The Huffington Post | by Matt Ferner and Nick Wing
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What a difference a year makes. From 4/20, 2013, to 4/20, 2014, marijuana has taken big steps out of the shadows of the black market and into the light of the mainstream -- from record high popular support and the first legal recreational sales, to an entire country legalizing marijuana.
Here’s a look at the last 12 months of marijuana milestones:
Colorado Sold Legal, Recreational Marijuana For The First Time
Partygoers smoke marijuana, left, and cigarettes during a Prohibition-era themed New Year's Eve party celebrating the start of retail pot sales, at a bar in Denver.
(AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
The first month of legal sales generated $14 million. Those millions were brought in by only 59 marijuana businesses that were able to get through the application process, and represent just a fraction of the approximately 550 outlets in the state eligible for retail licenses.
Now, as the fourth month of sales winds to a close, Denver has still not descended into the crime-filled hellscape that some members of law enforcement predicted. In fact, overall crime in Mile High City appears to be down since legal pot sales began.
And as time passes, more Coloradan voters are happy with legalization. A recent survey from Public Policy Polling showed that 57 percent of Colorado voters now approve of marijuana legalization, while 35 percent disapprove. Amendment 64, the measure that legalized recreational marijuana in the state, passed by only a 10-point margin.
The Promise Of Medical Marijuana Continued To Grow
Matt Figi hugs and tickles his once severely-ill 7-year-old daughter Charlotte, as they wander around a greenhouse for a special strain of medical marijuana known as Charlotte's Web, named after the girl early in her treatment, in a remote spot in the mountains west of Colorado Springs, Colo. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)
"Charlotte's Web" isn't just a classic children's story. It's also the name of a coveted medical marijuana strain used to treat children with epilepsy.
Over the last year, hundreds of families uprooted themselves and moved to Colorado to take advantage of the state's expansive medical marijuana laws, and in search of Charlotte's Web -- a strain of pot high in CBD, a non-psychoactive ingredient, and low in THC, which causes users to feel "high." The strain was developed by the Colorado Springs-based Realm of Caring nonprofit.
The pot strain is named after 7-year-old Charlotte Figi, who used to have hundreds of seizures each week. Charlotte now controls 99 percent of seizures with her medical marijuana treatment, according to her mother Paige.
Also this year, the Food and Drug Administration moved forward with an orphan drug designation for a cannabis-based drug called Epidiolex to fight severe forms of childhood epilepsy. The Epidiolex maker still must demonstrate efficacy of the drug in clinical trials to win FDA approval to market the medicine, but the orphan drug designation represents a tremendous step for cannabis-based medicine.
The federal government signed off on a study using medical marijuana to treat post-traumatic stress disorder in veterans, another sign of shifting federal policy.
Study after study demonstrated the promise of medical marijuana since last 4/20. Purified forms of cannabis were shown to be effective at attacking some forms of aggressive cancer. Marijuana use has also been tied to better blood sugar control, and to slowing the spread of HIV. The legalization of the plant for medical purposes may lead to lower suicide rates.
The Return Of Hemp
Colorado farmer Ryan Loflin harvests hemp on his farm in Springfield, Colo. Emboldened by voters in Colorado and Washington in 2012 giving the green light to both marijuana and industrial hemp production, Loflin planted 55 acres of several varieties of hemp alongside his typical alfalfa and wheat crops. (AP Photo/P. Solomon Banda)
A flag made of hemp flying over the U.S. Capitol in July may have been a sign that hemp was going to have a banner year.
Just months later in Colorado, farmer Ryan Loflin planted 55 acres of hemp -- the first legal hemp crop planted in the U.S. in nearly 60 years.
Since the beginning of the year, more than 70 bills related to hemp have been introduced in more than half of U.S. states. That's more than triple the number of hemp bills introduced during the same period last year, and nearly double the number hemp bills introduced in all of 2013.
Added to that is the recent passage of the Farm Bill, which legalizes industrial hemp production for research purposes in states that permit it.
