How You Can Help Make Marijuana Legal Nationwide

American drug policies have a problem – they’ve been driven by fear rather than facts for over a century. Although there had been notable gains over the past eight years towards more evidence-based drug policy, many worry that we may be heading in the wrong direction under the Trump administration. That’s why on April 22nd, drug policy researchers and advocates are taking to the streets of D.C. for the national March for Science, wielding facts and compassion in the face of ignorance and hatred.

From the first opium laws in the 1800s targeting Chinese immigrants to the crack laws of the 1980’s which disproportionately criminalized and incarcerated black men, the history of drug policy in the US illustrates how racism, xenophobia, and stigma can be weaponized in the name of “public health” and “safety.”

Paradoxically, the evidence suggests that drug prohibition has actually contributed to poorer health outcomes and higher mortality rates among drug users, while also facilitating the growth of an illicit drug market which threatens the safety and well-being of people around the globe. In addition, targeting racial and ethnic minority groups for harsher penalties has had a ripple effect on individual users and their communities by depriving them of social and familial supports as well as economic opportunity.

There are some serious barriers to expanding our research-base in regards to drugs and drug policies; largely due to limited funding for research with scheduled substances and little incentive to challenge the status quo. Drug scare tactics work- they befuddle, confuse, and terrify the public and policymakers alike while justifying an even harsher crackdown on users. Images of face-eating zombies to crack babies are more mobilizing than the reality that the vast majority of people who use drugs never get addicted or the therapeutic benefits of some substances, such as marijuana, are worth exploring.

Many American policymakers continue to think they can arrest their way out of our drug problems even though evidence shows that a “tough on drugs” approach is more harmful (and costly) than helpful. A look abroad shows us that nations which have decriminalized drugs, embraced harm reduction, and expanded treatment access have demonstrated positive outcomes for the health of drug users and their communities-at-large. At the same time there is a growing number of American lawmakers who have been forced to face the limitations of prohibition at home, realizing that evidence-based strategies offer a promising alternative to an overreliance on the criminal justice system as a solution to the public health problem of substance use.

But the good news is that there is a lot of solid research about drugs and drug policy, including high quality, accurate information about a range of substances, and what to do about them. Drug and drug policy research is a rich, interdisciplinary field that can help us sort the fact from the fiction and, more importantly, help us make smart policy choices that will improve the health and safety of individuals, families, and communities.

Take the current opioid crisis as just one example. A large body of research from Canada and Europe has shown that drug consumption rooms (safe and hygienic places where people can use drugs) can reduce overdose deaths and the transmission of blood-borne diseases, while linking people to treatment, medical care, and services. Once viewed as too controversial to be implemented in the U.S., several jurisdictions are now seriously considering them. Research has also given us life-saving naloxone – a medication that reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and has been responsible for saving thousands of lives. And thanks to science, more and more people are finding help through medication-assisted treatments, such as methadone and buprenorphine, for opioid use disorders.

While these signs of progress are encouraging and desperately needed, the Trump Administration’s disdain for science and approach to drug policy are worrisome. Trump not only eschews science, he is actively undermining it. For example, under Trump’s budget proposal, the National Institutes for Health would take a $1.2 billion cut focused primarily on research grants. NIH is responsible for the vast majority of drug research in the country. His desire to gut the Affordable Care Act and move to Medicaid block grants will make access to substance use treatment all the more difficult, especially if it is no longer considered essential health coverage. And his racially coded “law and order” rhetoric, along with the appointment of old school drug warriors, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, marks a return to a punitive drug war strategy of the past that a significant body of scholarship has deemed an abject failure.

We know better, and we must do better. Scholars who work in drug policy and all those who care about effective, evidence-base drug policy cannot stand by and watch all the progress we’ve made be undermined. Too much is at stake. That’s why it’s time for researchers to leave their labs and their classrooms and take to the streets. It’s time to turn from the misinformation, fear, and stigma that too often drive drug policy and insist on approaches that ground our policies in science and compassion.

