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2015: The Year of ‘Big Weed’ and the Mainstreaming of Marijuana

This year marijuana businesses and activists dragged marijuana further into mainstream life

Marijuana; Year in Drugs

Ohio struck down legal weed this year, but a number of states are poised to legalize in 2016.

Brennan Linsley/AP

When Americans go to the polls in November, they'll be voting for a new president, many crucial Senate races and the future of legalized marijuana. It appears that at least five states, including California, will be voting on whether the pot industry should be regulated like alcohol, with products available to all adults. Several more states, including some of the most reliably conservative, will vote on allowing medical weed.

As such, 2015 was an opportunity for marijuana businesses and activists to drag the plant further into mainstream life. Though pot companies face tight restrictions on advertising, they rolled out the green carpet to non-traditional marijuana users like seniors and parents in the form of Apple store-style dispensaries and attractively packaged, user-friendly products. Their efforts are bound to surface in ever more prominent ways as Election Day approaches. As the industry gears up, here's a look back at 2015.

Marijuana; Oregon; Year in Drugs

A green cross shines in a window at Farma, a marijuana dispensary in Portland, Oregon, on October 4, 2015. As of Oct. 1, 2015 limited amounts of recreational marijuana became legal for all adults over the age of 21 to purchase in the state of Oregon. AFP PHOTO/JOSH EDELSON (Photo credit should read Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images)

Josh Edelson/Getty

October 1: Recreational Sales Begin in Oregon

The Beaver State started selling to all adults, and sales totaled $11 million in the first week. (The news quickly got buried by a fatal mass shooting at a community college in the state.)

States that saw their first medical dispensaries open in 2015 included Massachusetts, Illinois and Nevada.

Justin Trudeau; Marijuana; elected; Year in Drugs

Canadian Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau arrives at a victory rally in Ottawa on October 20, 2015. Canada is "back" on the world stage, newly-elected prime minister Justin Trudeau said Tuesday after a landslide victory that ended nearly a decade of conservative rule. "I want to say to this country's friends all around the world, many of you have worried that Canada has lost its compassionate and constructive voice in the world over the past 10 years," Trudeau told a rally. "On behalf of 35 million Canadians, we're back" AFP PHOTO/NICHOLAS KAMM (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

Nicholas Kamm/Getty

October 18: Justin Trudeau is Elected in Canada, Pledging to Legalize

Justin Trudeau, whose campaign promises included a pledge to legalize, won election as prime minister of Canada. If he follows through, Canada would be by far the largest Western nation to make weed legal. Trudeau's father, the late Pierre Elliott Trudeau, the Canadian equivalent of John F. Kennedy, had also taken steps to legalize, though he eventually abandoned the plan.

Sanders; Legalization of Marijuana; Year in Drugs

FAIRFAX, VA - OCTOBER 28: Democratic presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) speaks during a "National Student Town Hall" at George Mason University October 28, 2015 in Fairfax, Virginia. Sen. Sanders continued to campaign for the Democratic nomination. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Alex Wong/Getty

October 28: Bernie Sanders Calls for Ending Federal Pot Ban

Speaking at George Mason University, Bernie Sanders called for an end to the federal ban on marijuana. "I am seeing in this country too many lives being destroyed for non-violent offenses," Sanders said. "We have a criminal justice system that lets CEOs on Wall Street walk away and yet we are imprisoning or giving jail sentences to young people who are smoking marijuana."

Hillary Clinton, Sanders' rival for the Democratic nomination, soon called for the drug to be removed from its current classification as a schedule I drug, a category that includes LSD, heroin and other substances deemed not to have medical benefits.

Ohio; Marijuana; Year in Drugs

Buddie, the mascot for the pro-marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio, waits on a sidewalk to greet passing college students during a promotional tour bus at Miami University, Friday, Oct. 23, 2015, in Oxford, Ohio. A ballot proposal before Ohio voters this fall would be the first in the Midwest to take marijuana use and sales from illegal to legal for both personal and medical use in a single vote. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

John Minchillo/AP

November 3: Ohio Says No to Legal Pot

On Election Day, Ohio voters rejected a ballot initiative that would have written legal, medical and recreational marijuana into the state constitution. While legalization in the big Midwestern swing state would have been a coup for the movement, the loss was not seen as much of a setback.

