Despite some headwinds, Cannabiz co-founder and chief growth officer Martin Lane says the industry has every reason to feel bullish about the future as we say goodbye to a year best forgotten.

Do you remember 2016, the so-called ‘year from hell’? That blissfully ignorant time when all we had to worry about was the world’s last remaining superpower voting in a reality TV star as president; the UK choosing to sever ties with the large trading bloc on its doorstep in favour of unspecified – and mostly still unsigned – free trade agreements with just about anyone else; and various much-loved celebrities departing the planet at a rate which started to feel a bit personal.

When Muhammad Ali, Prince, David Bowie and George Michael all die in the same 12 months it’s easy to think things can’t get any worse. Until they do.

Martin Lane - Cannabis Australia - Cannabiz
Cannabiz co-founder Martin Lane: lots of positives in a tough year.

But in among all the doom and gloom at the time, I read an article which put things in context. Generally, it argued, the world is becoming a more liberal, forward-thinking place. Obviously that depends very much on where you live – those under ISIS rule back then probably didn’t subscribe to the notion that they’d never had it so good.

But for most of the rest of us, things do tend to get better, not worse, notwithstanding the odd hiccup. It was a comforting thought in 2016, when people used phrases like “if Trump can only surround himself with some smart people, it may not be that bad”.

As we say goodbye to a year of social distancing, Black Lives Matter protests and a Supreme Court majority for conservatives that could set a woman’s right to choose back to the early 1970s, it may seem a tad naive. But the optimist in me says the basic tenet still holds – the 2020s won’t be a re-run of the 1930s and the recent triumph of nationalism over globalism is a blip in an otherwise progressive graph.

Which brings us to a slew of good news on the cannabis front last week. First up, we had the United Nations Commission on Narcotic Drugs accepting a World Health Organisation recommendation to remove cannabis and cannabis resin from Schedule IV of the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs.

Under the UN’s system, Schedule IV substances are considered the most dangerous and addictive drugs. Cannabis will now be classified under Schedule I, which is the least restrictive drug classification.

Locally, news broke that the New South Wales cabinet was considering changes to drug laws that would lower penalties for low-level possession.

And new research led by the Lambert Initiative showed CBD is safe for driving and the effects of THC fade in just four hours in a huge boost for drug-driving reform campaigners.

Meanwhile in the US, the House of Representatives voted to pass the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE Act) and remove marijuana from the federal list of controlled substances.

The MORE Act still has a long way to go before passing through the Republican-controlled Senate.

Now some of those items of news came with fairly hefty caveats.

The UN vote does not leave the way clear for member nations to legalise cannabis under the international drug control system.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian was quick to rule out decriminalising drug use in the state, saying her government “will not be going down that path”.

And the chances of the MORE Act passing through the Republican-controlled Senate hinge on the Democrats flipping both seats in January’s run-off elections in Georgia. That feels unlikely.

But the general direction of travel is positive.

The UN’s move is tacit acknowledgement of the medical benefits of cannabis. That could lead to the loosening of international controls and boost campaigns to legalise medicinal cannabis around the world.

Berejiklian probably doesn’t have enough political capital in the bank to risk a row over drug law reform right now, but a conversation has started around depenalisation.

Opponents of drug-driving reform are going to find it hard to argue the current laws are anything other than a revenue grab in the face of the overwhelming evidence presented by the Lambert study.

“Whatever the short term might bring, the global winds are blowing in the industry’s favour.”

And while the MORE Act might yet bite the Georgia dust, there are now only six states in the US where cannabis remains completely illegal. And remember, it’s still Trump’s America until January.

So as we enter 2021, I’m reminded of my colleague Rhys Cohen’s words on the Cannabiz podcast recently when asked to predict what the new year may bring for the cannabis industry.

“The idea of making predictions about next year feels especially futile in light of the predictions I was making at the start of 2020,” he said.

Clearly Rhys wasn’t alone in failing to include a global pandemic in his top tips for the year. And given what’s transpired over the last 12 months, it’s harder than usual to predict what will happen next.

But whatever the short term might bring, the global winds are blowing in the industry’s favour.

And that’s something to celebrate as we say goodbye to the latest ‘year from hell’.

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