Welcome back to The Year In Weed, The Blunt Truth’s annual roundup of cannabis-related stories. As usual, I’ll adopt Dave Barry’s Year in Review (sadly, no longer available for free) format and look at stories month by month. Last year, I predicted there would be no federal cannabis legalization, but that perhaps states would legalize. Was I right? Yes I was. Is predicting that there would be no federal legalization akin to shooting fish in a barrel? Yes it is.
So let’s begin with January, when New York opened its retail market. We thought the market would expand “quite a bit” in 2023 – well, the “a bit” part was right. We also saw sales begin in Connecticut, which left New Hampshire as the only New England state on the outside looking in at a retail market. Fun fact: still true! In territorial news, the U.S. Virgin Islands legalized adult-use cannabis.
Moving on to February, Missouri opened a retail market with a bong, er, I mean, bang. $12.6 million in revenue in one weekend is a tidy sum. Meanwhile, in Virginia, no retail market opened. And not to ruin the ending, but no retail market will open in 2023. Which means the illicit market can thrive.
March brought an election defeat for adult-use cannabis. Oklahoma voted NO on Question 820 (maybe if it had been numbered 420?) by a large margin. Every county in the state was against it. For a state with the unofficial nickname of Tokelahoma (due to its wildly pervasive medical marijuana market), this was a surprise.
Which brings us to April and some victories for legalization. Kentucky governor Andy Beshear (D) signed a medical cannabis legalization bill, which allows edibles and concentrates, but draws the line at smokable products. Delaware legalized adult-use after many, many failed attempts. Rep. Ed Osienski (D) was the driving force behind the measure, finally overcoming Gov. John Carney’s opposition. The Governor allowed the bill to become law without his signature. So the moral of this story seems to be: if you can’t change hearts and minds on an issue, perhaps you can just wear them down with persistence.
And so on to the merry, merry month of May, when Maryland Gov. Wes Moore (D) signed a bill to set up a legal cannabis market as of July 1. Which has been working well, and bringing in lots of money. Take note New York! Also, in what became a trend, New Jersey allowed “decoupling from 280E.” Cannabis companies can take state tax deductions for business expenses, although they’re still on the hook to Uncle Sam.
Which brings us to June, when Minnesota legalized adult-use cannabis, bringing the number of fully-legal states to 23. Spoiler alert: that number will change! Also, the NBA agreed to players investing in the cannabis industry as part of a new collective bargaining agreement.
Heading into the second half of the year, we come to July, when we saw New Hampshire set up a commission to study adult-use cannabis. The name of this commission was the (and I’m not making this up) Commission to Study With the Purpose of Proposing Legalization, State Controlled Sales of Cannabis and Cannabis Products. Perhaps they spent too much time crafting the name, because (spoiler alert) they ended up with no proposal. In other news, the Eastern Band of Cherokee in North Carolina decided to vote on medical cannabis legalization. They voted to allow it, and have issued cards. Transportation of the product to the the dispensary is an issue, as they have to travel over state-owned roads.
And now we arrive at the dog days of August, when Congress held a hearing on the Food and Drug Administration’s lack of action on CBD regulation. Everyone seemed to agree that regulations are necessary for the industry. Where the consensus broke down is in whether the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) currently possesses the authority to write those regulations. (Think of it as Dorothy and the ruby slippers…)
So the calendar turns to September, when the leaves turned color, children went back to school, and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) proposed re-scheduling cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III. As of now, this is still a proposal, and it’s anyone’s guess if the DEA (who would do the actual re-scheduling) will think that’s a good idea. But what about federal legislation?? Surely HOPE or MORE or SAFE or SAFER passed, right?? Uh, no. No to all of that.
In October, independent pharmacies in Georgia registered with the Georgia Board of Pharmacy to provide low THC oil to medical cannabis patients. The only state in the country where this is permitted, the thought was to allow patients in rural areas of the state access to cannabis. More on this later. And in Hawai’i, inter-island transport of medical cannabis was legalized.
And so on to November, when Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) announced his retirement. Last year, Perlmutter; this year Blumenauer. The big news this month, however, was the vote in Ohio – adult-use cannabis was legalized by a 57-43 margin. This brings the number of states with legal adult-use to 24.
And finally, we arrive at December, when those Georgia pharmacies that made such a splash in October got a nastygram from the DEA. The agency told them the practice was unlawful because THC remains a Schedule I drug. Watch for updates on this story in 2024. And that’s not all we’ll continue to watch in the new year: New York’s licensing program was such a disaster that we could have mentioned them pretty much every month. Basically, every time they attempt to issue licenses, there are lawsuits. Much the same thing is going on in Alabama, where the problem is with medical marijuana.
And there you have it: 2023 all wrapped up with a pretty bow. I think I speak for pot bloggers everywhere when I say we hope that the feds, New York and Alabama get their respective acts together, because we’re running out of metaphors to use to describe these situations (Charlie Brown and the football, Sisyphus and the boulder, etc., etc., etc.) Enjoy your New Year’s celebrations, and we’ll be back beginning January 5 to bring you a look at the news throughout the coming year.