Here’s Our Second Shot At Legalizing Florida Medical Marijuana

Florida voters have a second chance to approve a state amendment legalizing medical marijuana for ailments including glaucoma, AIDS and post-traumatic stress disorder, after narrowly rejecting a similar measure two years ago.

The legislature in the meantime has allowed limited use of non-smoked, low-THC pot for patients with cancer or ailments that cause chronic seizures or severe spasms, and two dispensaries have opened in the state with home deliveries allowed statewide. Delays in fully implementing the law have added to arguments in favor of legalizing medical marijuana under the state constitution.

Florida would become the 26th state along with the District of Columbia to legalize the marijuana plant for medical use. Florida is one of 16 states where only part of the marijuana plant is used.

Opponents of the measure in 2014, which failed to garner the required 60 percent of the vote, had expressed concerns that Florida would be overrun with pot shops and that children wouldn’t be adequately protected from potential bad effects of the drug.

Proponents say loopholes have been closed this time, including requiring parental written consent for underage patients and that caregivers register with the state Health Department.

This year’s Amendment 2 would broaden access for diseases with symptoms other than seizures or spasms. The measure lists 10 illnesses: cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, AIDS, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. It also allows doctors to prescribe pot for any other similar kind of ailment.

The department will regulate how medical marijuana can be distributed along with mandating identification cards for caregivers and patients. Many rules and regulations — from how the marijuana is grown to regulations on how it can be transported for in-home delivery — already have been passed by the legislature under laws for limited use of marijuana. Those regulations also will apply to the constitutional amendment.

Why Is The DEA Is Still Clinging To Reagan-Era Hysteria Over Marijuana?

After delaying their decision for months, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) finally announced Thursday that it will not ease restrictions on marijuana, currently regulated under the strictest classification available.

The rest of the country may be moving on from the fears of “reefer madness,” but the DEA still has a long way to go.

The agency’s decision to keep marijuana classified in the same category as heroin was met with outrage, particularly from the scientific community where there is a growing consensus that the fears surrounding marijuana are baseless.

But the DEA telegraphed its intentions long before their formal announcement.

As recently as November, acting chief of the DEA Chuck Rosenberg called medical marijuana “a joke.”

“If you talk about smoking the leaf of marijuana — which is what people are talking about when they talk about medicinal marijuana — it has never been shown to be safe or effective as a medicine,” Rosenberg asserted, despite numerous studies to the contrary.

Rosenberg’s predecessor, Michele Leonhart, publicly pushed even more archaic views of marijuana. While being grilled in Congress in 2012, Leonhart refused to admit that crack cocaine, prescription pills, or heroin were more dangerous than marijuana. “I believe all illegal drugs are bad,” she maintained.

The tense and incredulous exchange between members of Congress and the DEA chief showcased the attitude gap between the politicians trying to move beyond the drug war and the agents tasked with enforcing it.

The DEA is increasingly at odds with state governments and even other federal agencies over its treatment of marijuana.

The agency’s stance hasn’t changed much since the 1980s, when hysteria over drugs was in full swing. Throughout the late 80s and early 90s, about 80 percent of Americans believed marijuana should be illegal.

Leonhart joined the DEA in 1980, just as the federal government was beginning to escalate the War on Drugs.

“Leading medical researchers are coming to the conclusion that marijuana, pot, grass, whatever you want to call it, is probably the most dangerous drug in the United States,” former President Ronald Reagan declared in 1980.

But public opinion — and medical research — has evolved drastically since then. Twenty-five states and Washington, D.C. have legalized pot for either medicinal or recreational use, and several more may vote to join their ranks in November. Nationally, a majority of Americans favor legalization.

The dramatic attitude shift has reached even President Obama, who said in 2014 he believes marijuana is no more dangerous than alcohol.

But a week later, Leonhart told reporters the growing tolerance for marijuana use only “makes us fight harder,” and privately criticized Obama’s characterization.

The dissonance goes beyond rhetoric. During her confirmation hearings, Leonhart promised to ignore her own administration’s formal guidelines to ease up enforcement in states that have chosen to legalize medical marijuana.

