By: Nabil Rodriguez, Associate
Despite the difficult year that was 2020, it was a great year for cannabis reform and normalization. As the cannabis industry wakes up to celebrate another 4/20 in the era of COVID-19, there are calls for federal legalization on social media and, with the SAFE Banking Act passing the House yesterday, 2021 is shaping up to be another strong year for cannabis. In honor of the great strides cannabis reform has taken, we wanted to take a look at the milestones cannabis policy reform has taken during the pandemic.
Cannabis is Deemed Essential – March 2020
In the wake of state and local shelter in place orders across the country mandating individuals to stay at home, businesses deemed “essential” could remain open to the public. Generally essential businesses included health care operations, companies working on essential infrastructure, and businesses providing goods and services to needy individuals, among others. Cannabis businesses were almost unanimously deemed essential across the United States.
Here in Denver, things didn’t go too smoothly, but cannabis was inevitably deemed essential. During a press conference on March 23, 2020, around 2 p.m., when Denver Mayor Michael Hancock announced the city must shut down, Hancock called a city attorney to the podium who clarified that dispensaries and liquor stores were not deemed “essential” and would not be allowed to operate. Across Denver, everyone immediately dropped what they were doing to rush and buy weed and booze before the order went in place at 5 p.m. The City of Denver was forced to reverse course and a few hours later announced that dispensaries and liquor stores would remain open. Because of this misstep, March 23, 2020, from 3 to 5 p.m. will forever be known as “The Denver Prohibition.”
Every Cannabis Bill Passes During Election – November 2020
With the addition of Arizona, Montana, New Jersey and South Dakota as adult-use marijuana states, and Mississippi voters approving a medical marijuana ballot, a majority of Americans would have access to marijuana in some form. While the outcome of the Presidential election was being debated, cannabis policy reform was a clear winner in this last election.
Colorado Marijuana Sales in 2020 Shatters Records – December 2020
In 2019, Colorado’s cannabis industry sold a total of $1.74 billion. Last year, spurred by historically high transaction months at the start of COVID-related lockdowns, Colorado’s cannabis industry sold over $2.19 billion – an over 25% increase.
Mexico Set to Legalize Cannabis – March 2021
On March 10, 2021, Mexico’s Chamber of Deputies legalized cannabis for industrial, medical and recreational purposes. Now, the bill has moved to Mexico’s Senate for a vote to approve the changes, recently passing Mexico’s Senate Justice Committee on April 5, 2021. After Senate Approval, Mexico’s President needs to sign the bill into law. Once this happens, the United States will be sandwiched between the two largest legal cannabis markets globally.
New York Legalizes Recreational Use – March 31, 2021
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to legalize recreational cannabis on March 31, 2021, making it the 15
th state to allow for recreational marijuana use for adults. In addition, anyone previously convicted of possessing any amount of marijuana now under the legal limit, will automatically be subject to expungement and re-sentencing.
Virginia Legalizes Recreational Use – April 7, 2021
On April 7, 2021, Virginia’s Legislature passed a bill legalizing the possession of an ounce or less of marijuana beginning July 1, 2021, becoming the 16
th state allowing for recreational adult-use. The bill also establishes a regulated market – expected to begin retail sales as late as 2024.
New Mexico Legalizes Recreational Use – April 12, 2021
New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham signed New Mexico’s recreational cannabis bill into law during a specially convened legislation session on April 12, 2021, becoming the 17
th state in the United States to do so. While marijuana will become legal in New Mexico on June 29, 2021, retails sales are expected to begin in April 2022.
House Passes SAFE Banking Act – April 19, 2021
Given the milestone accomplishments of cannabis reform in the last 12-13 months, the SAFE Banking Act (
see here for previous blog(s) discussing) might finally be gaining some real traction. The bill passed the House in 2019, only to die in the Senate. Yesterday’s house vote of 321 to 101 in favor demonstrates bipartisan support similar to the House vote in 2019, but with a Democratically controlled Senate, this may be the year major banks start providing financial services to the cannabis industry.
When it comes to cannabis, I’ve always been an advocate first and an attorney second. Despite all of the difficulties in the last year (to put it lightly) it has been a momentous year for cannabis reform. As an advocate, I can’t help but look back at this past year with a lens of positivity, and though I am no fortune teller, many signs are pointing towards federal legalization. When and if that happens, I’m sure that we will all let out a socially-distant sigh of relief as the “War on Drugs” winds down.
From your cannattorneys here at Greenspoon Marder, happy 4/20.
Stay safe, stay healthy, and stay positive.