and will roll back a decade of legal and political progress.
There is reason to believe, however, that the pessimism surrounding his selection is overblown. For one thing, Trump’s consideration to head the Food & Drug Administration, Silicon Valley titan Jim O’Neill, has been hailed for his years-long cannabis activism.
Second, a host of variables – including public opinion, access to medical care, and economic incentives – would at the very least complicate attempts to roll back access to cannabis nationwide.
But perhaps what will ultimately be the biggest bulwark against rolling back cannabis rights will be Trump himself: The incoming president, while not always necessarily supportive of cannabis use, has nonetheless sounded promising notes in the past on the issue.
2. Massachusetts will emerge as a cannabis powerhouse
The voters of the Bay State had a big Election Day in 2016: They – along with the voters of four other states – voted to legalize recreational cannabis within their borders.
The state has already had a functioning medical cannabis initiative for four years. The new recreational measure, however, kicks the door wide open for cannabis entrepreneurs and users alike.
The economic benefits of cannabis legalization in the state are set to be huge, with some estimates putting the figure as high as $1.1 billion in just four years.
As if that wasn’t enough, a Colorado-based company just announced that it plans to build in Massachusetts the nation’s largest cannabis cultivation facility – a million-square-foot behemoth that will dwarf all of those that have come before it.
3. There will be a wealth of new studies on medicinal cannabis
The DEA has never exactly been popular with cannabis activists and users.
The agency has been a longtime vanguard of the Drug War and has been responsible for innumerable amounts of suffering and hardship stemming from its treatment of cannabis users.
This summer, the DEA declined to reschedule cannabis as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, leading many to believe that its cycle of troublesome actions would continue.
Part of the DEA’s announcement, however, was actually promising. The administration broadened the standards placed upon those who wish to cultivate cannabis for research purposes, a decision that could lead to a dramatic rise in the number of cannabis-centric medical studies.
Groundbreaking studies are already beginning to take shape, ensuring that the next several years could bring about fundamental advancements in the ways cannabis is understood as a medicine.
4. The number of cannabis arrests will continue to plummet
The Drug War has revealed itself over time to be racially-prejudiced, unfocused, and ultimately counter-productive.
There are glimmers of hope, however, that its punitive actions against cannabis users may be fading into history.
Arrests for both the use and the sale of cannabis have been declining steadily over the past six years, as more states institute pro-legalization policies and the feds focus on substances that they deem to be more harmful.
Data bears this out: All four of the states that had legalized recreational cannabis before 2016 have seen dramatic decreases in their numbers of arrests.
5. Cannabis access will expand globally
As the United States begins to liberalize its cannabis laws on both macro and micro levels, the same is looking as though it will occur across the world.
Many of the world’s most visible and influential nations – such as Germany, Canada, and Spain – have seen a rise of outspoken cannabis users and proprietors urging for the substance to be legalized.
Even in places in which cannabis use is looked down upon – perhaps most notoriously in the Philippines – an international backlash could swing the pendulum in the other direction.