Ask a Weed Lawyer: What's New for Marijuana Law in 2016?

It's not too late to get a jump on the coming 12 months.

John Bussman is a criminal defense attorney in Orange County, California. He is an expert on marijuana law, a member of the NORML Legal Committee, and a longtime supporter of drug policy reform.

Q: What’s new for marijuana law in 2016?

The year 2016 could be a watershed for meaningful, commonsense drug policy reform in the U.S. Of course, I said that last year (and the year before).

At last count, 17 states have new medical marijuana legislation in the works; 23 states currently allow some form of medical cannabis.

California, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are on the verge of legalizing weed for recreational use in the new year.

Congress has extended their year-old “ceasefire” on medical marijuana. The Fiscal Year 2016 Appropriations Act includes the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which prohibits the Justice Department from spending a penny to enforce federal marijuana prohibition against patients who comply with the medical marijuana laws of their own states. That provision drew broad, bipartisan support from social liberals and fiscal conservatives alike.

The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment represents a new consensus in Washington that cultural attitudes about marijuana are shifting, especially with medical cannabis.

For now, the federal government’s “hands-off” approach is buried in the minutiae of a spending bill. That means the protections must be renewed annually, or else they simply expire at the stroke of midnight on 12/31/16.

Senator Cory Booker, Image via Jamelle Bouie/Flickr

Sen. Cory Booker (D - New Jersey) has been pushing toward a permanent solution. He sponsored the CARERS Act this year. “CARERS” stands for “Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States.” If approved, it will create a new, stand-alone federal law that will codify the protections of the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment so that they do not require annual reauthorization. It will also finally remove marijuana from the federal government’s Schedule-I list of controlled substances. Rep. Steve Cohen (D - Tennessee) is sponsoring an identical bill in the House.

California will attempt to implement a comprehensive new regulatory scheme for medical marijuana in 2016. The Golden State was the first in the nation to allow medical cannabis, way back in 1996. Since then, we’ve dropped the proverbial blunt into our collective laps. Our laws have completely failed to keep up with the booming medical marijuana industry. The Medical Marijuana Safety and Regulation Act will completely turn our medical marijuana laws on their head. It will require specific licenses for every stage of cultivation, transportation, testing, and retail sales. For the first time, rules in California will expressly allow the production of concentrated cannabis (butane hash oil) and for-profit sales. The new law will even create “appellations of origin” for California-grown cannabis, like fine wines and cheeses.