A Look Back at 2015; and Ahead to 2016

The end of the year is a natural time to review our progress advancing legalization over the past 12 months, and to look ahead to what we hope to achieve in the coming year.


Compared to our recent dramatic electoral victories in 2012 and again in 2014, 2015 was a slow year. We made some modest gains, but nothing dramatic.

During the current phase of legalization, when our victories primarily come by way of voter initiatives, we have become accustomed to expecting more progress in election years, especially presidential election years when the youth vote is highest, than in non-election years. Those basic rules still apply.

But even with that caveat, 2015 moved us forward and positioned us well for 2016.

Public Support Remains Strong

We are legalizing marijuana because we finally enjoy the support of a majority of the American public, both smokers and non-smokers alike. And that majority support, which first began to register in the national polls three years ago, is holding firm.

National polling in the past year by Gallup (58% support), PEW (53%), CBS (53%), Morning Consult (55%), Fox (51%), General Social Survey (52%) and Beyond The Beltway (61%) have all demonstrated marijuana legalization continues to have the support of a majority of the nation.

As the authors of the latest Gallup Poll concluded: “These trends suggest that state and local governments may come under increasing pressure to ease restrictions on marijuana use, if not go even further like the states of Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska in making recreational marijuana use completely legal.”

So the foundation for continued progress remains in place, and appears to be growing: most Americans have concluded that marijuana prohibition is a failed public policy.

Some Statewide Progress

The one most significant statewide victory during 2015 came in Delaware, where the state legislature decriminalized minor marijuana offenses ($100 civil fine for possession of up to one ounce), the 19th state in the country to stop arresting marijuana smokers. The new law became effective on Dec. 18th.

And in Oregon, where the state legalized marijuana in 2014, the legislature became the first of the legalized states to take steps to minimize the impact of prior marijuana convictions, imposed under the old law. Democrat Gov. Kate Brown signed legislation in June allowing those with past marijuana possession convictions to have their criminal records expunged, if those offenses are no longer illegal. That’s an area that each legalization state needs to revisit and address.

In a somewhat unexpected development, the state of Louisiana, traditionally one of the harshest states in the country for marijuana offenses, took significant steps to mitigate penalties for repeat marijuana offenders—defendants who, in the past, faced up to two decades in prison. Under the new law, second-time possession offenders face a maximum sentence of six months in jail (reduced from five years); and third-time offenders see their potential maximum sentences reduced from 20 years to no more than two. The new law also permits these possession offenders to have their records expunged if they remain arrest-free for two years. It is surely only incremental change, but in Louisiana, it represents real progress.

Municipal Ordinances

Much of the progress made in 2015 came at the municipal level. In East Lansing, MI 65% of the voters approved a local ordinance eliminating penalties for the possession or transfer of up to one ounce of marijuana on private property. Lansing is the seventeenth Michigan city to approve an initiative de-penalizing minor offenses.

In Milwaukee, WI, members of the City Council reduced penalties for marijuana possession (up to 25 grams) to a fine of no more than $50.00. Nine of the state’s 10 largest cities have now adopted decriminalization ordinances.

And in Miami-Dade County, FL, Commissioners in Florida’s largest county approved an ordinance that permits police to cite rather than arrest minor marijuana offenders (up to 20 grams), with a civil fine of $100. Previously misdemeanor marijuana arrests accounted for 10 percent of all cases filed in the Miami-Dade County criminal court system.

Marijuana Arrests Drop in Several Major Cities

And marijuana possession arrests dropped dramatically in several big cities during 2015. In the District of Columbia, marijuana arrests fell roughly 99%, from nearly 900 arrests in 2014 to less than 10 arrests in 2015.

In Philadelphia, where marijuana was decriminalized by municipal ordinance in 2014, marijuana arrests for simple possession dropped from 3,700 in 2014 to just over 1,000 in 2015, a drop of 73%.

And in New York City, where more than 30,000 New Yorkers were arrested on marijuana charges in 2014, marijuana arrests fell 40%, to less than 19,000 in 2015. Still far too many, but a substantial step in the right direction.

The Bad News in 2015

The most obvious political disappointment in 2015 was the ill-fated legalization initiative (Issue 3) in Ohio. Brought in a non-election year (assuring a low youth vote turnout) and drafted to enrich the investors who put-up the $23 million spent in the campaign, Issue 3 was met with widespread opposition, even among many who support the legalization of marijuana. The proposal won the approval of only 35% of the voters, making it likely that Ohioans will continue to face arrest and jail for several more years.