True to her word, as the Obama administration publicly pledged to support state legalization efforts, Leonhart’s DEA cracked down on these same states. The agency has spent massive amounts of taxpayer dollars hunting down pot farms and destroying plants in states where it’s legal. It’s also made a point to intimidate businesses and providers.

Doctors who prescribed medical marijuana in Massachusetts reported they were being blackmailed and treated like drug dealers by DEA agents, who threatened to revoke the doctors’ federal prescription licenses if they did not sever ties to marijuana dispensaries.

Leonhart was ousted last year, not for enabling harassment of doctors or for rejecting the president’s agenda, but for failing to fix the agency’s “good old boy” culture, after revelations that agents routinely enjoyed “sex parties” with prostitutes provided by Colombian drug cartels.

Since Rosenberg took over the agency, DEA policy has taken some small steps to acknowledging the new reality in the U.S. In April, for the first time ever, the DEA approved marijuana smoking in a clinical trial to treat post-traumatic stress disorder. And even though the agency is closing its eyes to the research showing the current controls on marijuana make no sense, it will allow further study of the drug. Rosenberg has even cautiously conceded that he does think heroin is more dangerous than marijuana.

When States Legalize Medical Marijuana, People Use Fewer Prescription Painkillers

States that legalized marijuana as a medical alternative saw a drop in prescription drug use, according to a new study published in July in Health Affairs — suggesting that medical marijuana may be one way to combat the United States’ deadly opioid epidemic.

The researchers, a father-daughter team at the University of Georgia, combed through three years of prescription data filled under Medicare Part D between 2010 to 2013. Then they looked specifically at nine conditions for which marijuana can be used as an alternative treatment: anxiety, depression, glaucoma, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders, and spasticity.

In the 17 states plus Washington, D.C. that had legalized medical marijuana as of 2013, prescriptions for eight of the nine conditions went down — for example, prescriptions written for pain dropped by 1,826 daily doses.

For glaucoma, however, written prescriptions actually went up. While marijuana is an effective treatment for glaucoma, which causes severe eye pain and can lead to blindness, it’s only effective for an hour. Because taking marijuana every hour isn’t realistic, the researchers expected patients who used marijuana to treat glaucoma to then turn to their doctors for longer-lasting prescription drugs.

“It turns out that glaucoma is one of the most Googled searches linked to marijuana, right after pain,” David Bradford, one of the study’s authors and a professor of Public Policy at UGA, said in a university press release. “The patient then goes into the doctor, the doctor diagnoses the patient with glaucoma, and no doctor is going to let the patient walk out without being treated.”

Taken together, the increase in glaucoma prescriptions and the decrease in prescriptions for the other conditions suggest that people in states that allow it are truly using marijuana as a medical treatment, rather than using it for recreational purposes, the researchers concluded.

“One of the questions about about marijuana legalization is whether it’s actually medicine, or whether its just a backdoor way to approve recreational marijuana. What our evidence is suggesting is that the response that patients are having, and that clinicians are having, is that there is a significant amount of actually clinical use,” Bradford said in a video interview. “That helps answer one of the questions: Is it just a backdoor recreational approval? We believe no.”

As a bonus, they also found that the lower prescription use saved Medicare $165.2 million in 2013. If all states had implemented medical marijuana, then they estimate that savings to Medicare would have been around $468 million. However, those savings, while benefiting Medicare’s bottom line, likely reflect a greater cost to the patients. Medicare and other forms of insurance do not cover medical marijuana, meaning that patients turning to marijuana for medical relief were paying out of pocket instead.

Decreasing America’s reliance on prescription painkillers, however, is about more than just lowering Medicare costs. Drug overdoses in the United States are at an all-time high, driven by an opioid epidemic supplied by prescription painkillers. Four out of five new heroin users start out by misusing prescription opioids.

Since 1999, prescription opioid sales — which include painkillers like oxycodone, hydrocodone, codeine, morphine, and fentanyl — have nearly quadrupled in the United States. At the same time, deaths from prescription opioid abuses have also nearly quadrupled. Still, the very quick-release opioids fueling the epidemic make up 90 percent of painkiller products available on the market.

