2023 - The Good, The Bad & The Ugly



In 2023, the world was awash in wars - Gaza/Israel, Ukraine/Russia and over a dozen other wars mainly in Africa and Asia. The threat of famines and severe levels of food insecurity and malnutrition affect over 30 million people in north-eastern Nigeria, South Sudan, Somalia, Yemen, Malawi, Sudan, Afghanistan and Syria. The looming global catastrophes of climate change are just beginning to make themselves felt and according to scientists the rate is increasing ever faster. With all this and so much more, the state of cannabis can barely be recognized as a footnote in any analysis of the events of 2023.

war_on_drugs.jpgYet it is a footnote that affects hundreds of millions of people throughout the world. From its devastating inclusion in the War on Drugs in which the U.S. alone has spent over one trillion dollars resulting in the imprisonment of tens of millions and is a major cause of the immigration crisis in Latin America as the War on Drugs turned many central American countries into narco states., we are now in the remarkable position of legalization reevaluation. 2023 in many ways foreshadows whether this reevaluation will continue.

The United States has always been in the forefront of cannabis prohibition and was the driving force behind the 1961 UN Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs in which cannabis prohibition became world-wide with devastating consequences. The recent victory in Ohio where voters legalized the use of cannabis means that over half the U.S. population now lives in states that legalized cannabis for all-adult uses.  Not surprisingly this relatively rapid change in the U.S. has led to a world_weed.jpgworld-wide revaluation especially in Europe and Latin America. It is now spreading to Asia where many countries still call for penalties of prison and death for its use and sales.

To see where cannabis is going, let’s look at what happened in 2023 in the U.S. and worldwide.

support_legalization_2023.pngFirst off and in a way most important, support for cannabis legalization in the U.S. reach an all-time high. A Gallup poll published in October reported that 70% of American’s are in favor of its legalization. It is one of the few issues that seems to be immune to the polarization sweeping the country as majorities of Democrats, Republicans and independents are in support. Even more importantly, a recent SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) found that over 40 million adults reported using cannabis in the last month – more now use cannabis then use tobacco.

Following President Biden’s directive in 2022  to begin a government-wide review on federal cannabis prohibition, a top official at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), citing a review by the Food and Drug Administration, recommended moving cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III under the Controlled Substances Act. Schedule III drugs are categorized as having “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” and would put cannabis in the same schedule as Tylenol with codeine.

The DEA is still conducting its final review, with a decision likely to come next year. When implemented, the move would be a boon for cannabis businesses as cannabis would no longer be a schedule I drug which means that IRS Section 280e would no longer prevent cannabis business from deducting business expenses from their gross receipts when calculating amount of taxes owed.

banking.jpgSpeaking of cannabis businesses, the SAFER Banking Act extends protections to financial institutions that offer services – such as bank accounts and loans – to state-approved cannabis businesses meaning they would no longer have to operate as cash-only businesses. Originally introduced more than a decade ago, the bill has passed the House multiple times but has never made it out of the Senate. In September, the Banking Act passed out of the Senate Banking Committee receiving votes from both parties.  It is expected to pass the Senate next year and be sent to the President’s desk.

All of this is leading more states to totally legalize cannabis. In 2023, Maryland and Missouri implemented initiatives passed by voters and the legislature in Delaware approved legalization all on its own – that’s how mainstream cannabis legalization is becoming.

Oklahoma voters turned down a legalization measure but perhaps part of that is because Oklahoma’s medical marijuana legalization is probably the best in the nation. Although Oklahoma faltered, Ohio did not as the Buckeye voters overwhelmingly approved a vibrant legalization measure. Unfortunately, in Ohio the legislature is allowed to alter vote approved initiatives and the Republican controlled legislature has already introduced measures to gut both the cannabis and the reproductive rights initiatives that were passed with significant majorities.

vote.jpeg2024 will continue to see voters having the opportunity to legalize cannabis. All eyes are on Florida which is expected to have a legalization initiative on the ballot along with South Dakota and Hawaii along with a medical marijuana legalization initiative in Nebraska. Legalization initiatives, like abortion rights initiatives, bring out younger voters and voters more likely to vote Democratic so be prepared to see some major policy shifts including promises by candidates at all levels to legalize adult-use of cannabis.

Although I am no fan of the current interpretation of the 2nd amendment giving almost unlimited rights for just about anyone to possess just about any gun just about anywhere they want, I always felt it was absurd for the feds to deny gun ownership just because a person consumed cannabis. After all there is no banning of owning and using a gun because a person drinks alcohol and arguably a lot more deaths from guns have occurred because a person was drunk than because they were stoned.

guns_mj.jpgThe return of 2nd amendment rights to cannabis consumers came in a ruling in Oklahoma by federal Judge Patrick Wyrick, a Trump appointee which declared unconstitutional the federal law that bars individuals who use marijuana from owning firearms as it infringed upon their Second Amendment right to bear arms. Judge Wyrick ruled that the use of marijuana does not reflect any violent or threatening behavior nor does it align with the nation's historical regulations on firearms. As an aside it is interesting to note that the defendant was not represented by the National Rifle Association which has always dragged its feet on protecting the rights of cannabis consumers to own firearms but was represented by a public defender.