Another disappointment was the failure of the legislature in IL to override the veto by Governor Bruce Rauner of a decriminalization bill approved by the legislature earlier in the year. The proposal would have reduced penalties for possession of up to 15 grams of marijuana to a $125 civil fine. Police in IL arrest some 50,000 individuals annually for simple marijuana possession. In Chicago, 95% of those arrested for marijuana possession are either Black or Hispanic.

Nationwide, decriminalization proposals were introduced, but failed to be approved by the legislatures, in HI, KY, NE, NH, SC, TX and VA.

Full legalization proposals were introduced, but failed to be approved by the legislatures, in CT, FL, HI, MD, ME, MO, NM, RI and VT.

Looking Forward to 2016

As we look ahead to 2016, the best news for those who support marijuana legalization is the agreement reached by most of the major players in the nation-state of California to coalesce behind one legalization initiative. California is the big prize, and a win there will add significant momentum to the legalization movement nationwide.

Most of us presumed California would be the first state to fully legalize marijuana, as it has historically been the breeding ground for progressive marijuana policy. But in the recent past, the sheer size of the state has resulted in several competing proposals being advanced, with marijuana remaining illegal in the Golden State. The same possibility loomed large for 2016 as well, with several differing versions of legalization being circulated by different interest groups, and no assurance that anyone would be willing to compromise.

With crucial leadership provided by current Democratic Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a consensus has now formed around a single proposal, the Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act, and it now appears California voters will likely approve legalization in November of 2016.

Other states that appear poised to approve full legalization via voter initiatives in 2016 include Arizona, Massachusetts, Maine, and Nevada. Needless to say, were all five states to approve full legalization, 2016 would truly be a break-out year, and would set the stage for several additional states to adopt legalization in 2018. But even if we fail to win them all, it promises to be a banner year for legalization around the country.

And it is possible that 2016 may give us our first state legislative approval of full legalization. A breakthrough in this area would be especially important for those 26 states that do not offer a voter initiative option. The states that appear most likely to take this step in 2016 include the three northeastern states of Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut.

So as we look forward to the new year, those of us who smoke marijuana, and all who support marijuana legalization, can anticipate a string of victories that should catapult the movement well past the political tipping point in America. Our momentum continues to grow with each election cycle

We are finally winning this long fight to stop the senseless arrest of responsible marijuana smokers, and establish a legally regulated market where consumers can obtain their marijuana. As we prepare for 2016, the smell of personal freedom is in the air.


This column first appeared on Marijuana.com.



23 thoughts

  1. My fingers are crossed. Though I’d love to see all five states legalize (along with those three NE states via their state legislators), I’d be ecstatic if even two or three legalized, especially Calif.

    Come on you guys, let’s do this!

  2. “Or you could win a trip to… Delaware!” (No applause) “Hey you can smoke a joint on the bridge without getting arrested!” (Applause!)

    🙂 We’ll take every victory we can get.
    Next year sounds like we’re going to pass through some new magic dimension; at very least, a paradigm shift in our entire economy, socioeconomic equality, in our moral standing, our self perception and even the identity of being American. I am going to be proud to vote for Bernie Sanders this election. But as for someone on living in the frontlines of the drug war here in Texas, I find Vermont, Conneticut and Rhode Island’s agendas appear more of the climactic “tipping point” in our American Marijuana Tragedy than the whole of California, for what these states are doing legislatively is profound in its legal implications. Passing Representative-introduced marijuana legalization reveals Congressman who are finally doing their job and listening to their constituents. Y’know, representing us like… Representatives. What a mind-blowing concept.
    Congratulations NORML; the best is yet to come. 2016 is gonna get gooooood…

  3. Your list of states for 2016 ballot initiatives only contained four, but you said it was five right afterwards. Is that an accurate number, or was one state omitted by mistake?

    While Ohio voted down Issue 3 by pretty much a landslide, its coming back to the ballot this very year. There are three groups vying for the ballot, and two of them resemble Colorado’s law.

    Trust me, its gonna pass this year. And we all know the saying, “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation.”
    Ohio is the true gem, not California.

    Go Buckeyes!

  4. WE are the people. When alcohol prohibition ended they didn’t legalize for the bootleggers but continue to leave out the coal miners, it was legal for all. Bill Maher constantly jokes about his trick knee for his medical card.This is what they expect from us. We vote it in from them so we can sit in the rowboat while they enjoy the steamliner. Should you risk your livelihood so snoop dog and bill maher smoke legally while you have a heart attack working? legal pot is for them, not for you. Wake up. I have no interest in making life any easier for people who can’t get caught while we assume the risks and penalties which exclude us from making a minor wage while they would suffer no consequences.