Marijuana, by contrast, has never caused a fatal overdose. Study after study has found that marijuana can relieve pain, ease nausea and promote appetite — greatly improving quality of life for patients struggling with chronic pain and diseases such as cancer. According to a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine Survey, an overwhelming majority of doctors said they would prescribe it as treatment.

As of June, over half of the United States has legalized medical marijuana. At a federal level, however, cannabis is still classified as a Schedule I substance, the most restrictive possible designation under the Controlled Substances Act and a higher designation than highly addictive substances like cocaine and many opioids, such as morphine, oxycodone, and hydrocodone.

Officially, this classification means that cannabis is held to have “no accepted medical use” — a designation that makes less and less sense as contradicting scientific evidence accumulates and as states move towards medical marijuana legalization. However, the federal standard makes it very difficult to expand research on the effects of marijuana, including further research into how marijuana might be able to help alleviate the prescription painkiller epidemic.

Nonetheless, some researchers are breaking through. This new research comes on the heels of a 2014 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine finding the states that legalized medical marijuana from 1999 to 2010 had significantly fewer deaths from painkiller overdoses than predicted.

“What we found was that in states where patients have access to medical marijuana, they experienced a better quality of life when they cut their use of hard prescription drugs, which have a very high potential for addiction and fatal overdose. Even for the nine percent of regular users that become addicted to marijuana, the harms associated with marijuana addiction are far less dangerous and never fatal,” Megan Fox, the communications manager at the D.C.-based Marijuana Policy project, told us..

The Democratic Party Says It’s Time To Legalize Marijuana

The Democratic Party’s new policy agenda is moving in a more progressive direction that includes working to legalize marijuana nationally.

According to The Washington Post, the Democrats have endorsed a “reasoned pathway to future legalization” of marijuana and is looking for the drug to “downgraded” in the Controlled Substances Act.

Currently, marijuana is listed as a Schedule 1 substance, which is the most-restrictive class. This means weed is listed alongside other drugs such as heroin, ecstasy, and LSD. Cocaine and methamphetamines are currently listed one level lower than marijuana. Democrats hope that by downgrading marijuana’s classification, they will be able to move the drug toward legal status in the future.

Marijuana is already legal in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia. California could be the next state to legalize weed when it votes on a proposal in November. This would be the second time California has voted on the legalization of the drug after originally voting it down in 2010.

This path to legalizing marijuana on a national level is considered to be a win for Bernie Sanders and his supporters. But as ABC News reported, the marijuana law is not the only Sanders win: the new Democratic platform is “exceptionally progressive.”

The platform also supports a $15 an hour federal minimum wage, a price on carbon, and criminal justice reform, which now states that the party “will work with police chiefs to invest in training for officers on issues such as de-escalation and the creation of national guidelines for the appropriate use of force.”

ABC News reported that this new platform is expected to be “formally adopted at the party’s national convention,” which takes place in Philadelphia later this month.

Half Of The Country Has Now Legalized Medical Marijuana

Half of the states in the country will now allow their residents to use medical marijuana, after Ohio’s Republican Governor John Kasich signed legislation this week legalizing the substance for patients with specific medical conditions. Ohio is the 25th state — plus Washington, D.C. — to pass a medical marijuana law.

The Ohio legislature approved HB 523 in May, a bill that the Marijuana Policy Project calls “limited but workable.” The legislation does not allow medical marijuana users to smoke or grow their own marijuana, but does allow patients with certain chronic health conditions — including chronic and severe pain, cancer, and epilepsy — to use the drug in vapor, patch or edible forms.

The bill was fast-tracked to offset a medical marijuana ballot initiative in November, which could possibly have been less restrictive. In response to the bill, marijuana advocacy groups suspended the signature collection campaign for the ballot initiative, saying that despite some shortcomings, the law was a “step forward” and a “moderately good piece of legislation.”

The law will take effect in 90 days, at which time patients will be able to go to nearby states like Michigan and Pennsylvania that already allow for medical marijuana, legally obtain pot, and take it back across state lines. It also sets a broad deadline of two years for Ohio to set up its own state-run or licensed system to cultivate, test, and dispense medical marijuana.

