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Predictions - And Questions - For 2016 - By - December 30, 2015 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Predictions — And Questions — For 2016

Lists, reflections, and other filler: these are the newspaper reader's “reward” when the calendar flips. This is when both writer and reader would rather be polishing off the last of the egg nog and dusting off champagne flutes than taking stock or pondering the future — and usually, it shows.

2015 was mostly good for cannabis in America. Congress made moves, recreational shops opened in Oregon — and, like every other year in recorded human history, nobody died from a marijuana overdose.

But it's now 2016 (or soon to be). It's a presidential election year. Mexico's leaders will officially debate legalization. Several more states, including California, could legalize recreational marijuana. Desperate presidential candidates could seize on drug reform as a path to office.

And Congress — yes, that same Congress that would be challenged to agree on the shape of a negotiating table — could very well move more on drug reform this year than the California state Legislature has in a decade.

There is much afoot, and much to discuss. Here, then, are our modest predictions for the year ahead.

•A major Republican politician, other than Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul, will unveil a serious (looking or sounding, at least) plan to legalize cannabis and overhaul the nation's drug laws.

This will probably be a Hail Mary move from a fringe presidential candidate, desperate for a boost at the polls (other than Rand Paul), but it will have the unintended consequences of making drug reform a real issue in Washington, and it will all but guarantee that the next president will have no choice but to seriously address the drug war.

As for Donald Trump? We would not be surprised if he both smoked weed in front of Fox News cameras and called for all weed users to be put on a list, possibly on the same day.

•There will be legal adult cannabis cafes in Las Vegas before San Francisco.

A legalization initiative has already qualified for the Nevada ballot — and in Sin City, eager entrepreneurs are already handing in their gaming licenses in exchange for permits to sell medical cannabis (you cannot hold both), with hopes of a recreational shop. Vegas has embraced legal cannabis in a way almost unthinkable in California, and will continue to do so — even if it is with the goal of making a buck. We see Nevada voters, who skew anti big-government and pro-fun, approving legalization and the state moving swiftly to stake a claim as the cannabis capital of the world — at least in terms of consumption.

•A member of Congress will introduce (or reintroduce) a serious, bipartisan effort to legalize cannabis and overhaul rescheduling — and it will get a hearing.

This is a risky call, but we feel good about it. Even though cannabis businesses still can't bank and even though medical marijuana patients can still lose their jobs for the crime of smoking a joint, Congress did more on drug policy reform in 2015 than in any other year. The federal Justice Department is barred from interfering in state-legal cannabis, and lawmakers have put more pressure on officials throughout Washington to either reform or explain their Prohibitionist ways. Look for a lawmaker from Colorado or Oregon to push the most ambitious effort yet to shake things up on the federal level — possibly after the details of the FDA's recommendation on whether to de-list cannabis from the country's roll of the most dangerous substances in the world is made public.

Now, for the question, of which there's really only one.

•Will California legalize?

We're unsure. We do know that it's by far from guaranteed that we'll even be able to consider the question.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act, the ballot initiative that will supposedly receive material support from internet billionaire Sean Parker, stands a good chance of winning if it qualifies for the ballot.

But will it qualify?

Netting the 365,000-plus signatures needed to qualify a ballot measure will take as much as $2 million to $3 million.

Parker had pledged matching donations to the Marijuana Policy Project last month but has yet to officially kick down any cash. He is also reportedly annoyed with the mistrust and outright hostility with which his interest in legalizing marijuana has been met from some current California cannabis activists and businesses.

If Parker changes his mind, cash could also come from WeedMaps CEO Justin Hartfield, who parked $1 million in a political action committee last year, and Joby Pritzker, a venture capitalist who is one of the scions of the Hyatt Hotels fortune and a board member of MPP.

People who know Parker say he is, at heart, an idealist. He wants to fix stuff. He wants to shake shit up. (I am told that he lived, for a time, near Sixth Street in San Francisco, and wondered aloud if he could solve the city's suffering Skid Row by buying up the SROs and rehabilitating them.)

It would go a long way, though, towards earning trust among cannabis's famously divisive “leadership” if Parker went public with why he wants to legalize. So that leaves us with this last question: Sean, will you grant us an interview?