Our friends at High Times (and former NORML director Dr. Jon Gettman) are running an online poll asking for consumers’ choice regarding the preferred marijuana distribution that emerges post-prohibition.
Legal Marijuana: Which Market Do You Prefer?
As we approach the new inevitability of legalized cannabis, three models have been proposed for a national marijuana market.
By Jon Gettman
In the past, the goal of marijuana legalization was simple: to bring about the end of federal prohibition and allow adults to use the plant without threat of prosecution and imprisonment. But now that legalization is getting serious attention, it’s time to examine how a legal marijuana market should operate in the United States.
Below are descriptions of the three kinds of legal markets that have emerged from various discussions on the subject. We would like to know which one you prefer.
First, though, let’s touch on a few characteristics that all of these proposals share. In each one, the market has a minimum age for legal use, likely the same as the current age limits for alcohol and tobacco. In each of these legal markets, there will be penalties for driving while intoxicated, just as with alcohol use. You can also assume that there will be guaranteed legal access to marijuana for medical use by anyone, regardless of age, with a physician’s authorization. The last characteristic shared by all three mar- kets is that there will be no criminal penalties for the adult possession and use of marijuana.
Under this approach, there would be no commercial marijuana market allowed. Marijuana would be grown and processed for sale under government contracts, supervised and/or managed by a large, government-chartered nonprofit organization. Marijuana would be sold in state-run retail outlets (similar to the state-run stores that have a monopoly on liquor sales in places like Mississippi, Montana and Vermont, among others), where the sales personnel will be trained to provide accurate information about cannabis and its effects. Products like edibles and marijuana-infused liquids with fruity flavors would be banned out of a concern that they can encourage minors to try the drug. There would be no advertising or marketing allowed, and no corporate or business prof- its. Instead, the revenue earned from sales would pay for production costs and the operation of the state control organization; the rest of the profits would go to government-run treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Regulations would be enforced by criminal sanctions and traditional law enforcement (local, state and federal police). No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed. The price of marijuana would remain at or near current levels in order to discourage underage use.
Limited Commercial Market
Under this approach, the cultivation, processing and retail sale of marijuana would be conducted by private companies operating under a limited number of licenses issued by the federal government. Advertising and marketing would be allowed, but they would be regulated similar to the provisions governing alcohol and tobacco promotion. Taxation would be used to keep prices at or near current levels in order to discourage underage use. Corporate profits would be allowed, and tax revenues would be used to fund treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Regulations would be enforced by criminal sanctions and traditional law enforcement (local, state and federal police). No personal marijuana cultivation would be allowed.
Regulated Free Market
Under this approach, entrepreneurs would have open access to any part of the marijuana market. Cultivation, processing and retail operations could be legally undertaken by anyone willing to bear the risks of investment and competition. Advertising and marketing would be allowed, but they would be regulated similar to the provisions governing alcohol and tobacco promotion. Prices would be determined by supply and demand, with taxation set at modest levels similar to current taxes on alcohol, tobacco and gambling. (These vary widely from state to state, but assume that under this model, the price of marijuana would be substantially lower than it is in the current market.)
Also, home cultivation would be allowed. Licenses may be required for any sort of cultivation, but these would be for registration purposes only and subject to nominal fees based on the number of plants involved. Individuals and corporations would be allowed to make whatever profits they can through competition. Tax revenues would fund treatment, prevention, education and enforcement programs. Competition and market forces would structure the market rather than licenses or government edicts, and regulatory agencies rather than law enforcement would supervise market activity.
A Different Approach
There are two key issues when it comes to deciding among these proposals. First, should the price of marijuana be kept high through government intervention in order to discourage underage use as well as abuse? Second, does commercialization translate into corporate money being spent to convince teenagers to use marijuana? Many of the proposals for how a legal market should operate are based on assumptions about these two issues, which leads to recommendations that the government must, one way or another, direct and control the marijuana market.
Obviously, the first two proposals outlined above reflect those very concerns. The third takes a different approach, in which marijuana is treated like similar psychoactive commodities, and the public relies on education, prevention and age limits to discourage underage use as well as abuse.
We want to know what type of legal marijuana market you prefer. Please take part in our poll on the HIGH TIMES website.
Law enforcement in many states are making a greater number of marijuana arrests than ever before despite polling data showing that the majority of Americans believe that the adult use of the plant ought to be legal.
According to a just published report, “Marijuana in the States 2012: Analysis and Detailed Data on Marijuana Use and Arrests,” which appears on the newly launched RegulatingCannabis.com website, police made an estimated 750,000 arrests for marijuana violations in 2012 – a 110 percent increase in annual arrests since 1991. Yet, despite this doubling in annual marijuana arrests over the past two decades, there has not been any significant reduction in marijuana consumption in the United States the report found.
In 2012, marijuana arrests accounted for almost half (48.3 percent) of all drug arrests nationwide. Marijuana arrests accounted for two-thirds of more of all drug arrests in five states: Nebraska (74.1 percent), New Hampshire (72 percent), Montana (70.3 percent), Wyoming (68.7 percent) and Wisconsin (67.1 percent).
