It’s a new year and cannabis legalization efforts show no sign of slowing down. While the advent of 2023 did not bring with it the age of federal cannabis legalization in the United States as some had anticipated, it did begin with some rays of light.
There are several reasons for cannabis consumers to feel optimistic this year, ranging from red states legalizing adult-use cannabis to big ballot campaigns and increased support for legalization efforts. In the rest of the world, cannabis legalization continues to drive forward, with Germany’s legalization efforts sparking a snowball effect in Europe, and Thailand’s decriminalization decision warming the rest of Asia up to the idea of adult-use cannabis. In 2023, we can expect to see more states and countries following suit.
But will the high times last or will 2023 see even more pushback from lawmakers in terms of cannabis legalization? Let’s take a deeper dive into what happened last year in the cannabis sector, the road to cannabis legalization in 2023 and beyond, and the implications of widespread cannabis legalization on a global scale.
A LOOK BACK AT CANNABIS IN 2022
Cannabis legalization was a large part of cultural and political discourse in 2022 and the year was a bit of a mixed bag for the cannabis sector. While new markets grew strongly, legal cannabis sales in many older markets fell, delaying or even reversing growth in those sectors. While part of this may be attributed to similarities faced by the larger economy in the aftermath of COVID-19, it nonetheless led in layoffs, cash difficulties, and increasing debt for many enterprises throughout the industry.
It was not all doom and gloom, however, in 2022 for the global cannabis industry, with several milestones being reached for intercontinental cannabis. In the US, three additional states, Maryland, Missouri, and Rhode Island, legalized adult-use cannabis, while recreational sales began in many more states. The Biden administration took efforts toward reform on the federal level, pardoning federal convictions of minor cannabis possession and requesting a study of cannabis’s categorization under federal law. The Medical Marijuana and Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was also passed by Congress.
Several international developments occurred outside of the United States. Not least, Germany issued a position paper in October explaining its ambitions to legalize adult-use cannabis. This Spring, Germany will unveil a much-anticipated draught law that will require consultation from the European Commission. The conclusion of legalization in Germany is far from certain, but many anticipate improvement this year.
Another notable international win for the cannabis sector came with Thailand’s decision to decriminalize adult-use cannabis, paving the way for other Asian countries to follow their lead. South Korea, Japan, and Malaysia are paving the way for therapeutic cannabis use and, according to Prohibition Partners, the cannabis market is expected to reach a $100 billion sector by 2026, and regional firms are ready for demand from Asian customers.
THE ROAD TO CANNABIS LEGALIZATION IN 2023
The road to cannabis legalization globally in 2023 has been long and winding. From medicinal applications to recreational use, countries across the world are beginning to recognize the potential benefits of legalizing cannabis.
Over the course of the last few years, several countries took significant steps towards legalizing cannabis for medical and recreational use, a trend that is likely to continue in 2023 as more countries explore the potential benefits of cannabis legalization. In particular, countries like Israel and Colombia have already made public declarations to pursue national legalization. This could be a huge step forward in terms of global acceptance of cannabis as not just a viable recreational substance but a beneficial medicinal one.
In the US, several states will debate legalizing in the next year. Oklahoma, for example, is planning to put legal cannabis on the ballot in March 2023.
Ohio is also planning to have a referendum on the issue in 2023, while Minnesota might enact legislation legalizing cannabis without a state constitutional amendment.
Looking a bit further into 2023, Hawaii may also be gearing up to vote on cannabis legalization. Meanwhile, some are predicting that citizen initiatives in Wyoming, Idaho, Florida, and Nebraska could put the matter to the ballot box.
Not only will this open up new economic opportunities, but it could also create a more progressive political landscape. Despite the various challenges that naturally come with legalization, countries and states that have already made the switch to legal cannabis are seeing the rewards in terms of increased tax revenue, job creation, and improved public health.
It’s safe to say that cannabis legalization is moving away from being a taboo topic, and many more countries, states, and territories are likely to follow suit over the course of 2023.
CANNABIS LEGALIZATION VS DECRIMINALIZATION
The differences between cannabis legalization and decriminalization are subtle but important, particularly as conversations surrounding the two continue to increase globally in 2023.
Cannabis legalization involves the removal of criminal penalties for the possession, sale, and use of cannabis products. This often also involves creating regulations and restrictions on how cannabis can be produced, distributed, and consumed.
