With nonstop political controversy, a flood of international tragedies and far too many beloved celebrities snatched from us, many people are anxious to say good riddance to 2016.
But it’s been far from all bad news in the world of weed. In many ways, it’s actually been a groundbreaking, tide-turning, game-changing run for marijuana.
So before we kiss this year goodbye, we’re counting down the top 16 cannabis stories that happened in or affected California over the past 12 months.
On Friday, we shared our picks for the Golden State’s 16th through the ninth most significant pot tales.
Today, we present the top eight cannabis stories of 2016, with links to read the full articles – plus check out the photos and videos – that shaped our year.
8. “Cannabusinesses” flock to California
Property values skyrocketed to 10 times what they had been after the high desert town of Adelanto became among the first cities to Southern California to allow commercial cultivation of marijuana. Similar trends played out this year in Desert Hot Springs, Coachella and other California cities.
Then there were businesses that left Colorado – which has been ground zero for the legal weed movement – to come to California in 2016. That includes Cannabis Science Inc., which announced in July that it was moving its corporate headquarters from Colorado Springs to Irvine. High Times magazine also held its national Cannabis Cup festival in San Bernardino rather than Denver this spring, plus the New York-based publication chose to open its second bureau in Los Angeles.
7. Big money flows to legalization effort, helping Prop. 64 make the ballot
Early in the year, the push to legalize adult use of marijuana in California included 19 separate initiatives. Most of those never gathered a single signature, and none reached 25 percent of the signatures needed to get on the statewide ballot except Proposition 64.
Much of that success can be attributed to a few key groups and individuals that helped Prop. 64 raise nearly $16 million – nearly four times more money than last time recreational marijuana was on the ballot and eight times more than the opposition this year. Napster cofounder and original Facebook president Sean Parker personally donated roughly half of that total, with the Drug Policy Alliance, New Approach PAC and Weedmaps also giving large sums to support the campaign.
6. Research from legal states stirs debate
Does teen use of marijuana drop and do roads become safer in states with legal weed? Or do pot shops lure kids with drug-infused candy while accidents and emergency room visits increase?
With just a couple years of recreational marijuana sales in states like Colorado and Washington, research on the impact of legal pot is mixed and often conflicting. But that didn’t stop advocates and opponents of Prop. 64 from latching onto results that supported their arguments, with both sides filing lawsuits over claims cited in the ballot initiative.
More research and years of data is needed before anyone can draw reliable conclusions. But mounting studies this year suggest that the sky hasn’t fallen in states that have legalized marijuana, with the move bringing some positive and some negative changes to these states.
Read part one in the 2016 countdown: thecannifornian.com/cannabis-news/california-news/top-16-biggest-marijuana-stories-2016-part-one/
5. Trump Administration causes concern
Though marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, President Barack Obama’s administration has largely been letting states carry out their legalization schemes so long as they have policies in place to discourage crimes like money laundering. But Donald Trump’s surprise victory Nov. 8 has caused ripples of uncertainty in the cannabis industry.
Trump himself has said he supports both medical marijuana and state rights, suggesting he may continue with the status quo established by Obama. However, he’s anything but predictable. And concerns mounted when Trump chose Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as his top pick for Attorney General. Sessions is staunchly opposed to cannabis, with remarks during an April congressional hearing that “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
4. California hires its first pot czar
In February, Gov. Jerry Brown appointed Lori Ajax – a long-time director with the state’s alcohol control department – as the state’s first chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation.
Both her position and her bureau were created in October 2015, when Brown signed into a set of regulations aimed at reining in an industry that’s operated largely in the shadows in the 20 years since Californians voted to legalize medical marijuana.
Ajax’s already monumental task got much larger in November, when voters approved recreational marijuana. Now she’s charged with overseeing the roll out of licensing and regulation programs for both types of marijuana sales.
She spent much of 2016 building up her staff and touring the state to get information from and help educate the state’s cannabis industry. The real work will take place in 2017, as she strives to hit a deadline of Jan. 1, 2018 for the state to start handing out licenses to marijuana businesses.
3. Cities and counties pass flood of new pot laws
Early in 2016, cities hurriedly passed sweeping bans on marijuana in a movement that came to be called “banapalooza.” It was triggered by a line in the state’s new medical marijuana laws that said the state would have sole authority to license cannabis growers in jurisdictions that did not have laws on the books by March 1. The deadline was included by mistake and was removed in February. But the damage had already been done, with new marijuana bans on the books in dozens of cities up and down the state.
In anticipation of the passage of Prop. 64, cities continued to enact new marijuana laws throughout the year leading up to Election Day. There were also some 62 initiatives on local ballots Nov. 8 to tax, regulate or ban cannabis, most of which passed. And since the election, cities have continued voting on whether to permit pot businesses, regulate home grows allowed under Prop. 64 and more.
2. DEA keeps cannabis as a Schedule I drug, but opens research
The Drug Enforcement Administration announced in August that marijuana would remain classified as a Schedule I controlled substance – a designation reserved for highly addictive drugs with no proven medical use. While thousands of published studies and extensive anecdotal evidence have indicated marijuana can help with conditions such as epilepsy and chronic pain, the federal agency said cannabis treatments haven’t yet been proven effective by controlled clinical trials and widespread acceptance from the medical community.
The DEA did make one concession by agreeing to allow more growers to apply to become federally sanctioned suppliers of marijuana for research purposes. Since 1968, only the University of Mississippi could supply marijuana for FDA-approved studies.
1. California legalized marijuana, with seven more states also expanding access
Californians on Nov. 8 passed Proposition 64 with 57.1 percent of the vote. The ballot measure legalized recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over, plus established a system to license, regulate and tax businesses.
Three other states also approved recreational cannabis on Election Day: Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts. And three more states – Arkansas, Florida and North Dakota – approved medical marijuana, while Montana also expanded access for patients.
That means heading into 2017, more than one in five Americans now live in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, while 28 states allow their residents to medicate with cannabis.
Disagree with our ranking? Share your picks for the top cannabis stories of 2016 below.
Then come back to TheCannifornian.com on Jan. 1 to read what issues and events industry experts are most looking forward to and are most concerned about in 2017.