Eighty-four percent of voters in Ohio support medical marijuana, according to a Quinnipiac University poll. Last year, voters in the state overwhelmingly voted down a full marijuana legalization measure. Although a majority of voters in the state approve marijuana legalization for recreational use, the law would have created a near-monopoly over pot cultivation, locking in a few wealthy investors and cutting everyone else out. Marijuana is already decriminalized in the state, meaning that the possession or ‘gift’ of a small amount of pot is considered a “minor misdemeanor” not punishable by jail time.

In some states that allow medical marijuana, the drug is also decriminalized, as in Ohio, or fully legal, as in Washington, Oregon, and Alaska.

Although marijuana legalization remains somewhat controversial politically, Ohio’s new law demonstrates the growing support for loosening marijuana restrictions among both voters and medical professionals. Study after study has shown that marijuana can relieve pain, ease nausea, and promote appetite, and there’s mounting evidence of its effectiveness as a treatment for chronic pain and cancer. In a 2013 New England Journal of Medicine survey, an overwhelming majority of doctors said they would prescribe it as a treatment.

Cannabis, however, remains illegal at the federal level — and is currently classified as a Schedule I drug, the most restrictive of the five designations under the Controlled Substances Act, reserved for drugs that are dangerous substances with no accepted medical value. That means that marijuana is officially more restricted than substances such as cocaine, opium poppy, morphine, and codeine, all of which are highly addictive.

People who are opposed to the use of medical marijuana often cite the lack of large-scale research into its therapeutic effectiveness and side effects as a reason against changing its classification or legalization status. Advocates note that the effect is cyclical: As long as the drug remains Schedule I, its difficult to get funding or approval for the very studies that could help scientists reach a consensus.

Study Shows That Teens Smoke Less Weed the More It’s Legalized

With more and more states across the US legalizing marijuana, a lot of people are worried about the effect it might have on teenagers (won’t somebody think of the children?!).

But a new survey of more than 216,000 adolescents across the country might help put some of those concerns to rest. The results have shown that, since marijuana has become widely legalized, the number of teenagers smoking weed is on the decline, and so are their pot-related problems.

At the same time, more adults are using the drug. Which kind of reminds us all that nothing’s cool anymore once your parents are doing it.

That said, the researchers think the issue is a lot more complex than that – as are most things in life. Just because the two are linked, it doesn’t necessarily mean that marijuana legalisation has driven down weed use in teens – after all, correlation doesn’t equal causation.

More likely, there’s something else going on to help kids get support when they need it. “We were surprised to see substantial declines in marijuana use and abuse,” said lead researcher Richard A. Grucza from Washington University in St. Louis.

“We don’t know how legalization is affecting young marijuana users, but it could be that many kids with behavioral problems are more likely to get treatment earlier in childhood, making them less likely to turn to pot during adolescence,” he added. “Whatever is happening with these behavioral issues, it seems to be outweighing any effects of marijuana decriminalization.”

The research looked at data on drug use in people aged between 12 and 17 over a 12-year period.

It also investigated weed-related problems in teenagers – so, how many of them were becoming dependent on the drug, or were having relationship or school problems as a result of their drug use.

In good news, they found that teenagers struggling with those issues had declined by 24 percent from 2002 to 2013. Medical cannabis was first legalized in 1996.

They also asked kids whether they’d used pot for the first time in the previous 12 months, and found that the rate fell by 10 percent between 2002 and 2013.

As we said before, it’s very unlikely that this is all because marijuana has been legalised.

Over the same period, the researchers also noticed a reduction in behavioural problems, like petty crime, getting in fights, and selling drugs. And those two were connected – as kids became less likely to engage in problem behaviour, they were also less likely to have issues with weed later on.

That’s good news, because it means that managing behaviour like that as early as possible could help parents and researchers prevent kids from getting into trouble with marijuana.

“It’s likely that if these disruptive behaviors are recognized earlier in life, we may be able to deliver therapies that will help prevent marijuana problems – and possibly problems with alcohol and other drugs, too,” said Grucza.