In contrast, cannabis decriminalization removes criminal penalties but usually still retains some sort of legal framework. This may include fines or civil penalties for the possession or use of cannabis products in certain circumstances. In many cases, the penalties are much more lenient than those associated with criminal prosecution.
Cannabis legalization has been largely successful in terms of public opinion and acceptance of the drug. Removing criminal penalties altogether sends a strong signal that it is time to move beyond outdated policies and embrace this new reality.
Cannabis decriminalization, however, may be better suited for jurisdictions that are not quite ready to fully legalize. It is a valuable tool for those looking to reduce penalties for minor cannabis-related offenses, while still providing a way to enforce the law.
Ultimately, the decision of whether to legalize or decriminalize cannabis lies with each individual jurisdiction. However, both strategies can have a beneficial impact on public health, safety, and economic development.
THE FUTURE OF FEDERAL CANNABIS LEGALIZATION
While Congress failed to approve major cannabis reform once again in 2022, and federal legalization appears doubtful in 2023, federal reform initiatives made gradual progress.
President Biden issued a statement in October pardoning federal charges of simple marijuana possession. Furthermore, the president requested that the Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Attorney General evaluate cannabis’s designation as a Schedule I substance, the highest degree of classification under federal law. Although not without risks, rescheduling to Schedule II would be a net benefit to the medical marijuana business, allowing medicinal cannabis to be cultivated in one state and sold in another.
While the statement represented the most significant change in federal cannabis policy since the introduction of the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) in 1970, its ramifications would take time to take effect. The administrative assessment of cannabis’s legal status under federal law has no clear timeline and is unlikely to be finished by 2023. Furthermore, because state cannabis convictions vastly outweigh federal convictions, most pardons will be granted at the state level rather than the federal one.
However, some believe that once enough states pass similar laws, there will be pressure on the federal government to act.
The federal legalization of cannabis would bring about many changes. For one, it would free up much-needed resources that have previously been used to enforce outdated laws. It would also open up a whole new world of economic opportunities, particularly in the hemp and cannabis industries. This could mean new jobs, higher wages, and access to medical care and research funding that have been blocked due to the Schedule I drug status of cannabis.
Furthermore, federal legalization would allow states to regulate the sale and use of cannabis without fear of federal intervention. This could open up unprecedented opportunities for business owners, farmers, and investors to get involved in the rapidly expanding industry. It could also give consumers more access to cannabis products, while ensuring they are of a high quality and safe to use.
Federal cannabis legalization is a complex and daunting prospect, but one that is theoretically achievable and beneficial.
CANNABIS LEGALIZATION & ITS IMPACT BEYOND 2023
The implications of global cannabis legalization beyond 2023 will be far-reaching and highly beneficial. As more countries, states, and territories move towards full legalization, we can expect to see a number of positive outcomes.
First, full legalization could open up unprecedented economic opportunities. Cannabis has already been found to have numerous medicinal and recreational applications, so legalizing the drug could create new business opportunities in the production, distribution, and sale of these products. This could mean new jobs, higher wages, and increased tax revenue for governments.
Second, legalization could help to reduce the stigma and criminalization of cannabis that has persisted in many countries. Removing criminal penalties associated with cannabis use could help to alleviate some of the injustice that has been perpetuated by outdated laws. It could also open up access to medical treatment and research funding that has previously been blocked due to the Schedule I drug status of cannabis.
Finally, widespread legalization on a global scale could open up more opportunities for collaboration and exchange across cultures and nations. We could see an influx of innovation in the cannabis industry, as well as increased knowledge sharing from countries that have already expressed interest in legalizing cannabis.
And the move toward widespread cannabis legalization is already happening. In the US, for example, according to studies on the state of cannabis legality, medical legalization is likely to occur in all states by 2024, with some more states legalizing the sale of recreational cannabis.
In short, the implications of global cannabis legalization beyond 2023 could be far-reaching and potentially transformative. It is an exciting prospect that could bring about a more progressive and enlightened future.
THE BOTTOM LINE
The future of cannabis legalization is an issue that has been subject to much debate in recent years. Despite the ongoing debate, it is clear that public opinion on the matter is steadily shifting in favor of legalization.
With more countries and states passing legislation that allows for some level of cannabis consumption and production, it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of cannabis legalization is bright.
We may even see changes at the US federal level in the near future that will allow the cannabis sector to continue to develop without so many regulatory restraints and undoubtedly create a knock-on effect for the rest of the world to follow their lead.
As more research is conducted and more information is made available to the public, the path forward in terms of the global legalization of cannabis is becoming more obvious.