2014 was the year that the United States went “green”. Colorado hit the ground running and started the year with more than $1 million in sales in the first day. As the year wound down, two more states voted to legalize the herb, doubling the number of states that went recreational. Back in Colorado, the tax revenues alone were more than $60 million. These are just a few events that happened within the ranks of the Federal Government in 2014 that were wonderful for the cannabis movement as we march closer to the end of federal prohibition.
The Executive Branch issued enforcement guidelines about cannabis-related business operations throughout the year. First, the Justice Department sent off a set of guidelines to the banks that allowed banks to work with collective owners. The banks were not confident that these rules were adequate to protect them, so they continue to avoid opening bank accounts for anyone in the ganja industry. Looking ahead, maybe this next Congress will write some laws that will satisfy the banks.
The Justice Department also issued guidelines for highway stops. They are intended to cut back on civil rights violations that can occur through questionable seizures of cash and personal property. It is still unclear whether the states will follow these guidelines; the state governments have zero incentive to stop going for the easy cash grabs that come into their local black markets.
The First Nations communities around the country got the biggest news. Local tribes can now make their own rules for legalizing cannabis within their own governments. The Oglala Sioux Tribal Council already legalized industrial hemp in 1998. They lost two harvests to the DEA in 2000 and 2001. There are more than 300 individual tribes have reservations in more than 30 states. This opens the door for potential legalization in 30 states, as long as the tribes are willing to share.
The First Nations people already have ample reasons to mistrust promises our government makes; it is easy to see these guidelines as a trap. The biggest hurdle in 2015 is the murkiness of jurisdiction questions within the Controlled Substances Act. If anybody steps up and plants the seeds, look to South Dakota next year. Alex White Plume and the Oglala Sioux are the most likely candidates to step up and blaze the trail with fields of hemp in 2015.
Meanwhile Congress went into the Midterm elections last February with a letter from 18 Congresspeople to the Obama Administration that called for cannabis to be rescheduled. Holder replied that he would love to help Congress reschedule. Then an election came and we did not hear anything more until after the Midterm elections.
When the Republican Party emerged victorious from those Midterms, they quickly got to work and defunded programs that interfere with legal medical marijuana businesses. This is a clear victory for the medical marijuana industry. Places like San Diego can now be reassured that city, state, and now federal law enforcement agencies will not interfere with legal medical marijuana businesses. These communities know all too well, however, the power of a District Attorney bent on preserving the status quo regardless of the laws their constituents are following. It would not be a stretch to see the DEA continue to play a part in molding the psyche of these communities. Without Congressional support, however, it may be possible that this beast has been caged.
Speaking of the courts, they also tore holes in the tapestry of cannabis prohibition. In Colorado, one case opened the door for thousands of people to appeal their cases and have them overturned thanks to the new legal environment that Amendment 64 provided. Meanwhile nationwide, the Sentencing Commission released new rules that could free tens of thousands of inmates with federal drug convictions.
These are all indications that we are clearly on the path to the Federal Government rescheduling cannabis. With progress, however, come unseen conflicts and problems along the way. The lawsuit from Nebraska and Oklahoma is just one of those. It is also a great bridge into the 2015 calendar year, when the Supreme Court will decide if they will even hear this case.
Regardless of the outcome, we have an Executive branch that is ready for a nice, long vacation and a Congress that is full of people who want to keep their jobs in two years. The only laws that both branches can agree on are the only ones that have any chance of passing. If rescheduling cannabis goes as smoothly in Congress as the recent spending bill did, then these next two years should be great for the movement.