    1. Mr. Bill Maher has been almost singlehandedly donating his hard earned fortunes, towards the whole legalization cause. We have him to thank, as much as anyone else. He puts his real money on the line, for hard core legalization, for everyone else. He goes to bat for the cause, debating our worst foes, in the public forums and on his TV shows. I understand your point, but your misunderstanding of his joke is the least of your gross mistakes, on these matters; you’re mistaking one of our five star generals, for an adversary. I completely disagree with Maher’s dismissal of our violation of our Bretton Woods Conference commitment: our fiat dollar could crash the world economy, and that’s not any laughing matter… However, on Maher’s most honorable commitment to our cause of overall legalization – he’s one of the world’s greatest heroes!

  5. Hey conservative person, way to be a miserable douche bag and not participate. It’s people like you with your negative thinking that leads the rest of the country down the crapper. Way to be a whiny loser in front of everyone. #IfIKnowYouIllPunchYou

  6. @ nunya,

    It’s five: Arizona, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts and California. (See 4th paragraph from the bottom and include California.)

    @ Conservative,

    You really must get out more. Even today, there are many counties in the U.S. that still have various forms of alcohol prohibition in place. Don’t believe me? Google it.

    PS, I totally don’t understand your point about Bill Maher and Snoop Dog. What do you know vis-à-vis their relationship with their local cops that I don’t know?

    1. @Evening Bud, (i.e. “Conservative”)
      The reference to Snoop Dog “smoking legally” is totally unfounded. He has been arrested with Willie Nelson on several occasions. One in particular was during the Hudspeth county federal checkpoint grant that paid good money to the local Sherriff’s office for arresting anyone suspected of consuming and transporting marijuana. That all stopped when the grant dried up.
      @”Conservative” specifically:
      Perhaps a “conservative” redirection of anger is required to place on your local Congressman to change the bad laws (CSAct) and bad federal grants like the one that was used in Hudspeth that create socioeconomic inequality. Because clearly, when it comes to “boss hog” gettin his cut, he’ll make anybody famous (on mugshots.com), rob them just the same, then use that tax-payer revenue on our own representatives to keep prohibition going. Read this article link; “Boss Hog” actually says he stopped arresting people (after the federal checkpoint money ran out) because he had a “problem making local tax payers foot the bill.” So making American tax payers any where else foot the bill for marijuana prohibition is okay? This is the kind of asymmetrical, punch-yourself-in-the-d!€* philosophy that let Congress get away with the Controlled Substances Act in the first place. When we vote to blame a drug for our own Congressional failure to write fair regulations and give that job to “Boss Hog” we get prohibition for everyone; even Willie an Snoop. When we vote for Congressman who are willing to listen, roll up their sleeves and create fair drug policy we all get the benefits of freedom.

      1. @ Julian,

        Thanks for enlightening me about Boss Hog. I didn’t know anything about him and his Fed payoff. I wonder how many other Boss Hogs are out there, greasing their greasy palms.

      2. I had my final epiphany on this train-wreck of thought right after I posted it;

        When citizens of Hudspeth County pay & paid their Federal Income tax THEY WERE “footing the bill” for Boss Hog’s use of an unjust Federal grant!

        The worst, most masochistic result of these evil, Machiovellian drug-war Federal Grants is the bull$#!+ tax and asset forfeiture-paid propaganda that sherrif’s associations spread about the “Feds footin the bill on us locals,” when the bastards are happily lobbying for and using that same federal drug-war grant to line their local budgets! Jailing innocent marijuana consumers and drug-war refugees is enough for me to wanna find all these private prison owners and corrections lobbyists and hang’m by a tall oak tree.

        We need to lobby for laws that prohibit sherrif’s associations from lobbying with our tax dollars for federal incarceration grants or corrupt asset forfeitures. We need laws that prevent collusion from local DA’s to prosecuting their own local police corruption. Want a Federal grant? Want asset forfeitures with secret courts that have no judge So you can buy a margarita machine for your own personal slush fund? Fine; Here’s your special federal prosecutor. No exceptions.

        BTW, evenin bud, Good luck with the new bill in the New Mexico Congress!


        A state next door to pass legalization legislatively would be a Godsend! Hope it works out, brother.

      3. Hey Julian,

        Thanks for the heads-up on this latest legalization attempt in NM. I must confess I long ago stopped watching or reading the local news here. The local TV news is obsessed with murder, crime, etc. So is the local print media. Both are very conservative.

        I wish that legislator in Las Cruces luck. Alas, just as the issue was killed in committee last time, I unfortunately see the same outcome this year, only because the GOP controls the state houses.

        If the Dems can win back the state houses this year–I’m guessing there will be some of the state reps and Sens on the ballot–we actually will have a chance to legalize. The GOP killed decriminalization in Albuquerque, and they’re playing the same game on the state level. Gotta get rid of those guys; they’re stalled in the 1950s.

