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Impact of Cannabis Reform In The United States After Midterm Elections

As the dust settles in the U.S. after the 2014 midterms, several aspects of the ongoing marijuana reform debate have become a bit clearer for the next few years and certainly leading into the presidential election of 2016. Given events on the ground in the U.S. it is safe to say that marijuana reform will undoubtedly be one of the most important if not the most important political litmus test facing all national candidates for office in two years. The impact on this year’s state electoral contests was not only undeniable but is also a harbinger of what comes next but the issue showed up in several major state wide races. From John Hickenlooper making debate misstatements in the gubernatorial race in Colorado (which aides quickly corrected) in which he characterized Colorado’s experiment as “irresponsible” to the showdown in Florida which was as much about Gubernatorial politics as it was medical pot, the marijuana debate is a theme which is now clearly shaping not just state but federal politics. The winner in the Florida governor’s race received almost half a million votes fewer than the medical marijuana initiative. He won, the measure lost.

The impact on the shape of market development in the U.S. is also unclear because of the competing agendas of a now formally bifurcated market (medical and adult use).

Oregon and Alaska both successfully passed recreational (adult use) measures this month. These two states traditionally have nurtured high public sentiment for reform since the 1970’s and for both medical and recreational use. Oregon’s market, which has medical infrastructure already in place, is poised to begin to challenge both Colorado and Washington State if not Nevada in the next year with a taxation policy, for starters that begins more accurately to sort out the many problems that still exist in this market from a financial perspective if not regulatory one as well as tangential issues like the amount of pot that both patients and rec users can possess and grow at one time. Alaska faces a cold start to its market and it may be that market development here looks more like Washington’s States’ stutter towards recreational only use this July since no recreational infrastructure was in place pre market initiation.

Florida’s “loss” is hardly that since 58% of those who voted, voted in favour of medical reform and in an election with the lowest voter turnout in 70 years. The only reason this majority of votes did not pass the measure is that a supermajority of support is required to change the State Constitution – which is the statutory tactic used in the state this time and one that was copied directly from Colorado and Nevada almost 15 years ago.

Organizers are already reformulating strategy in the wake of this loss. That debate and implications of it will also be reflected in Texas next year when the State Legislature takes up the matter as a legislative debate. Texas residents cannot vote, as in other states, to merely change the law. This is an issue, therefore, that will be forced into a conservative if not highly libertarian state legislature where it is expected to take a major drubbing in terms of policy decisions that lead to votes, statutory change and regulation. And not only in state. The eyes of the reform movement nationally are clearly on Texas as a result.

In Nevada, this is an issue which is also heating up, given a bounce by the elections this year. Nevada’s market is perhaps the most interesting in the country right now because it already creates true medical reciprocity for visiting tourists with marijuana cards from other states. Medical use has been legal in state since 2000, the same year Colorado voted the first time for medical use.

The situation in the federal District of Columbia, which also passed a recreational use measure in November is also one that will be telling in terms of the national temperature on reform. District residents have voted overwhelmingly for both recreational and medical reform since 1998 and this has been repeatedly squashed in a federal Congress which has purview over such issues in DC which still has no Home Rule determination.

That said, any federal attempt to undo the will of voters here, particularly this year, is more than likely to meet with federal resistance in Congress as it is no longer so easy to dismiss not just the will of DC voters, but home state voters who are also angling louder and louder for reform. At this point it is safe to say that 50% of the American public (at least) lives in a state with modern marijuana reform.

In sum, what the election results seem to indicate is that the debate will push forward in the U.S. and will continue apace if not pick up steam for the next two years until the next presidential election.

The impact in other countries will also be felt as the conversation moves forward in the U.S. domestically and as it has in fact all year this year.

Germany, Israel, Canada, Australia and Italy all responded this year (and in national arenas) in close concert with reform in the U.S.

It is therefore abundantly clear as the votes are counted and the U.S. moves into 2015 with at least four state recreational markets now legal if not yet quite functional, and other results from this year (including Florida) that show a strong majority of public support for at least medical, that marijuana reform has taken firm root in the U.S. on both fronts, and as a result such change will blow across the world.

The days of the Drug War, at least in its last 40 year incarnation, are clearly coming to a close.

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