This year, at least five jurisdictions will be introducing or implementing legislation to legalise the use or sale of cannabis for recreational purposes.
So far, Uruguay is the only country – and the only jurisdiction outside of North America – to have fully regulated a legal market for recreational cannabis. However, sub-national jurisdictions – namely several US states – have regulated the trade, including California, Colorado, and Alaska. This is despite the drug continuing to be illegal under federal law.
In the US states that have legalised the drug, tax revenue from sales is often diverted to schooling and social schemes. In Colorado alone, the state's education department received $140.5 million through cannabis revenue between 2015 and 2017. In the Marijuana Business Factbook 2017, industry experts estimated that the overall value of retail cannabis sales in the US would soar from an estimated $5.6 billion in 2017 to a staggering $17 billion by 2021.
2018 is poised to be another big year for cannabis reform, as legislation is being planned, prepared, or finalised in at least five jurisdictions – all in North America – that will make the drug legal.
On January 22, Vermont became the first US state to legalise cannabis through the legislature (rather than with a ballot initiative), following ratification of a bill by Governor Phil Scott. Unlike legalisation in most other US jurisdictions, the law – H.511 – will not necessarily introduce a legal commercial market for cannabis. Instead, as of July 2018, the new law will legalise the “possession of one ounce [28g] or less of marijuana and two mature and four immature marijuana plants”.
A regulated approach to cannabis cultivation and sale is still in the pipeline. In a press release on his website, Governor Scott stated: “There must be comprehensive and convincing plans completed in these areas before I will begin to consider the wisdom of implementing a commercial “tax and regulate” system for an adult marijuana market. It is important for the General Assembly to know that – until we have a workable plan to address each of these concerns – I will veto any additional effort along these lines, which manages to reach my desk.”
A cannabis advisory board is considering the regulations necessary to implement a safe taxed and regulated cannabis industry, and will present its findings to the governor later this year.
Residents of the US state of Massachusetts voted to legalise recreational cannabis in a ballot initiative – Question 4 – in November 2016. It has been legal for adults to possess up to 1 ounce (28g) of the drug, or grow up to six plants, since December 2016. The state’s regulated commercial cannabis industry is set to be legalised in July 2018 – so adults will be able to purchase the drug from licensed retailers.
Currently, since the regulated system has yet to come into effect, a legal quandary has arisen: it is legal to buy up to 1 ounce of cannabis, but it is illegal to sell any quantity of cannabis. But this is all about to change. As of July 1, retail sales will begin to legally take place. A 20 per cent tax will be imposed upon retail purchases, with 17 per cent being allocated to the state, and 3 per cent to the local area in which the dispensary is located.
Massachusetts could become home to a cannabis industry worth $1.1 billion every year by 2020, according to a 2016 report, which would mean over $200 million in newly-generated tax revenue.
In October 2018, Canada will become the first G7 nation – and the second nation in the world after Uruguay – to legally regulate the cannabis trade. Legalisation has broad public and political support, including that of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Deloitte has estimated that the Canadian cannabis retail market could be worth as much as $8.7 billion annually.
Due to the country's long-standing medical cannabis programme, Canada is already home to the world's most valuable cannabis company, Aurora Cannabis – worth $6 billion.
Once the new law, the Cannabis Act, comes into force, adults will be able to:
- Purchase cannabis, cannabis oil, plants and seeds for cultivation from a locally or federally licensed commercial retailer
- Possess up to 30g of cannabis in public
- Share up to 30g of legal cannabis and legal cannabis products with other adults
- Cultivate up to 4 plants in their own home
New Jersey, USA
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, who was inaugurated on January 16 2018, said he would legalise cannabis within 100 days of taking office, the Washington Examiner reports.
“The criminalisation of marijuana has only served to clog our courts and cloud people’s futures, so we will legalise marijuana,” he said in a speech in June 2017. “And while there are financial benefits, this is overwhelmingly about doing what is right and just.”
The Democratic Party, from which Murphy hails, holds the majority in both houses of the state's legislature, and supporters feel confident that legal regulation will pass. Stephen Sweeney, President of the New Jersey Senate, has said that cannabis legalisation is “something Murphy supports and I support it and I don’t think anyone is going to go out of their way to embarrass the governor. It’s a priority and it’s something we’re going to need to do”.
While a cannabis legalisation bill could be approved by the legislature and the governor within months, the creation of a regulated commercial market may not come to fruition until 2019.
Residents of the US state of Maine, which straddles the Canadian border, voted to legalise recreational cannabis in a ballot initiative – Question 1 – in November 2016. It has been legal for adults to grow up to six mature cannabis plants, and to possess up to 2.5 ounces (70.8g) of the drug, since January 2017. However, a key part of the legislation – creating a regulated commercial market – was put on hold.
The ballot initiative outlined that Maine would introduce licensed retail cannabis stores, and that sales tax would be partially allocated to the enforcement of a strict regulatory regime. The state implemented a moratorium on retail cannabis sales and taxation until February 2018, providing legislators with an opportunity to devise these rules. However, legislators are now set to extend this moratorium until May 2018 due to slow progress.
Maine governor and Trump ally, Paul LePage, staunchly opposes the legalisation of a commercial cannabis industry, ostensibly because regulating the drug’s sale would conflict with federal prohibition. However, LePage’s gubernatorial term will end this year, and term limits prevent him from running again.
In January 2013, there was not a single jurisdiction in the world in which the cultivation, trade, sale, and use of cannabis was legally regulated. Just five years later, around 100 million people live somewhere that the drug may be legally grown, sold, bought, and used. Where will cannabis be legalised next?