Whether it was because of his commitment to freedom of speech and open commerce or he needs to make up for the loss in advertising revenue due to the defection of major corporate sponsors over his controversial statements on racism, antisemitism and other cultural touchstones, Elon Musk has allowed X (formerly Twitter) to become the first major social medial platform to allow state-legal cannabis businesses to advertise.This is direct contrast to other social media platforms like Facebook that continue to deny cannabis businesses the ability to advertise. It shouldn’t be much longer before the others come around and grab cannabis money to stuff into their corporate pockets from cannabis businesses.

woman_joints-page-001.jpgAlthough the federal government through the National Institute on Drug Abuse still peddles the nonsense of a relationship between cannabis use and psychiatric disorders, a recently released 14 year study of an astounding 63 million Medicare recipients found no statistically significant uptick in psychiatric disorders across all regions or demographics as a result of cannabis legalization laws that now allow legal access to over half of all the adults in the U.S . This flies in the face of the sky-is-falling warnings by anti-cannabis advocates that increasing cannabis access would increase psychotic disorders which they claim justifies restricting and criminalizing access. This study puts another nail in the coffin of continuing to list cannabis as a schedule 1 narcotic in the Controlled Substances Act. Let’s hope that in 2024, the coffin is cremated.

As sort of a year-end bonus, President Biden announced he's issuing a federal pardon to every American who has used marijuana in the past, including those who were never arrested or prosecuted. Now how much of this is his desire to erase the injustices that have been committed in the past, many of which he helped implement in the 90s, or how much he is pandering to young people to vote for him in the November presidential election is a valid question but it is most likely a combination of both.

The Congressional Black Caucus and the ACLU lauded the pardons as a “positive step forward” and will address past injustices. Although the pardons will affect thousands of people convicted of federal cannabis offenses, it is really more symbolic of changing attitudes as the pardons do not apply to people who violated state law, where most of the criminal actions occur and for people convicted of selling.

fired_1.jpgTurning towards California, thanks to the passage of AB 2188, the biggest and most important change comes on January 1 2024, which prohibits employers from discriminating against a person who has tested positive for non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in their urine, hair, or bodily fluids. Although the new law will protect the vast majority of workers in California who use cannabis, it has exemptions for the building and construction trades as well as employees subject to federal drug-testing rules, like commercial truck drivers. Arguably, these people need cannabis as much as or even more then many others, so hopefully common sense will eventually prevail.

Significantly, the legislation allows employees who have experienced discrimination related to their cannabis use to institute civil action for damages and other relief against their employers. It is somewhat convoluted requiring a complaint to be filed with the California Civil Rights Department and may require the retention of a private attorney, but it certainly could be a cathartic experience going after those who caused others such misery.

Of importance to prospective employees is the passage of SB 700 which prevents employers from asking about past marijuana use in their employment hiring programs.

There were other bills that were passed and go into effect in 2024. Of particular importance are the following bills:

SB 51 allows the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) to continue issuing provisional licenses to local equity applicants who otherwise could have lost their provisional permits as they were set to expire this year.

hospital_bed-page-001.jpgSB 302 protects all patients 65 and over with chronic diseases by extending Ryan’s Law, which requires specified health-care facilities, such as hospices, to allow terminally ill patients to use non-smoked (or vaped) forms of cannabis.

Of importance to parents was the passage of AB 2595 that requires the State Department of Social Services to treat a parent’s use of cannabis in the same manner as alcohol or legally prescribed medication. Children are still being taken from their parents by Children’s Protective Services for their use of cannabis and hopefully this will put an end to this horrific practice.

cannabis_lounge_3.jpgThe biggest disappointment was the veto by Governor Newsom of AB 374 which would have allowed dispensaries with cannabis lounges to sell non-cannabis-infused food and nonalcoholic beverages. Most importantly it allowed dispensaries to sell tickets for live performances which puts them into direct competition with bars and taverns. Being able to enjoy live performances while consuming cannabis instead of alcohol would have been a major improvement to the enjoyment of the performances and to the health and safety of the community.

lungs.jpgUnfortunately, Gov. Newsom bought into the nonsense peddled by anti-tobacco and anti-cannabis lobbies that it would expose lounge workers to unhealthy and dangerous levels of 2nd hand cannabis smoke. That is absurd on the face of it as first-hand cannabis smoke is not dangerous let alone 2nd hand cannabis smoke. The bill’s author, Assembly member Matt Haney, intends to reintroduce the bill in 2024 hopefully finding ways to address the Governor’s concerns about 2nd hand cannabis smoke.

drug_decrimin.jpgOne other item that is not directly cannabis related but is still a significant part of ending the War on Drugs, were the resolutions and platform additions that I introduced at the California Democratic Party state conventions and executive board meetings in 2023. They put the party’s stamp of approval on the decriminalization of all drugs while requiring the state to treat all drug addicts through the health care system and not the criminal justice system. CaDEM is the largest and as far as I know the first major political party in the U.S. to call for the outright decriminalization of all drugs. I am now working with several state legislators to introduce legislation to make this a reality.

2023 did produce many important advances and reforms and it is important that we continue to press for more reforms and additional advances in 2024. From the ongoing battle to get cannabis out of the Schedule of Controlled Substances on the federal level to the lowering of cannabis taxes on the state and local level, the work goes on.

It may seem frustratingly slow, but if someone had told you 10 years ago that the day would be coming when cannabis was available in store front businesses on main street, that prices would plummet from their absurdly high $2,000 - $3,000 a pound down to under a $1,000 per pound, that you would be safe in your job even though you use drunk.jpgcannabis and that the number of arrests in California for cannabis violations would plummet from nearly 80,000 in 2008 to under 3,500 in 2022, you would rightfully be wondering how much that person had been drinking.

stairway2.jpgJust before the clock strikes midnight on December 31, raise your left leg so that you will start off the year on the right foot.

Then continue 2024 on the right foot by joining MAPP’s 420 Club and donating $4.20 every month to keep us going throughout 2024.



Showing 1 reaction

Please check your e-mail for a link to activate your account.
  • Lanny Swerdlow