In most of the United States, where pot prohibition is the norm, the black market obviously rules the day. But in states that have legalized adult use cannabis, like California and Colorado, things are different.
Most Americans, when they learned that the United States had doubled the number of adult use legal pot states last November, were too distracted by the results of the presidential election to truly take notice and weigh the probable economic and cultural impacts of this dramatic shift in public policy.
In a single day, the United States went from four to eight states that allow adult use (“recreational”) cannabis possession and consumption. Joining Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska are California, Nevada, Maine, and Massachusetts. Sixteen percent of U.S. states now officially condone sparking a joint or hitting a dab rig (but typically limit such activities to one’s home).
At 40 million residents, California is the most populous state in the nation (followed by Texas at 25 million and New York and Florida at 20 million each). As such, its emergence as a legal marketplace for cannabis products is especially noteworthy. According to Wikipedia, California is the sixth largest GDP economy in the world.
As such, the Golden State will hold considerable sway over the emerging trillion-dollar national consumer market for cannabis products and services. In my opinion, this will be due to three things:
- California’s decades-long and relatively permissive pot culture.
- The state’s first player advantage (it was the genesis of “medical marijuana” 20 years ago in 1996 with Proposition 215).
- The sheer girth of the Golden State’s economy.
Rough Regulatory Ride
Many laypeople, upon learning that a state has legalized adult use cannabis, believe the heavy lifting to be over. It’s a common perception to anticipate that dispensaries and cultivation facilities will begin popping up on every corner following the successful passage of a cannabis-friendly ballot initiative.
In reality, though, this is rarely the case. After a pot law is passed, then comes the arduous task of wrapping regulatory oversight around the legislation. This involves defining specific elements of the law and how they will be implemented, enforced, and potentially altered in the future.
This is the messy job of public policy in which all stakeholders have a vested interest. Unfortunately, many simply don’t know it.
Let’s dig a little deeper: Many state laws don’t prohibit individual jurisdictions within the state (such as counties and municipalities) from banning cannabis businesses. And this is no trivial issue.
Dozens of jurisdictions in Washington, Oregon, and California have banned—to one extent or another—cannabis businesses within their borders. Fortunately, personal possession and consumption can’t be banned due to the fact that it would go counter to state law (a higher legal authority).
This patchwork of counties and cities banning cannabis businesses is bad for several objective reasons. First, it’s about the economy, stupid.
Second, it’s a tad ironic when a town or county often featuring dozens of liquor stores and bars says no to cannabis and allowing safe access for patients and recreational consumers alike. I believe in giving consumers options. This is only ethical and good karma, because presupposing the preferences of consumers or tax paying citizens is not only rude, but it is batshit crazy.
Let me explain. Any community that embraces the legal and regulated sale of alcohol that simultaneously prohibits cannabis businesses is depriving itself of tax revenue while preventing its citizens from accessing fair and ethical medical and social options.
The emergence of legal markets for cannabis products touches many layers of society. Yes, there are literally trillions of annual dollars at stake in this game.
There’s a trend in the United States. After cannabis becomes legal, many people—especially more conservative citizens who would never dip into the black market and have been unwilling to break the law—develop a quiet interest in cannabis.
This trend is rife in legal states, especially among senior citizens seeking healthy alternatives to opioids and other expensive pharmaceutical treatments that carry addiction and a slew of negative side effects.
How will this mechanism affect the cannabis industry? Will it be different on the East Coast than the West Coast?
All text and photos, unless otherwise noted, Copyright © 2003-2018 Gooey Rabinski. All Rights Reserved.
Gooey Rabinski is a technical writer, photographer, and compliance documentation specialist for cannabis businesses who has contributed feature articles to magazines and media outlets such as High Times, CannaBiz Journal, MERRY JANE, Emerald Magazine, Grow Magazine, Herb.co, The Kind, Skunk, Cannabis Culture, Whaxy, Heads, Weed World, Green Flower Media, Cannabis Health Journal, Green Thumb, and Treating Yourself.
He is the author of Understanding Medical Marijuana, available on Amazon Kindle.