Cannabis Legalization Landscape in 2018

Happy 2018 everyone! When it comes to the legal availability of cannabis, there is indeed reason to be optimistic.* As for 2017 — well, it could’ve been a lot worse.

Last January ushered in a presidential administration that many feared would roll back over two decades of cannabis legalization progress. A year later, although cannabis remains illegal on the federal level despite the valiant efforts of some in Congress, California has become the eighth (and largest) state to usher in legal adult-use recreational marijuana. On the state level, it seems 2018 may be an unprecedented year for both long-time cannabis supporters and recent converts to the country’s fasted growing trend.

*Update: The Department of Justice threw a wrench in progressive cannabis policy on January 4, 2018 under anti-pot evangelist Jeff Sessions. The impact on cannabis businesses and the industry is not yet clear. 

Here’s what to look out for across the cannabis legalization landscape:

Cannabis Legalization Comes Online in California for Adults

You already know some things about California. It’s a big, mostly sunny place, and a lot of people live there. You’ve probably also heard that in 2016, enough of the population voted for Proposition 64, aka “Adult Use of Marijuana Act.” Proposition 64 made it legal for “Californians who are 21 and older to possess, transport, and buy up to 28.5 grams of marijuana and to use it for recreational purposes.”  

While the act passed November 9th, Californians didn’t immediately wake up to a fully regulated and accessible adult-use cannabis market. Without getting into a riff on Schoolhouse Rock, it’s easiest to say the state took some time to put in place a functioning system under Proposition 64 (and then SB 94, if you’re after a deep dive). Fortunately that process has, at the state level, reached its conclusion: January 1, 2018 marked the first day of real recreational cannabis legalization.

California Cannabis: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Cannabis legalization for California’s approximately 39.5 million citizens isn’t quite that simple. The state legislature has created what is in effect a two-tiered licensing system, first at the state level and second at the local level. This means that to sell cannabis legally in California requires licensing both from the state and your local municipality. And municipalities’ eagerness to adopt local licensing has varied quite a bit.

Just to be absolutely clear, the following does not constitute legal advice. If you’re curious about what’s going on with your town, whether Los Angeles or Bakersfield, we encourage you to do a little research and/or consult a local attorney with experience in this sort of thing.

That said, here’s a birds-eye view of what’s going on across the state:

  • Some places were on top of it it: San Diego shifted its medical-use licensing system to incorporate adult-use relatively early in 2017. Berkeley, a bastion of progressivism, is hot on its heels.  
  • Other cities, such as San Francisco, have stumbled on the roll-out.
  • Then there’s Los Angeles. Historically, when it comes to the progressive cannabis regulation, L.A. has been a mess, and adult use in 2018 is no exception.

Other Places in the Country

On the East Coast, a number of states are poised to adopt adult-use legislation, including Vermont, New Jersey, Delaware, maybe New Hampshire, and Connecticut if you believe the Hartford City Council is a sign of things to come.

In the Midwest, Michigan is leading the legalization pack, with a number of other Mountain and Southern states considering adopting medical use as well.

If you like to get into the policy weeds, states that have been pioneers in ending cannabis prohibition (such as Coloradocontinue to expand and modernizes their weed economies. Last year a Colorado bill allowing direct delivery made it to the governor’s desk. With the success of delivery services in other states providing strong evidence of viability, who knows what 2018 will bring.

So, What’s Next?

The regulation of cannabis in the U.S. is shifting on a monthly, weekly, even daily basis. Perhaps the only one true thing can be said of the landscape as a whole: the number of states set to roll back cannabis legalization in 2018 — zero. However, with Sessions on the prowl, stricter cannabis regulations may tar the industry’s bright future.