It was a banner year for marijuana in 2017, with more states joining the recreational-use family and new, legal marijuana rules making waves across the world. But the industry took a few hits this year, amid the California wildfires and continued threats from an always-hostile U.S. attorney general. Let’s look back on a promising year, but one in which a few new threats reared their heads, and review the top marijuana stories of 2017.
1. America Turns Pro-Legalization
A broad consensus of the American public now favors legal marijuana, a fact that cannot be underestimated when considering any legal or political challenges to the drug’s status. An October 2017 poll found that 64 percent of American support legal marijuana, including a majority of Republicans, for the first time the question has been polled.
“Democrats and Independents have historically been much more likely than Republicans to say marijuana should be legalized,” Gallup wrote in its findings. “This year for the first time, a majority of Republicans express support for legalizing marijuana; the current 51% is up nine percentage points from last year.”
2. Difficult Sessions Still on Agenda
President Trump’s attorney general Jeff Sessions remains in office and seems to truly relish the opportunity to undo all state-level legalization laws nationwide. He’s aggressively lobbied Senate and House majority leaders Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan to repeal the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment that provides state’s rights protections against federal prosecution, and he’s been continuously outspoken against legal cannabis.
“I, as you know, am dubious about marijuana,” Sessions said at a National Association of Attorneys General address in February. “States can pass whatever laws they choose, but I’m not sure we’re going to be a better, healthier nation if we have marijuana being sold at every corner grocery store.”
We would remind the attorney general that cannabis is not sold at a single “corner grocery store” in the entire United States. No state allows marijuana sales except at specialized, licensed dispensaries.
3. California Delivering on Recreational Use
The eyes of the industry are on California, as the state begins recreational sales on January 1, 2018. Los Angeles and San Francisco won’t be selling that day (though San Francisco sales begin on January 5), but the smaller cities of Berkeley, Oakland, San Diego, Santa Cruz and West Hollywood will be. Additionally, the county of Humboldt and incorporated areas like Mount Shasta and Desert Hot Springs will also have sales ready on January 1.
But the vast majority of California cities won’t have regulatory frameworks set up by January 1. Los Angeles is a typical example. "Come January 1 in the city of Los Angeles, there are no legal, adult-use sales," Los Angeles Department of Cannabis Regulation Cat Packer told the Associated Press. "We are starting a process. This is something that is not going to happen overnight."
4. Wildfires Burn California Crop
The devastating Northern California fires of October wiped out thousands of acres of marijuana crops and the farms of dozens of growers in one of the nation’s most prolific marijuana growing regions.
“The October 2017 firestorm is having an extremely severe impact on our communities,” California Growers Association executive director Hezekiah Allen told the Los Angeles Times on October 10. “It is the worst year on record, and the worst year I can remember, in terms of farms lost.”
By November, they had confirmed 44 farms lost in the fires that also claimed 42 lives.
5. Canadian Bull Market
Canada is set for recreational use on July 1, 2018, and the country’s cannabis stock market is already booming. Canopy Growth Corporation saw its share price double after a $245 million investment from U.S. beer distributor Constellation Brands, and competitors Aphria and Aurora Cannabis have both had share values triple over the course of the year.
“The top performers in the marijuana space have come from our neighbors to the north, Canada,” Sean Williams writes at Motley Fool. “In fact, three Canadian marijuana stocks have logged better than 1,200% aggregate sales growth between the end of their 2015 and 2017 fiscal years,” he says, referring to the three above-names stocks.
6. Cory Booker Proposes Full Legalization
New Jersey Senator Cory Booker introduced a bill in October that would legalize marijuana in the entire U.S. and give states incentives to legalize as well. The symbolic measure has little chance of passing, but shows how useful the cannabis issue can be to politicians with national aspirations.
“You see these marijuana arrests happening so much in our country, targeting certain communities — poor communities, minority communities — targeting people with an illness,” Booker said in a Facebook Live session announcing the bill.
7. Hemp for Victory?
Congress is mulling the Industrial Hemp Farming Act of 2017 that would remove hemp and the non-psychoactive compound cannabidiol (CBD) from the list of scheduled drugs. While these components don’t get you high, CBD is often used for pain relief and the hemp fibers have industrial uses.
“Hemp has boundless potential as a sustainable alternative to plastics and other environmentally harmful products,” co-sponsor Rep. Jared Polis (D-CO) said in a release. “It can be used in everything from construction materials to paper to lotions and even ice cream. It’s past time that we eliminate absurd barriers and allow hemp farmers to get to work, create jobs, and grow this promising and historically important crop.”
8. International Market Expands
The big nation is Canada, where recreational use will become legal on July 1, 2018. Mexico approved medical marijuana legalization to begin in early 2018, and recreational or medical-use marijuana laws were passed in Croatia, Germany, Greece, Finland, South Africa, and more than a dozen other countries.
9. States Rights Fights
Nevada implemented its recreational use laws on July 1, 2017, while Massachusetts and California have been developing their state-level regulations for 2018 rollouts. But the marijuana landscape has been hazier elsewhere.
The Vermont state legislature legalized recreational use, only to see that bill vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott. Maine Gov. Paul LePage also vetoed enactment of voter-approved recreational marijuana bill in his own state. Recreational-use measures failed or died in committee in Delaware, Rhode Island, and Texas legislatures.
10. Nevada Pays Off
But the most notable was Nevada in 2017. Though the state did not go recreational until the midpoint of the year, Nevada has already surpassed Colorado in legal sales, and its dispensaries sold $37.9 million of marijuana in October.
“October’s sales marked a sizable jump from the roughly $27.7 million spent on recreational marijuana at Nevada dispensaries in September,” according to the Las Vegas Journal-Review. “Recreational sales in August weren’t too far behind October — when Henderson began retail sales — at $33.4 million.”
Nevada has sold more than $120 million in recreational marijuana since July 1, 2017.