    2. I can attest to the existence of dry counties. My family used to drive from Pennsylvania to South Carolina for vacations. It’s no fun to drive 8-10 hours in a day, and look forward to a relaxing beer, only to find out you’ve checked into a hotel in a dry county. I was told I either had to drive 20 miles further or 10 miles back. I did without the beer.

      In Texas I played in a band that had a gig at a county festival. I stood up on stage in front of 100s of people and killed a 12-pack in the course of the 4 hour gig. I got into one of those speedy alcohol states of consciousness that Eddy Van Halen got rich achieving. I played the guitar behind my back for the ‘Johnny B. Goode’ riffs.

      No one in the band, the crowd, or law enforcement said a word to me.

      1. I well recall the blue laws in some of the counties in Texas. In San Angelo, my brother and I went to a place where you could only buy tonic or other non-alcoholic mixers. You bought you liquor at a package store and took it into the place instead. Felt very strange. I wonder if it’s still like that there.

      2. In Texas, parts if Gillespie and Hays county are still dry; and Hays county is 30 minutes away from Austin which consumes more alcohol than any other city in America, and with New York and LA to change compete with, both MUCH larger cities, thats saying alot. Austin NEEDS weedtenders to clear our ER’s!

        @Evening Bud,
        To answer your question about “how many more boss hogs” there are, the answer came in yesterday’s Evening Sun;


        And ALL the cop got for trafficking THAT much weed was “administrative leave WITH PAY”??!!!!!

        While innocent, nonviolent marijuana consumers spend LIFE in prison?

        What needs to change here? Will special prosecutors and a rewritten CSAct be enough?

      3. @ Julian,

        I’ve always heard that Austin was a party town, the place to go to in Texas. I recall being at a party in the 1970s–in San Angelo–and some local was saying, “Fuck San Angelo, fuck Houston, Fuck Dallas, etc, the best place in Texas is Austin!”

        As regards the article on the three busted cops, the three “Boss Hogs,” I’m totally not surprised. Now they know how the rest of us feel. Maybe they’ll get a little jailhouse justice.

      4. I wish crooked cops would feel the same pain, brother, but when cops get administrative leave “with pay” as in the case of this California cop, while people are in prison for life with mere possession? I still have to ask if special prosecutors and re-writing the CSAct will be enough.
        And now the cop that threatened Sandra Bland with a taser then arrested her, forcing her out of her car after allegedly “smelling weed” …before her alleged suicide in jail gets nothin but perjury?
        It’s past time that the US do away with the Grand Jury as Brittain did long ago. This collusion of corrupt law enforcement with local prosecutors is so infected within American society it will take waves of local activists to reform and restore justice.


  7. ‘Canada’ might sum up the whopping slip, that this article represents: ‘includes, but is not limited, to’…

  8. I know Illinois is legal for medical, I had a phone call saying I was eligible for medical marijuana in Illinois, I live 30 minutes away from Illinois, What I want to know is if I can have a medical marijuana prescribed to me in Illinois and be able to bring my medicine back to Missouri without legal problems..

  9. Please need information about the legalization of Marijuana in Missouri for medical and recreational use, and I heard it was going to be on the ballot for vote, Can You tell me anything concerning this, Thank You

    1. @Gail,
      No, you do not want to feed the troopers by crossing marijuana from a med state to a non med state. With that said, invest in a tightly sealed mason jar and a vaporizer to eliminate odors.
      The good news is Missouri has qualified for medical marijuana on the November ballot for 2016, and all predictions say Missouri is “very likely” to vote yes and become the 24th medical marijuana state! Click on the Take Action link at the top right hand corner and contact your representatives to show your support. Happy New Year!

  10. Thanks for your hard work Kieth! You’ve been there and stuck it out for what, over 50 years now? Thanks again sir!

  11. And speaking of “senseless arrests” of marijuana growers, did you know that Sherry Glaser, the Queen of Cannabis Theatre will be performing her one-woman show, “Taking the High Road: Comic Confessions from behind the Cannabis Curtain” at the Tucson Fringe Festival 1/16-17/2016. Details are on their website. Details: http://takingthehighroadmediakit.blogspot.com

  12. Cannabis legalization needs to be nationwide in 2016. Its time for the nation to pick up this stick of intolerance and indifference, and strike down institutionalized ignorance and propagandized attacks on patients choices in healthcare decisions. Just because the medical industry has been unable to figure out how to profit from cannabis medications, does not make it without medical uses. Our nation needs the healing from the abuses rampant among LEOs balancing municipal budgets on the backs of patients.

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