The best part about all of this? With marijuana rapidly becoming decriminalised around the country, we can finally talk about all of this more openly.

The research has been published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry.

Nationwide Marijuana Legalization Could Produce Up to $28 Billion in Yearly Tax Revenue

The government could make a lot of money by legalizing marijuana. But it’s probably not as much money as you think.

That conclusion is based on a new report by the Tax Foundation. The analysis found that each year a “mature marijuana industry could generate up to $28 billion in tax revenues for federal, state, and local governments, including $7 billion in federal revenue: $5.5 billion from business taxes and $1.5 billion from income and payroll taxes.”

What if the federal government imposed extra taxes on marijuana sales? The Tax Foundation found, “A federal tax of $23 per pound of product, similar to the federal tax on tobacco, could generate $500 million per year. Alternatively, a 10 percent sales surtax could generate $5.3 billion per year, with higher tax rates collecting proportionately more.”

So up to $12.3 billion in annual federal revenue, based on the Tax Foundation’s analysis. That’s not bad. But it would only cover a very tiny portion — less than 1 percent — of federal spending, which was estimated at $3.8 trillion in fiscal year 2015.

Similarly, the $28 billion in local, state, and federal tax revenue would cover less than 1 percent of $6.4 trillion in all government spending, including local and state spending, in fiscal year 2015.

The Tax Foundation also suggests that tax revenue will fall as more businesses get into the marijuana industry and “drive down profit margins.” That would be partially made up by an increase in pot workers’ individual income and payroll taxes, which the Tax Foundation says “are expected to increase as production expands.”

But ultimately, the group estimates that tax revenues will fall from $28 billion to $22 billion over time, as long as “all states implement a 25 percent sales surtax and the federal government has an excise tax similar to that of cigarette[s].”

The analysis is making some assumptions — it’s unclear how cities, states, and the federal government would tax marijuana and whether all jurisdictions really will legalize. But the study still gives a rough approximation of how much tax revenue marijuana legalization could raise — and it’s just not going to fill big budget holes.

The Tax Foundation doesn’t, however, estimate how much money would be saved from no longer having to enforce current marijuana laws. A 2013 report from the American Civil Liberties Union estimated marijuana prohibition costs $3.6 billion in enforcement each year. But a regulatory system for the pot industry costs some money to operate, too, so it’s likely that some of this $3.6 billion would go back to new spending. Still, it doesn’t add much to the overall figures either way.

Any tax revenue is, of course, still great! And it comes in addition to the other gains from legalization: fewer racially disparate arrests and a smaller black market for drugs that criminals can use to fund their violent operations.

So don’t expect marijuana to totally solve your state’s budget crisis anytime soon. But when looking at all the benefits combined — less racism in the justice system, reduced drug-related violence, and a few billion dollars on the side — legalization starts looking a lot stronger.

Where is the Future of Recreational Marijuana in Florida?

Last year was pretty exciting for Florida – we had quite a bit of attention brought to the idea of legalizing cannabis on a recreational level, not just a medicinal one – and it was pretty well received in our state considering the number of retired conservatives living out their golden years in the Sunshine State.

While John Morgan’s medical marijuana amendment is on the ballot for 2016, none of the campaigns gunning for full-on legalization managed to reach their signature goal in time. One of the most well-known groups, Regulate Florida, actually dropped out and temporarily went back to the drawing board.

So does this mean all of these signed petitions are no longer valid? Will they even have the motivation to try again? How long will we have to wait before the herb is legal to all of us, as it should be?

Well, to be fair, each group collecting signatures is at a little bit different of a place right now. So I checked in with the two that I wrote about previously – Regulate Florida and Floridians For Freedom – to see exactly where they’re at in the fight to legalize marijuana.

An Update on Regulate Florida

The amendment that would be passed with Regulate Florida is definitely the most restrictive measure I’ve seen so far – but that could also give them a leg up in the game with the large number of older republican residents. The basics of their campaign is that it would regulate marijuana in a similar fashion to alcohol – it would be taxed and sold in a very similar fashion.

