On average, someone in the United States was arrested for cannabis possession every 48 seconds in 2016. That amounts to more than 587,000 cannabis possession arrests, or about 5 percent of all arrests last year, according to an analysis by the Washington Post.
If you thought the war on drugs was over because you can buy a cheap, legal gram in Seattle, think again. We may have made history when voters in our state legalized cannabis in 2012, but Washington’s experiment didn’t rewrite the rest of the country’s drug laws. Pot is still classified as a Schedule I drug (along with heroin and cocaine).
But that doesn’t mean the criminalization of cannabis is here to stay. No amount of threats from Attorney General Jeff Sessions will obscure our state’s overall success at legalizing weed. Our federalist system, built on the idea that local governments can act as laboratories of democracy, worked in this case. We showed the world that legal pot can succeed—and now, five years later, our country is about to blaze a new path toward common-sense cannabis laws.
If 2012 was the year we punched a hole in the green ceiling, 2018 will be the year that whatever remains of that ceiling is burned to ash like a freshly packed bowl.
Next year—provided bureaucrats follow their own schedules—adults in California, Massachusetts, and Maine will be able to purchase recreational cannabis. California’s massive economy will bring an unprecedented amount of cash to the legal cannabis market and further align the country’s business interests with legalized pot. And Maine’s and Massachusetts’s legal markets will likely quicken the normalization of recreational pot in America.
What does this have to do with smoking pot in Seattle, where we can already get cheap and legal weed? Pot’s status as a Schedule I drug stunts Washington’s legal market in a myriad of ways. Congress has the power to remove pot from that list, and the more constituents advocating for a change, the more likely Congress is to act. And thanks to legalization in New England and California, cannabis will soon have a lot more allies.
California’s recreational pot stores will dramatically increase the size of the legal weed marketplace. Even without recreational cannabis, more legal weed is sold in California than anywhere else in the United States. In the second quarter of this year, California sold nearly $900 million of medical weed, compared to Colorado’s roughly $515 million and Washington’s $302 million, according to a report from Boulder-based BDS Analytics. And that’s in a system where adults can purchase legal pot only if they have a medical marijuana prescription. When California opens dispensary doors to any adult 21 and older, the legal market is expected to grow to $7 billion a year, according to the Associated Press.
All of that cash is going to attract the attention of companies across America, and every additional stockholder with skin in the cannabis game is another powerful advocate to Congress for reforming federal cannabis policy.
Legal weed won’t come as a cultural shock to the Golden State; after two decades of medical cannabis, Californians are familiar with industrialized pot. Legal weed could, however, change the culture of Massachusetts, Maine, and the surrounding states. That’s not to say that people in New England haven’t smoked pot before, but legal weed is entirely different than black-market or medical weed. Convenient, cheap, recreational weed is the kind of cannabis that busts myths and breaks stigmas. Grandmothers smoke legal weed. More people in Massachusetts and Maine will try it. And even those who don’t partake will get plenty of first-hand evidence that pot reform doesn’t lead to societal collapse.
Legal weed will also bring jobs to these states, and there are few things more powerful in changing someone’s mind than seeing their friends or family employed in decent, well-paying jobs. Retail stores aren’t expected to open until July of 2018 in Massachusetts, but millions of dollars in investments and thousands of new jobs are on their way to the state. More than 10,000 people have been employed in Washington’s legal weed economy, and there’s no reason to think Massachusetts’s employment will be substantially different.
Legal weed, and the changing attitudes toward it, won’t stay within Massachusetts’s or Maine’s borders. Fancy edibles from Boston will end up on Thanksgiving tables in New Jersey and New York, forcing pot-skeptical uncles and aunts to reconsider their preconceptions.
Sessions can direct his federal agents to lock more people up for pot, but he doesn’t have a practical way to shut legal weed down. Not anymore.