Anyone in the industry will tell you it's never easy in the cannabis business, and 2018 is evidence to prove that. Though medical cannabis in Arizona has faced its challenges every year, this year brought some of the biggest.
For the record, Vermont, Oklahoma, Michigan, Missouri and Utah all legalized some form of cannabis this year. Vermont and Michigan joined the ranks of recreational cannabis states this year.
Canada also legalized cannabis nationwide, becoming the second country to do so (after Uruguay); South Korea legalized medical use; South Africa decriminalized it; and both Mexico and the State of Georgia had high court rulings effectively decriminalizing cannabis.
Needless to say, cannabis acceptance is growing around the country and the world. So why are people still fighting it?
This year kicked off with Attorney General Jeff Session (who has since resigned as a result of unrelated matters) directing U.S. Attorneys under the Department of Justice to start prosecuting legal cannabis companies as they saw fit on Jan. 4.
While several U.S. Attorney positions (still) remain unfilled, there were concerns President Donald Trump could appoint not-so-cannabis-friendly attorneys to the roles and a crackdown on cannabis would ensue.
He didn't, and it didn't.
Then, the legislative session kicked off, and lawmakers and advocates alike saw some opportunities to change Arizona's cannabis laws, for better and worse. Luckily, the ones for worse didn't gain much traction.
The hottest bill would have implemented testing regulation to address Arizona's contaminated cannabis concerns and, at one point, balance the cost to dispensaries with lower card fees for patients. Introduced by Rep. Sonny Borrelli, the bill's main focus was to regulate the industry.
After several months of twists and turns, shifting support and some backroom bargaining, the bill eventually died in May without support from legislative Democrats, leaving patients to wonder what's in their cannabis for another year.
But the legislative session wasn't all bad for cannabis. Gov. Doug Ducey approved an industrial hemp bill a month before similar provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill cleared the House of Representatives. The Senate passed the bill Dec. 13.
Because industrial hemp limits THC to .3 percent, but not CBD, the law has led to a boom in the market for CBD-only products, with storefronts and online stores popping up. Analysts have projected the market to be worth $5 billion next year, likely making a dent in the medical sector.
Finally, Arizona's courts have had a lot to say about cannabis this year.
In June, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled that patients enrolled in the state's universities can possess cannabis on campus. The hearing wrapped up a three-year ordeal for Arizona State University student Andre Maestas, who was arrested for cannabis possession on campus in 2015.
But the year's biggest hurdle came from our favorite zealot, Yavapai County Attorney Sheila Polk, whose years of dedication to cannabis eradication resulted in a confounding victory in July, when the Arizona Court of Appeals ruled concentrates illegal in Arizona.
Rodney Jones has already spent two years behind bars for possessing cannabis concentrates, even as a patient. Yet, for some reason, our Appellate Court seems stocked with judges who are either in Polk's pocket, or have trouble with the definitions of words. The ruling turned on a brand new interpretation of the words "cannabis" and "marijuana," which apparently are no longer synonyms for the first time in history. The distinction retroactively limits what's legal under the 2010 Arizona Medical Marijuana Act to only dry flower, rendering concentrates illegal.
While the ruling had patients and dispensaries confused and concerned for a couple weeks, nothing has really changed while the state's medical cannabis program awaits the appeal to the Supreme Court.
In the meantime, the Arizona Dispensaries Association has set up a legal defense fund to help Jones file an amicus brief on the case and help other patients who may find themselves in a similar predicament.
Even through the onslaught, though, Arizona has added more than 30,000 patients and 26,000 pounds of cannabis to the program, this year. That's about a 20 percent increase in patients, and 25 percent increase in pounds of cannabis.
So, despite the many obstacles the industry has faced, state and national trends seem to all point in one direction. 2019 surely promises many more days in a happy haze, and better access to cheaper medical treatment for all.