It was August 2015 when Regulate Florida started gathering petitions – and they had high hopes for making the 2016 ballot. Unfortunately in January they announced that they would be dropping their efforts for this year and refocusing their energy and funds into the 2018 election.

This past Wednesday I got a chance to talk to Michael Minardi, the campaign chairman for Regulate Florida, to see exactly where they are at. The first bit of news I got was that they have had to resubmit the writing for the amendment and the petitions.

Among the changes to the writing were measures being taken for “protection of people’s rights, business owner’s rights” as well as a reducing the citizenship requirement for business owners from two years to only six months. They have also raised the number of flowering plants allowed by home cultivators to six from the previous three.

Aside from these changes there is also the addition of a grandfather clause to protect business owners from losing their property and business if they were licensed prior to a countywide ban (such as what’s happening in Washington with the new limit on dispensaries). Other changes were merely minor wording changes or date changes throughout the documents.

“We think that we have a strong amendment, a solid amendment that is logical and sensible – it creates freedoms for individuals and also it creates protections for businesses, employers and children.” – Michael Minardi

At the time of my phone conversation they were planning to resubmit the wording by Friday – I received an email Thursday saying the wording was submitted to the Division of Elections and was awaiting approval. Within the next week or so Regulate Florida will be ready to start gathering petitions again – and they are planning a launch party for early April to kick of the campaign.

An Update on Floridian’s For Freedom

This group is one of the other rather well-known in the state, with many supporters and a simple goal in mind. Rather than trying to set up the entire regulatory system themselves, the Floridian’s For Freedom group want to restore a right that has been taken from us – the right to possess, use and cultivate cannabis, or more simply, the right to the cannabis plant.

“Prohibition against cannabis is a violation of our human rights.” – Colby Hall, owner of It’s Alll Good (Bradenton, FL)

Their amendment is written in only a few sort paragraphs – the summary on the petition is nearly identical – but that doesn’t mean that it’s not a great amendment to vote for. While Regulate Florida is prepared to set up a taxed and regulated economy, the Floridian’s For Freedom group believe that first and foremost the plant should not be banned in any form.

The problem that they see with extremely in depth amendments such as Regulate Florida’s is that it still leaves open the criminal element – it does not entirely end prohibition. There are still loopholes that could be cause for local governments to interfere – such as finding out you’re growing more than the allotted number of plants, or you bought more than was allowed in a single day by going to multiple dispensaries.

With the amendment that Floridian’s For Freedom has proposed there would be no question – the plant is legal to persons 21 and over. It wouldn’t matter if it was an extremely potent plant or an industrial plant or even seeds – every aspect of that plant would be legal.

As far as taxation goes, this amendment says “This right shall not be infringed except that the transfer of cannabis by purchase or sale may be regulated as necessary to ensure health and safety.”

The quote above was from an interview I had this week with a headshop owner who is local to me and also happens to be a part of the Floridian’s For Freedom Adult Right to Cannabis campaign.

Colby brought me up to date on where the Adult Right to Cannabis movement is at right now – and I think they’re poised for a great shot at the 2018 ballots with enough support. Their amendment was approved last year for petition gathering – and this means it is still valid for signature gathering for 2018 already. All their petitions are going to be valid for 2 years – so in essence they’ve already got a head start on this round.

One of the things I enjoyed the most about talking to Colby was his open mind – on a previous article about these two groups we saw comments from Regulate Florida making their claim seem like the only legitimate option – but Colby would rather see the groups working together towards a common cause.

He also made it a point to bring my attention to lesser known petitions. While there are many that were created and have not attempted much if any signature gathering, there is one group I’m interested to learn more about.

Have You Heard of the Florida Organization of Reform?

This group is doing a couple of different things that will be extremely beneficial to Florida over the years to come. One of the first things to note is that those at the Florida Organization of Reform are currently working on a cannabis legalization initiative which would legalized cultivation, possession, processing and sale of marijuana (with no limitations) for all adults over 21.