From 2008 to 2012, seventeen state-level jurisdictions experienced an average annual increase in marijuana arrests, the report found. South Carolina (11.6 percent) and the District of Columbia (7.7 percent) experienced the highest overall percentage increase in arrests during this time period. By contrast, annual marijuana arrests fell nationwide by an average of 3.3 percent from 2008 to 2012.
Overall, the study reported that the five state-level jurisdictions possessing the highest arrest rates for marijuana offenses are the District to Columbia (729 arrests per 100,000 citizens), New York (577), Louisiana (451), Illinois (447) and Nebraska (421). District of Columbia lawmakers decriminalized the adult possession of marijuana earlier this month.
The two states possessing the lowest marijuana arrest rates are California and Massachusetts, the report found. Both states decriminalized marijuana possession offenses in recent years.
Stated the report’s author, Shenondoah University professor Jon Gettman, “After a generation of marijuana arrests, nearly 19 million and counting since 1981, the results are that marijuana remains widely used, not perceived as risky by a majority of the population, and widely available. The tremendous variance in use and arrests at the state level demonstrate why marijuana prohibition has failed and is not a viable national policy.”
Now that America has some form of legalization in 23 states and the District of Columbia, activists must reevaluate those state’s laws to refine the details of their legalization systems. There are three distinct areas in which cannabis laws need clarification and evolution: employment issues, child custody issues, and DUID charges. This week, I will discuss the important area of employment discrimination.
First, let’s be clear: no one should go to work in an impaired condition, regardless of what drug is involved. It’s not fair to the employer or to one’s fellow employees, and may well constitute a safety risk. Also, some jobs are so sensitive that it may well be good public policy to require a zero tolerance policy towards all drug use. Certain jobs in the nuclear energy field, for example, or jobs in which an employee is working around nuclear weapons or flammable material fall into this category. Some risks are simply too great to allow even occasional drug use of any kind, whether it’s cannabis or alcohol.
But most jobs are not. They require a sober individual who can responsibly and safely perform their job. Whether they smoked a joint over the weekend, or even the night before, has no impact on the workers’ ability to perform their jobs in a safe and responsible manner.
Proponents of a statewide initiative to regulate the commercial production and retail sale of marijuana have turned in 145,000 signatures to the Secretary of State’s office. The total is almost twice the number of signatures from registered voters necessary to place the measure on the 2014 electoral ballot.
State officials have until August 2 to verify the signatures.
The proposed ballot initiative (Initiative Petition 53) seeks to regulate the personal possession (up to eight ounces), commercial cultivation, and retail sale of cannabis to adults. Taxes on the commercial sale of cannabis under the plan are estimated to raise some $88 million in revenue in the first two years following the law’s implementation. Adults who engage in the non-commercial cultivation of limited amounts of cannabis (up to four plants) for personal use will not be subject to taxation.
A statewide Survey USA poll released last month reported that 51 percent of Oregon adults support legalizing the personal use of marijuana. Forty-one percent of respondents, primarily Republicans and older voters, oppose the idea. The poll did not survey respondents as to whether they specifically supported the proposed 2014 initiative.
Alaska voters will decide on a similar legalization initiative in November. Polling data shows that 55 percent of registered voters back the plan, while 39 percent oppose it. Florida voters will also decide in November on a constitutional amendment to allow for the physician-authorized use of cannabis therapy. A May 2014 Quinnipiac University poll reported that Floridians support permitting physicians to authorize medical marijuana to patients by a margin of 88 percent to 10 percent.
July 1st 2014 marked the 6 month anniversary of the launch of Colorado’s great social experiment – the legalization and regulation of marijuana for all adults age 21 and over. News coverage of the state’s highly scrutinized, yet burgeoning retail cannabis industry has been lukewarm, but a review of the last six months shows that (although inconclusive in its early stages) this policy has not only failed to cause the reefer madness social breakdown predicted by prohibitionists, it appears that this new industry is starting to positively impact the state and its communities.
Colorado is projected to save tens of millions of dollars in law enforcement expenses this year. Job opportunities continue to open up and revenue is expected grow at an unprecedented rate – a significant portion of which has already been allocated to public schools and education programs.
Below are five positive social and economic developments that can be attributed to Colorado’s 6-month old retail cannabis market:
- $69,527,760 in retail marijuana pot sales.
-10,000 people working in the marijuana industry(1,000-2,000 gaining employment in last few months)
- 5.2% decrease in violent crime in the city of Denver.
- No Colorado stores found selling to minors.
- $10.8 million in tax revenue (not including licensing fees)
All in all, these first few months have shown in practice that the benefits of legalization significantly outweigh those of prohibition, both morally and economically. One can’t deny that there will be bumps in the road. As this new market continues to evolve we should be prepared for the emergence of new, unanticipated issues. However, one can be comforted in the fact that any rising concerns are being addressed and rectified in a responsible and expeditious manner – both on the part of lawmakers and industry leaders. As Colorado moves forward, and more states begin to implement similar policies, the politicians and the population will see that this is the right policy for our children, our economy and our society.