Support For Pot Surges
(MARTIN BERNETTI/AFP/Getty Images)
An October Gallup poll showed for the first time that a clear majority of Americans want to see marijuana legalized. Gallup noted that when the question was first asked in 1969, only 12 percent of Americans favored legalization.
Americans also want an end to the long-running war on drugs. A recent survey from Pew found that 67 percent of Americans say that government should provide treatment for people who use illegal drugs. Only 26 percent thought the government should be prosecuting drug users.
Americans regard marijuana as relatively benign. In that same Pew poll, 69 percent of Americans felt that alcohol is a bigger danger to a person's health than marijuana, and 63 percent said alcohol is a bigger danger to society than marijuana.
Of all the vices a person can indulge in, Americans told NBC News/The Wall Street Journal that marijuana may be the most benign substance -- less harmful than sugar.
More States Approved Progressive Pot Laws
(AP Photo/Noah Berger)
While the title of third state to legalize marijuana is still up for grabs, lawmakers around U.S. the have been scaling back harsh anti-weed laws. Maryland recently became the latest state to officially decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana. Washington, D.C., awaits congressional approval of a similar measure. New Hampshire appeared poised to pass a similar law, but it was recently rejected by state lawmakers. Other states, including Illinois, are considering legislation to decriminalize low-level possession.
Medical marijuana has also made some strides since last year's 4/20. Maryland this month became the 21st state to legalize marijuana for medical use. A new trend has appeared in conservative and Deep South states, as bills to legalize medicine derived from marijuana have found surprising support in places like Alabama, where a measure was signed into law this year.
Uruguay Makes History
People take part in a demonstration for the legalization of marijuana in front of the Legislative Palace in Montevideo, on Dec .10, 2013, as the Senate discusses a law on the legalization of marijuana's cultivation and consumption. (PABLO PORCIUNCULA/AFP/Getty Images)
At the end of 2013, Uruguay became the world's first country to legalize a national marketplace for marijuana. Citing frustrations over failed attempts to stem the drug trade, President Jose Mujica signed a law handing the government responsibility for overseeing the new industry.
The move drew some derision from the international community, including the United Nations, but also applause. Mujica was nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize, in part for his work legalizing the plant.
In an effort to undercut the black market, the Uruguay government has set the starting price around $1 a gram. Legal weed in the U.S., including at legal pot shops in Colorado, can cost around $20 for the same amount. There are also limits on the amount residents can buy or grow. But with marijuana already accessible in Uruguay before legalization, many pot reformers have hailed the move as an alternative to prohibition that will ultimately give the government more avenues to help protect public health and safety.
Obama Says Pot Is No More Dangerous Than Alcohol
(JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
The president was an admitted pot user in his youth. And while he now regards his experiences as foolish, he revealed earlier this year that he didn't believe his behavior was particularly dangerous.
"I don’t think it is more dangerous than alcohol," President Barack Obama told The New Yorker's David Remnick in a January interview.
The president said that would discourage people from using it, but his comments led to a much bigger question: If marijuana is as dangerous as alcohol, why does Obama's administration insist that it is rightfully considered an illegal Schedule I substance, alongside heroin and LSD? The irony of this wasn't lost on Congress. A month after the interview, a group of representatives a called on Obama to drop pot from Schedule I. The administration has resisted the request.
Eric Holder Is ‘Cautiously Optimistic’ About Legal Weed
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. (AP Photo/M. Spencer Green)
Some of the biggest advances in pot policy over the last year have come thanks to action -- or perhaps inaction -- by the Justice Department. Last August, it decided that it would allow legalization laws in Colorado and Washington proceed. And this month, Attorney General Eric Holder told The Huffington Post that he was cautiously optimistic about how those state laws were proceeding.
Holder has said the Justice Department would be happy to work with Congress to reschedule marijuana and has been clear that the administration won't push the issue without action from lawmakers.
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