This amendment has not been submitted to the Division of Elections yet – they are actually counting down the days (14 roughly at the time of writing this) left where they are searching for community input prior to submitting their amendment for review.

Their approach is somewhere between the other two groups – it’s not a few simple paragraphs like Floridian’s for Freedom – but it’s also not a several page long document with unnecessary restrictions such as number of plants or amount you can purchase in a store. The fact that they are looking to local communities for their suggestions is unique as well – helping to make everyone feel involved and like their voice will be heard.  

Another interesting thing about this group is that they are not singly focused on the legalization of cannabis. They have another agenda that will likely bring about more citizen based ballot initiatives in the future.

Now, we all know by now (I’ve probably told you a thousand times, right?) Florida requires a 60% vote to pass a proposed constitutional amendment. Well, I just found out (Thanks, Colby!) that this was not always the case. Back in 2006 an amendment was put on the ballot by lawmakers that changed the threshold from 50% to 60% – and it didn’t even get 60% of the vote itself!

A ballot initiative that is already gathering petitions by Florida Organization of Reform is aiming to repeal this “Supermajority Requirement Amendment of 2006”.

When I spoke to Colby he told me that one of the most common things he hears when gathering petitions is that the 60% threshold concerns voters and makes them in many cases less likely to even sign a petition, figuring the amendment will not pass even if it makes the ballot.

If this requirement were repealed, we could see a large rise in the number of citizen led petitions for a number of things. It certainly would make accomplishing the goal of legal cannabis much easier – unfortunately even if it passes it wouldn’t take effect until 2018 anyway.

So Where Will the Future Take Us?

It’s a long ways away to be thinking about the 2018 election – or so it may seem. While we haven’t even voted on United for Care’s Amendment 2, it absolutely doesn’t hurt to be looking towards the future. With 65% polling for medical marijuana in a recent update from United for Care, it’s not hard to think the support for outright legalization is not far behind.

The question is, will we see a “customer based” amendment (Regulate Florida, which as well as legalization focuses largely on creating a functioning industry) or a “rights based” amendment, re-establishing a right that was taken from us decades ago.

While so many are focused on earning tax dollars from cannabis (and using that to convince people who refuse to change their reefer madness opinions) we should be focused on ending prohibition. The rest will follow naturally – we’re a tourist based state and even if only a small handful of citizens chose to purchase their marijuana instead of grow we would still be generating millions of dollars through sales.

I see great points in all of these campaigns – and I cannot say right now that one has much of a leg up over the others. I think if they were to all support each other in petition gathering efforts, we could see one or more of these initiatives on the ballots in 2018.

Legal Weed Sales Expected to Top $20 Billion by 2020 Because Everyone Loves Weed

With both Washington and Colorado (and Oregon too!) reporting record-setting weed hauls in 2015, the fact that the increasingly green industry surrounding the legal consumption of weed is now projected to get even greener should came as little surprise. However, according to an ArcView Market Research study quoted by Fortune, the next few years could bring about a dramatic power shift in the industry to the tune of $21.8 billion.

Legal weed sales jumped 17 percent in 2015 for a total annual intake of $5.4 billion, with current projections placing 2016 somewhere in the neighborhood of a very bragworthy $6.7 billion. “It is undeniable that cannabis is one of the fastest growing industries in the U.S.,” Giadha DeCarcer, CEO of cannabis data analysis company New Frontier, tells Forbes. “With nearly a dozen states debating changes to their cannabis laws in the coming year, 2016 will be the tipping point in which a majority of U.S. states transition from cannabis prohibition to some form of regulated legal market.”

That shift, according to experts, will result in a profound boom for the burgeoning weed industry by 2020. In fact, annual sales are projected to top $21.8 billion in just four short (and high) years. “A lot of people in the business and finance world, in particular, have kind of taken a ‘wait and see’ approach to the cannabis industry,” ArcView CEO Troy Dayton tells Fortune, adding that this is the year all of that could (and most likely will) change.

Sadly, this national shift toward a more enlightened approach to all things weedwill most likely have very little immediate impact on those way down in the Deep South. Stay strong, red states.