A year into the experiments with legal, taxed marijuana sales, Washington and Colorado find themselves wrestling not with the federal interference many feared, but with competition from medical marijuana or even outright black market sales.
A year of legalized recreational marijuana hasn't changed many Coloradans' minds on the groundbreaking shift — though more than one-third say the state's reputation has taken a hit, according to a SurveyUSA poll done for The Denver Post. More than 90 percent of the respondents who voted in the 2012 election on Amendment 64 — the measure allowing adults to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana passed 54.8 percent to 45.1 percent — said they would vote the same way today.
The 43-year-old war on drugs had never seen such a barrage of opposition as it did in 2014, with successful marijuana legalization initiatives in several U.S. states, California’s historic approval of sentencing reform for low level drug offenders and world leaders calling for the legal regulation of all drugs — all of which cement the mainstream appeal of drug policy alternatives and offer unprecedented momentum going into 2015.
As marijuana legalization took hold in Colorado, the percentage of regular cannabis users in the state jumped to the second-highest level in the US. The results come from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health and represent the average of estimates in 2012 and 2013. Researchers will get a better idea about marijuana use in Colorado once they are able to zoom in on data showing how many people use marijuana daily. A study commissioned by Colorado's Marijuana Enforcement Division this year found that people who use marijuana almost every day account for about 22 percent of cannabis users. (See also: A Year of Legal Pot)
The black market for marijuana in Colorado isn't what it used to be. Nine or 10 years ago, the narrative of illicit cannabis in the state focused on illegally grown product filtering in from Mexico, California and elsewhere. Now it seems officials and experts are more concerned about Colorado-grown marijuana infiltrating other states, a trend that is seeing a significant upward trajectory. "In a lot of ways, our legal industry has become the black market for other states," said Tom Gorman, director of the Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. (See also: A Year of Legal Pot)
In suing to stop marijuana legalization in Colorado, two neighboring states have embarked down an arcane legal pathway that could take years to reach a conclusion, legal scholars say. Nebraska and Oklahoma last week asked the U.S. Supreme Court to toss out portions of Colorado's pot legalization law. The states contend that Colorado's law — and especially Colorado's licensing and regulation of marijuana stores — violates the U.S. Constitution's Supremacy Clause, which says the federal law reigns when state and federal laws are in irreconcilable conflict.
Nebraska and Oklahoma filed the first major court challenge to marijuana legalization, saying that Colorado’s growing array of state-regulated recreational marijuana shops was piping marijuana into neighboring states and should be shut down. The lawsuit asks the United States Supreme Court to strike down key parts of a 2012 voter-approved measure that legalized marijuana in Colorado for adult use and created a new system of stores, taxes and regulations surrounding retail marijuana. (See also: Colorado vows to defend pot law against states' challenge)
That the black market in Colorado bustles in the emerging days of legalisation is not unexpected. By some reckonings, it will continue as long as residents of other states look to Colorado as the nation’s cannabis cookie jar. And as long as its legal retail competition keeps prices high and is taxed at rates surpassing 30%. “I don’t know who is buying for recreational use at dispensaries unless it’s white, middle-class people and out-of-towners,” said a longtime community activist. “Everyone I know still has the guy on the street that they hook up with.”
On July 8th Washington became the second state after Colorado to offer recreational pot-smokers a chance to buy weed legally at a local store. Marijuana is still illegal in most of America. But there are substantial activities towards more liberal policies. In 23 states the medicinal use of marijuana is allowed and more states are considering legalisation. Oregon and Alaska will vote on legalisation in November; Floridians will decide on permitting medical use. President Barack Obama has chosen to take a hand’s-off approach to the issue of legalisation in Washington and Colorado. Yet if a drug hawk were to succeed President Obama in 2016, a clampdown on pot could well be revived.
When recreational marijuana stores first opened their doors in the US state of Colorado on January 1, opponents predicted dire consequences: an influx of drug traffickers, a spike in fatal car accidents, and more crime. For their part, supporters claimed that legal weed could raise millions of dollars in tax revenue. Six months later, what have the results been? (See also: Six months after legalizing marijuana, two big things have happened in Colorado)
Only six months old, Colorado's recreational marijuana industry starts a transformation that could add hundreds of new pot businesses to the state and reconfigure the market's architecture. Previously, only owners of existing medical marijuana shops could apply to open recreational stores, and all businesses had to be generalists, growing the pot that they sold. Now, newcomers to the industry can apply for recreational marijuana business licenses. When these new businesses begin opening in October, all recreational marijuana companies will be allowed to specialize — for instance as stand-alone stores that don't grow their supply.
Cannabis is the world’s most widely used illicit drug. But for how much longer? In a short space of time we have moved from absolute global prohibition of the drug, with the emergence of legalised and regulated production and retail not in just one nation (Uruguay) but also, surprisingly, in two US states (Colorado and Washington). Do these and other new permissive models in Spain and Belgium, for example, point to a tipping point in the debate? Could cannabis step out of the shadows and join the ranks of alcohol and tobacco, the world’s most popular legal and regulated drugs?
Frustrated by the cash-heavy aspect of its new marijuana industry, Colorado is trying a long-shot bid to create the world's first financial system devoted to the pot business. But Colorado's plan to move the weed industry away from dank-smelling cash to easily auditable banking accounts is a Hail Mary pass that won't work, industry and regulatory officials agree.
Graham Boyd, Sarah Trumble, Lanae Erickson Hatalsky
11 April 2014
Despite a federal prohibition on marijuana possession, sale, and use, Colorado and Washington recently became the first states to enact laws legalizing the recreational use of this drug. Although the Obama Administration has taken steps to attempt to deal with this evolving situation, we believe the status quo is untenable and Congress must act to provide certainty and a framework for these states moving forward. This report explains the problem and offers a solution.