Marijuana leaf

Consensus seems to hold that 2019 was a mixed bag: ground-breaking, positive change countered by frustration, gloom and doom, all peppered with more than a little bizarre. Let’s take a look:

The Awesome

Hemp, Hemp Hurray! Cannabis’ controversial cousin finally found fame. The 2018 Farm Bill, pet project of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, largely legalized marijuana, err hemp, and in July, motivated the Ohio Republican super majority to lock step their own long-awaited hemp bill. The legislation not only accorded Ohio farmers a profitable new crop (to soften the blow of Chinese tariffs), it also halted prosecution of low level possession offenses, or so said Ohio Attorney General Yost in August.

Presidential Prospects: The debate at Otterbein University in October made it clear. A wide majority of Democratic presidential candidates favor marijuana legalization. From descheduling the plant to expunging records, all – except former Vice President Joe Biden (see Bizarre) – stumbled over one another to advance the most progressive platform.

Legislative Progress: A record 1,369 cannabis reform bills are moving through state legislatures and Congress. Federally, the Safe Banking Act passed the U.S. House by a landslide in September, and in October, that body’s Judiciary Committee approved the MORE Act to declassify marijuana as a controlled substance. However, by December, banking had met the grim reaper in a place where good bills go to die: the U.S. Senate.

Eyes to Legalize: Ohio’s two midwestern sisters – Michigan and Illinois – have now legalized adult (read: recreational) use of cannabis. The Illinois law passed through its legislature in May and product sales in Michigan began in December. Neighboring Pennsylvania is making noise to follow suit in 2020.

Forfeiture Fairness: The despicable practice of civil asset forfeiture had its wings clipped in February when the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that the Eighth Amendment's Excessive Fines Clause applies to states, thereby outlawing unfair fines, fees and forfeitures.

The Bummers

Vaping Breaking Bad: As of December, 2,506 people have been hospitalized and 54 have died from a mysterious lung disease connected to vaping tobacco and/or marijuana oils. As if disease and death weren’t bad enough, vaunted agencies like the FDA and CDC became handcuffed by prohibition into touting bans as the sole solution. Dare we call tragedy 21st Century bathtub gin?

Unending Opioid Crisis. Opioids continue wreak havoc. Projected deaths for 2019 hover at 70,000. Fearing insolvency in the wake over 2,000 lawsuits, manufacturers of these poisons reached a record $260 million settlement with two Ohio counties in October. Even so, opioid addiction was rejected as a qualifying condition under Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program.

Legislative Quicksand: What did the Ohio General Assembly do this year? (Are those crickets chirping?) With an arm twist from Mitch McConnell, they passed a hemp bill and they permitted CPAs to serve cannabusinesses. Even though Ohio’s sister states are looking at billions in new tax revenue, how did Governor DeWine respond when asked in January about the prospects for full cannabis legalization in Ohio, “Why would we want to do that?” Mike, that’s billions with a “b”.

The Bizarre

Machete Mitch: In November, the “Grim Reaper,” also known as “Cocaine Mitch” or “Moscow Mitch,” received his official machete. No, not to shred the 275 “dead” bills that cleared the U.S. House but sit silently on his desk. Is that Safe Banking gasping for air? Rather, this “major award” recognized his “ardent and steadfast commitment” to eradicating thousands of marijuana, err hemp plants, the same plants that he intends to cultivate under his Farm Bill. Hint, Mitch: marijuana, hemp and cannabis are the same!

Malarkey! Merriam Webster defines malarkey as “insincere or foolish talk,” as in, “He thinks that everything politicians say is a bunch of malarkey.” Guess we can agree on that one. The word was first popularized in a 1922 cartoon, which ought to say something about presidential candidate Joe Biden who frequently uses the term. In November, the former Vice President had to retract his insincere and foolish talk – malarkey! – that cannabis is a gateway drug.

420 in 2020: The classic cannaholiday is April 20th, which as the 4th month of the year, is abbreviated 4/20. In 2020, that makes every day in April 4/20! Thus, April 20th specifically becomes 4/20/20, or 4/20/2020. Further, twenty minutes after 4 o’clock that day – 4:20 am or 4:20 pm – will be 4:20 on 4/20 in 4/20 or 4:20 on 4/20/2020. It’s with that clarity that 2019 becomes 2020.

As the calendar moves to a new decade, it’s ironic that the first year will be 2020. Underlying the awesome, the bummers and the bizarre are serious issues that require conscience, courage and a clear vision to surmount. In 2020, let’s hope that that vision is indeed 20/20.

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