A recent article credited Colorado’s relative success with marijuana legalization to the fact that it’s law is “a system that is not designed to fail.”
Does the state live up to the hype? How does it compare to others that have legalized cannabis in some form? Should states considering legalization model Colorado’s system?
What has been as impressive as Colorado’s compassion toward patients and its respect for recreational users is the entrepreneurial production and dispensation infrastructure that has emerged to bring the law to fruition. At the recent Marijuana Investor Summit in Denver, it was estimated that cannabis sales in the 23 states that have legalized medical use of the plant equal roughly $3 billion annually.
For the month of March, Colorado reported revenues of nearly $43 million for recreational pot, up from $36 million in January. Also during March, residents of the Centennial State purchased $32 million in medical marijuana through dispensaries. Overall, this represents nearly $80 million in cannabis revenue in the state during a single month — only 16 months after it became legal.
These figures also don’t include ancillary benefits to the state’s economy, namely in the form of cash infused into third-party service companies that support the cultivation, marketing, resale, and consumption of marijuana (all of which also pay taxes).
Numbers like these indicate the emergence of a true industry, regardless of the stigma or federal legality of the plant behind it. Just as coal, a single substance, has produced a robust industry that has generated trillions of dollars in commerce over the course of decades, cannabis, a single plant, is on the verge of adding hundreds of billions of dollars a year to the national economy.
In a country suffering one of the most protracted and sluggish economic recoveries in its history, Colorado’s marijuana success is possibly more about bringing America back to its roots of self-sufficiency, small companies, and lone proprietors than the freedom to smoke pot or even the plant’s medicinal value.
For years, small businesspeople have been challenged to offer more to their communities than fast food franchises, car washes, and 10-minute lube shops. While speciality services like cupcake stores, in-home pet services, and hipster-friendly whiskey bars have offered new opportunities, all share the characteristic of being relatively trendy. If folks aren’t wolfing down cupcakes or $10 shots of bourbon in record numbers five or eight years from now, do entrepreneurs really want to invest their life savings in such a business?
No one, however — conservative or liberal — can label cannabis a trend. Its cultural significance, especially in America, has been cemented by decades of blues and rock music, mainstream films, and popular literature. Demand for the herb, in all forms, has always exceeded supply (this is only beginning to change in states like Washington and Colorado). Humans have been using cannabis in one form or another for 10,000 years.
Colorado certainly isn’t the only state to have legalized medical marijuana. The state’s med pot law was passed way back in 2000, only four years after California voters approved Proposition 215 and two years following Oregon’s enactment of the nation’s second medical law. Colorado is, however, among the few rare states that allow recreational cannabis cultivation and regulated commercial sales. Because Colorado was the first to bat, its system is simply more mature than what is being rolled out in Alaska, D.C., Oregon, and Washington.
Entrepreneurs & Tax Revenue
Regardless of the success of these states, the effectiveness of Colorado’s law in creating a thriving business space for entrepreneurs while generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue can’t be denied. Prohibitionist fears of increased crime, more student dropouts, and higher traffic fatality rates have clearly not materialized. Schools are getting a slice of the pie, regardless of exactly how much or original estimates. Marijuana-related arrests in the state have taken a steep dive, allowing cops to focus on serious violent crime and saving taxpayers money. Even the Republicans seem to be happy.
Bringing one back to the theme of Colorado’s law being designed to succeed. A recent spate of CBD-only medical laws has emerged in states like Texas, Georgia, and New York. With the arguable exception of New York’s painfully detailed law, those from Texas and Georgia seem purposefully intended to fail. It’s as if the schoolyard bully stole the citizens’ lollypop and, upon the demand of its return, said, “Fine, pick it up” as he flung it into the dirt.
Texas’ new law, enacted in late May, is an exceptional effort in political obstructionism and ineffective legislation. Like Georgia, Texas has legalized only high-CBD, low-THC treatments and prohibited whole plant cannabis, including home cultivation, smoking, vaping, and even edibles.
But that’s not the worst part of the new law. In most states, patients must receive a doctor recommendation prior to obtaining and using medical marijuana. A recommendation, unlike a prescription, is protected speech under the First Amendment. The new law in Texas, however, explicitly requires doctors to write prescriptions for CBD oil.
Will Doctors Risk It?
Because the federal government has categorized cannabis as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act, the feds necessarily regard it as a harmful drug providing no medical benefit whatsoever. Any doctor in Texas who officially prescribes cannabis — or a single-cannabinoid, non-psychoactive extraction like CBD oil — is in violation of federal law and at risk of losing their license.
Will intelligent physicians in Texas prescribe marijuana with a chance of losing their medical practice? It’s nice to think that some kind doctors would put it all on the line and write prescriptions for their patients in need. However, those who do will be taking a significant risk. The limited medical cannabis law in Texas is the epitome of “designed to fail.”
Colorado and Texas are probably the best examples of the respective success and failure of medical marijuana in the United States to date. As even conservative states jump into the fray of limited medical laws, it will be interesting to see how cannabis policy in Colorado evolves — and how many more “cannabis refuge” families will be compelled to move from states like Texas, Ohio, and New Jersey simply to gain the ability to legally medicate their sick children.