Covid looking logo

Unprecedented. Traumatic. Heartrending. 20XX* is the year many want to forget, never speak of again. It was beyond stressful. From a frightening pandemic to escalating poverty to police brutality to political drama. For cannabis, it was memorable. Let’s take a look:

The pandemic. A newly discovered virus called CO (corona) VI (virus) D (disease) 19 (year of discovery) – aka COVID-19, arrived in the U.S. on January 22nd. It was more than the bad cold caused by its cousins. And it’s effects can linger long into the future. Social distancing, masks and stay-at-home orders became unheard of norms.  

Grim statistics:Ohio ended 20XX* with 700,380 COVID-19 casesand 8,962 deaths. Virus patients occupied 74% of Ohio hospital beds; 80% of intensive-care units were full. Nationally, total Covid cases topped 20 million and deaths exceeded 335,000– in just 10 months.    

Cannabis intersected the COVID-19 from a number of directions, most importantly as a potential cure. (Don’t jail me, Facebook. Hear me out!)

As reported in the journal Aging, cannabidiol, aka CBD, “has been found to alter gene expression and inflammation and harbour anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties,” meaning it may decrease susceptibility to COVID-19. A study in Frontiers in Pharmacology suggested that THC can suppress inflammation associated with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), one of the fatal complications of COVID-19. Research detailed in the journal Brain, Behavior and Immunityindicated that CBD may help calm inflammation’s “cytokine storm” and possibly reverse associated damage.

These are just a sampling. from the National Library of Medicine added a record 3,400 new cannabis studies during 20XX*, forty-six concerning COVID. Still, the plant’s potential languishes under the unjust fifty-year old Controlled Substances Act of 1970 (CSA). More on that in a moment.

The poverty. COVID-19 greatly widened the wealth gap in the U.S., disintegrating the social safety net in its wake. Governor Mike DeWine’s closure of bars, businesses and schools in March laid this bare – despite opposition from the “good ‘ole boys”. Even so, Ohio ended the year with a statewide curfew.

Grim statistics: The longest economic expansionin U.S. history ended in February 20XX*. The national jobless rate rose to 15% by the Spring. A record 20 million Americans filed for unemployment , one million from Ohio. One quarter of renters and homeownersmissed monthly payments. Food insecurity plagued 18% of Ohioans. Thousands of events were cancelledor reframed online, including the 50th anniversaries of Kent Stateand Earth Day, as well as the venerable 4/20 on 4/20 in 4/20.   

Because it’s fungible, cannabis weathered the COVID-induced economic catastrophe. HB 523, which created Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program, smartly placed regulatory control under the Pharmacy Board, permitting cannabis to be treated like any other pharmaceutical – Governor DeWine’s March stay-at-home order deemed it “essential” and consequently, business as usual.

Statistics from the Board make this clear. By December 20XX*, pound production jumped by +155% over December 2019. Registered patients doubled to over 150,000.

Sales in the cannabis industry as a whole rose by 50% during the early days of the pandemic and likely finished the year at more than $15 billion. A survey of cannabis consumers confirmed this uptick and found respondents citing sleep and anxiety as reasons for their increased use.

With almost 250,000 industry jobs in 20XX* and a forecasted market of $37 billion by 2024, cannabis could help forestall a COVID-19-generated economic depression, if it weren’t for the Controlled Substances Act, yet again. (One more moment, please.)  

The cannabis community is tackling another symptom of poverty exacerbated by COVID-19: food insecurity, aka hunger. In March, Cannabis Can, with support from 46 industry partners, retooled its “Green Bucket” canned food drive from 2019 as a virtual project to accommodate closings and social distancing. Organizers set and met a fundraising goal of $6,000 that in turn purchased 26,725 meals worth $60,132 and benefitted the Freestore Foodbank, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank or the Mid-Ohio Food Collective.

Hemp also has the potential to augment the food supply and ameliorate hunger. Obstacles laid bare by COVID-19 included supply chain clogs and unsafe foreign sourcing. Hemp seeds hold a complete source of protein rich in omega-3 fatty acids and offer a new, nutritious, locally grown and widely available source to counter food deserts and food insecurity.  

In January, the Ohio Department of Agriculture approved regulations to permit farmers to again grow hemp in Ohio. That’s exactly what Julie Doran, founder of the Ohio Hemp Farmers Cooperative, did in the spring and summer. Her team planted and later harvested nine varieties of hemp at her Westerville farm.

The policing. No justice, no peace! Defund the police! Beginning with the May killing of George Floyd via the boot of a Minneapolis police officer, those words were chanted by millions during protests in hundreds of cities worldwide. The historic maltreatment of minorities came to the fore full force.

Grim statistics.Since 2013, police have killed 8,759 Americans; 1116 individuals in 20XX* and two Columbus residents in December. Of those killed, 223 were Black men. In 98% of police killings, no officer was charged. Blacks comprise 30% of drug-related arrestees. Minorities make up 60% of state prisoners. Over 60,000 no-knock search warrantsare issued annually. Protestors numbering 15-26 milliontook to the streets beginning in June.

