THE BLOG

Top 10 Anti-Marijuana Legalization Policy Victories of 2015

12/27/2015 06:39 pm ET | Updated Dec 27, 2015
  • Kevin A. Sabet, Ph.D. President, Smart Approaches to Marijuana (SAM) and Asst. Professor, University of Florida

2015 will be remembered as the year legalization hit bumps most supporters never anticipated. For pro-health advocates that oppose marijuana legalization, it was a year of fantastic victories! Here are the top 10:

10. Big Marijuana is Real -- and People are Writing About It. When we started talking about Big Marijuana in 2013, many people laughed. Could marijuana even be compared with Big Tobacco in any credible way? But now, that's ancient history. Several articles - even in legalization-friendly blogs like this one - mention the term. And the term is not just rhetoric -- the most senior federal legalization lobbyist in the country resigned in protest because, in his words, "industry was taking over the legalization movement." Not only was that heroic of him, it was historic for us.

9. Continuing Positive Press Coverage of Groups Opposing Legalization. With the exception of some very pro-pot columnists, this year represented one in which our side was represented just a little bit better than in the past. A profile of SAM was featured in the International Business Times, and other articles continued to broadcast our message to new audiences. With the hiring of a new Communications Director in 2016, you can bet we won't let up on this next year.

8. Several States Resisted Full-Blown Legalization.
We entered 2014 after setbacks in Alaska and Oregon; but we stuck to winning messages and formed coalitions in a bloc of New England states that were all under attack in the early part of 2015. From Maine to Massachusetts to New Hampshire to Rhode Island, our partners and affiliates fought back --- and not one state legalized via legislature as the legalizers had promised. We'll be taking this momentum into 2016.

7. Lawyering Up. Many of our friends made strong statements in court -- "Colorado and other states cannot legalize in the face of federal law," they argue. Of course we know they are right, and we know that regardless of legal outcomes the statement they sent was loud and clear. (We're also happy that the Justice Department, in its opposition to the suit, solely argued against it on procedural grounds -- they did not substantively come out in favor of legalization to the Solicitor General). The plaintiff's bar should take notice--just like Big Tobacco became a big target for lawsuits, Big Marijuana and those who sell the drug will, too.

6. Marijuana Stores Banned in California, Washington, Colorado, Oregon, Michigan, and Elsewhere. Despite legalization in some states, we know that local ordinances are one of the key strategies to keeping marijuana out of communities. The majority of towns in most weed-friendly states have indeed banned stores altogether. Even in Detroit, up to half of Detroit's roughly 150 medical marijuana dispensaries could close following a Detroit City Council vote to approve a restrictive zoning ordinance. We will keep pushing hard for more bans in 2016.

5. Legalizers Made No Gains in Congress This Year
. For the past decade, it seemed that every year we lost a little more in Congress. Not in 2015. Despite the most aggressive lobbying effort yet by pro-marijuana folks, they made no progress on key provisions:

· They wanted to give tax breaks to pot shops--just like Big Tobacco lobbies to lower taxes on cigarettes.

· They wanted to allow pot businesses to leverage Wall Street money through the banking system.

· They wanted to stop the Justice Department from enforcing the law in states with legalized recreational marijuana.

· They wanted to give pot to our most vulnerable citizens to "treat" PTSD -- even though science says marijuana makes PTSD, as well as other mental illness, worse.

· They wanted Washington, DC, to become a mecca for Big Marijuana.


And we won - on every issue.

4. Continued Support from ONDCP, DEA, and NIDA. 2015 was a transitional year for key federal drug policy agencies. A new ONDCP Director was appointed -- and even though we are still waiting for the Obama Administration to enforce federal law, it is clear where Director Botticelli's heart is. Right after getting into office, the Director sat down with me for a one-to-one on-the-record interview where he blasted legal pot. And only a few weeks ago, he was featured on 60 Minutes talking about the harms of marijuana and the harms of the industry.

Additionally, we saw the appointment of a new DEA Administrator -- this time from the FBI. Administrator Rosenberg has been an excellent leader by moving to support legitimate medical research over faux claims of "medical" marijuana.

And we continue to receive support from NIDA Director Nora Volkow, who headlined SAM's summit last year, for her unwavering support of public health above profits.

3. Real Progress on Researching the Medical Components of Marijuana. I'm proud that SAM took a bold stand this year to defend the legitimate research of medical components of marijuana. And our groundbreaking report paid off. The federal government has already adopted two of the report's provisions -- eliminating the Public Health Service review and getting rid of onerous CBD handling requirements. We will continue to fight for legitimate marijuana research, and to separate it from faux medicine-by-ballot-initiative.

2. No States Legalized "Medical" Marijuana in 2015. This is a big one, given where the country is on the "medical" marijuana issue. No state legalized the drug for medical purposes this year, despite several tries in key states. Even in Georgia, where legalizers have been emboldened by a few pot-friendly legislators, a government-convened panel voted to follow science and impose sensible restrictions on the drug.

1. Ohio! Of course, the victory in Ohio tops the field. Despite being outspent 12-to-1, our affiliates and partners brought us a huge victory in November. We plan to build on this for 2016, but we need your help.

Despite the nonstop talking point of "inevitability," we know that the 8% of Americans who use pot don't speak for 92% of Americans that don't want to see Big Tobacco 2.0, don't want to worry about another drug impairing drivers on the road, and don't want to think about keeping things like innocuous-looking "pot gummy bears" away from their kids. We know that the pot lobby will work hard for things like not only full-blown legalization in several more states next year, but also things like on-site pot smoking "bars" (they are really proposing these in Alaska and Colorado as we speak) and an expansion of pot edibles.

In 2016, let's nip Big Marijuana in the bud.

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