The initiative would have essentially granted indefinite control of growing in the state to a group of ten companies that had paid for the political campaign to pass it. One investor said it would deliver a "tsunami of money" to those few supporters. The arrangement turned off voters, including some who support legalization. In Ohio, as in much of the nation, polls show that large majorities support some form of medical marijuana, and a slimmer margin favor recreational use.

Mexico;Marijuana; Legal; Year in Drugs

Supreme Court Justices discuss a challenge to the constitutionality of a ban on recreational marijuana use in Mexico City, Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2015. Mexico's court ruled Wednesday that growing, possessing and smoking marijuana for recreation are legal under a person's right to personal freedoms. (AP Photo/Eduardo Verdugo)

Eduardo Verdugo/AP

November 4: Mexican High Court Clears Path to Legalization

Mexico's highest court declared that growing and distributing marijuana for personal use is a human right, opening a legal route to legalization.

In Mexico, traffic in illegal drugs to the U.S. has enabled corruption and fueled many cycles of horrific violence. The group pushing for legalization took a different approach, arguing that "the government is infringing on the constitutional doctrine of the free development of personality."

Marijuana; year in Drugs

Customers line up for "Green Friday" deals at the Grass Station marijuana shop on Black Friday in Denver, Colorado November 28, 2014. This is the first Black Friday since marijuana was legalized in Colorado January 1, 2014. REUTERS/Rick Wilking (UNITED STATES - Tags: BUSINESS) - RTR4FZBV

Rick Wilking/Reuters

November: Prominent Pot Activist Quits

As legalization has advanced and sales have grown, the plant looks more like a business that would be of interest to big alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceutical companies and those in other fields. This been a concern for legalization opponents, who say Big Weed companies will be rich and powerful enough to mislead the public or distort the science of pot's negative effects.

In early November, Dan Riffle, the Marijuana Policy Project's federal policy director and a longtime activist, quit his job, emailing colleagues to say that "industry is taking over the legalization movement and I'm not interested in the industry." Around the same time, the group announced a fund drive called Pledge 4 Growth, which would allow participating companies to donate 0.420 percent of their gross revenue to advancing legalization.

Sean Parker; Napster; Marijuana; Year in Drugs 2015

Bloomberg's Best Photos 2012: The Newsmakers. Time after time in 2012, Bloomberg photographers came through with striking, pointed, poignant and just plain beautiful images -- From Jamie Dimon in the U.S. and Bob Diamond in the U.K. testifying to governmental committees, to Sheldon Adelson surrounded by lion dancers in Macau, China, to Warren Buffett and Bill Gates at the annual Berkshire Hathaway shareholders meeting, see their work here in Newsmakers. FILE PHOTO: "BEST PHOTOS OF 2012" (***BESTOF2012***): Sean Parker, co-founder of Napster Inc. and managing partner of the Founders Fund, stands for a photograph following a television interview on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday, Jan. 27, 2012. The 42nd annual meeting of the World Economic Forum will be attended by about 2,600 political, business and financial leaders at the five-day conference. Photographer: Simon Dawson/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Simon Dawson/Getty

The Year Ahead: Get Ready for the Deluge

In 2015, the green industry began to look more like any other industry, but this was mere preparation for what we can expect in 2016, when a slate of full and medical legalization measures are expected to appear before tens of millions of voters.

California, which has allowed medical use since 1996, will command the most attention. While it's possible that more than one initiative will appear before voters there, support has begun to consolidate around an initiative spearheaded by Napster founder and tech world gadfly Sean Parker.

In 2010, Californians voted down full legalization, in part because it did not have full support from pot growers in the state's northern Emerald Triangle region. Since then legalization has passed in several states, and the prospect of holding the vote in a presidential election year, when the electorate skews younger, has supporters bullish. If legalization opponents are going to take a stand, California could be their last chance.