The root of police violence lies in the War on Drugs. Consider George Floyd. Attorneys for the officers claimed he died in May of a fentanyl overdose instead of the boot on his neck. Then there’s Breonna Taylor, who in March, was shot to death in her home during a no-knock raid by Louisville Police looking for drugs she was believed to be receiving from an ex-boyfriend. And Casey Goodson, Jr. of Columbus. Searching for an alleged Black drug dealer, a member of a U.S. Marshall’s fugitive task force fatally shot and killed Goodson as he entered his grandmother’s home.

Undeniably, the War on Drugs is racist. An examination in June of 30 anti-drug laws, amendments and treaties passed during the last century revealed the war’s intent: disenfranchisement of minorities.

This particularly applies to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970, which birthed the drug war fifty years ago. The CSA made selected substances highly illegal (marijuana, LSD, etc.) and empowered law enforcement to target violators essentially unfettered. The DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), which polices the CSA, has lied about drugs, blocked research, engaged in racial profiling, committed human rights abuses, empowered local task forces and served as conduit to mass incarceration.

Perhaps in the new year, rather than defunding the police, the U.S. should repeal the CSA and defund the DEA.

The politics. Partisanship has colored all facets of COVID-19 and thwarted public health policies designed to halt its spread. It has likewise affected the prospects for marijuana.

Grim statistics:A record 159,633,396 voters(66.7% of those eligible) cast ballots in November electing Joe Biden president by 51.3%. In response, Donald Trump’s campaign filed (and lost) 57+ lawsuitsto overturn the election. Five states passed marijuana-related ballot issues – Arizona, Mississippi, Montana, New Jerseyand South Dakota; all have been challenged by lawsuits. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell(R) sidelined at least 395 billspassed by the House.

Despite COVID-19 or perhaps because of it, voters turned out for the 20XX* presidential election in record numbers and gave Joe Biden an Electoral College victory of 306 to 232. These results endured intensive litigation and numerous recounts. What a Biden presidency portends for cannabis was outlined in the Democratic Party Platform, which might have comprised a reform wish list – twenty years ago.

The power of the marijuana vote was on full display in 20XX*. Over seven million voters in five states cast ballots to legalize either medical or adult use cannabis, with the plant winning more votes than most candidates. Two states established medical programs and four enacted adult use. South Dakota had both on the ballot; both won. Even so, Republican officials in three of the states filed lawsuits to thwart the will of the people and overturn these measures.

All four of Ohio’s local decriminalization issues – Adena (61-39%); Glouster (67-33% ), Jacksonville (58-42%), and Trimble (69-31%) – passed in November with flying colors. They join 18 other Ohio cities where measures to reduce penalties for cannabis possession have been passed by voters or enacted by city councils.

Legislatively, the U.S. House passed the MORE Act in December. This landmark legislation would – finally! – strike cannabis from the CSA. The House also passed the Marijuana Research Act, which would remove research restrictions. With the election of Democrats Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff to the U.S. Senate – and Chuck Schumer replacing Mitch McConnell as Senate Majority Leader– both bills stand a good chance of being enacted. In addition, Congressional leaders repealed the drug provision of the 1998 Higher Education Act that barred students with drug convictions from receiving federal aid.

Almost doing the right thing, the Republican dominated Ohio Senate in July overwhelmingly passed SB3 to raise minor misdemeanor marijuana possession from 100 to 200 grams. But without passage of a House version, the bill expired at the end of the year.

In March, petitioners filed the proposed “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” amendment with the Ohio Attorney General, who subsequently rejected it. The larger, still unresolved question became collecting signatures during the COVID-19 pandemic, which temporarily suspended the campaign.

This same problem confronted petitioners with the Sensible Movement Coalition (SMC) that fields Ohio’s decriminalization initiatives. Plans were underway to collect physical signatures in 14 municipalities, but new COVID-19 norms disrupted the traditional ink-based process. In May, the group filed suit in federal court, which initially ruled that electronic collecting was constitutionally permissible. However, the ruling was subsequently overturned on appeal, and in June, the U.S. Supreme Court declined the case, allowing the appeals court decision to stand. Whether for statewide adult use or local decrim ballot issues, the initiative process remains in limbo as another COVID-19 casualty.

Indeed, there was much about 20XX* to forget. The deadly pandemic, which begat unforeseen death and poverty. The police killings, which begat massive protest. And the partisan politics, which split the country. One silver lining – cannabis – shined: its power to cure disease, ameliorate hunger, end war and bridge divides. That part of 2020 is worth remembering.

* “XX” is the Roman numeral for twenty.

Rest in Peace, Emily Noble, 1968-2020

Rest in Power, Kevin Zeese, 1955-2020