Legalizing Marijuana For Profit Is A Bad Idea

Apr 25, 2013

The push to legal­ize Mar­i­juana is going Gang­ham style. In the past sev­eral months, 55 per­cent of vot­ers in Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton approved a bal­lot mea­sure mak­ing it legal for med­ical and non­med­ical uses, and a slew of polls indi­cate that a major­ity of Amer­i­cans now sup­port mak­ing Mar­i­juana as legal as cig­a­rettes and alco­hol. Chang­ing pub­lic atti­tudes is a big rea­son why the drive to let peo­ple legally “toke” up is gain­ing trac­tion. But the ques­tion on the minds of politi­cians and busi­ness lead­ers is how much money can be made from this new indus­try? Ear­lier this month For­tune mag­a­zine ran an unusual cover story attempt­ing to answer this ques­tion. The arti­cle fea­tured a group of West Coast Cannabis entre­pre­neurs who are seek­ing invest­ments from promi­nent ven­ture cap­i­tal firms. These entre­pre­neurs want to pro­duce and mar­ket prod­ucts that will make smok­ing pot easy, sexy, and appeal­ing. What’s their sell­ing point? Cannabis could rep­re­sent a $47 bil­lion indus­try oppor­tu­nity. A broader sell­ing point is that legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana could help state gov­ern­ments cut their enforce­ment bud­gets and gen­er­ate tax rev­enue. Since 1970, state and fed­eral author­i­ties have spent bil­lions enforc­ing mar­i­juana laws, but pot con­tin­ues to be ubiq­ui­tous. Police have not reduced pro­duc­tion, and laws are applied incon­sis­tently across the spec­trum of socioe­co­nomic and minor­ity pop­u­la­tions. The eco­nomic argu­ment car­ries great weight for pro­po­nents. As rev­el­ers lit up last week­end to mark 4–20, the annual cel­e­bra­tion of all-things weed, it’s tough to argue that con­sumer demand isn’t there. Legal­iz­ing an already boom­ing black-market indus­try means the poten­tial for job cre­ation and a fresh source of income for state trea­suries scram­bling in the age of the sequesters. How­ever, once you clean the bong, this line of think­ing goes up in smoke. First, just because pub­lic opin­ion and eco­nomic argu­ments indi­cate oth­er­wise, Con­gress must ask some hard ques­tions before it changes 50-years of national drug pol­icy. Ques­tions like: why has mar­i­juana enforce­ment failed? Is the Con­trolled Sub­stances Act of 1970 fun­da­men­tally flawed? And if so, what can be done to reform it? Find­ing the answers to these ques­tions is not at the top of the polit­i­cal agenda. Attor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder tes­ti­fied recently about fed­eral poli­cies in rela­tion to the newly passed Col­orado and Wash­ing­ton ini­tia­tives, and Sen­ate Judi­ciary Com­mit­tee Chair­man Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) promised that the panel would dis­cuss fed­eral poli­cies in light of the country’s patch­work of state mar­i­juana laws. But there has been no con­certed push for broad scale reform sim­i­lar to the activ­i­ties asso­ci­ated with the Afford­able Care and Patient Pro­tec­tion Act of 2009 or the Tax Reform Act of 1986. Sec­ond, legal­iz­ing cannabis for profit is sim­ply a bad idea. It flies in the face of social respon­si­bil­ity. The acqui­si­tion of profit is dri­ven by self-interest, not the com­mon good. Busi­ness deci­sions are made based on how the out­come will improve the bot­tom line. It wouldn’t be long before mar­i­juana com­pa­nies – likely backed by big tobacco, with its in-place mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion teams – started aggres­sive efforts to win con­sumers. They’ll develop attrac­tive pack­ag­ing, new and inter­est­ing fla­vors and strains, opti­mal paper to enhance the smok­ing effect, and com­pelling adver­tis­ing cam­paigns all designed to get con­sumers hooked. There will be mes­sages appeal­ing to long-time pot smok­ers and new pot smok­ers. There will be brands for youths, col­lege kids, minori­ties, the poor, women, and urban­ites. Smok­ers will come to believe they can’t live with­out their daily “wake & bake” just as they believe they can’t live with­out their smart­phones or iPads. The mass-market con­sump­tion of mar­i­juana will bring with it the same neg­a­tive and ubiq­ui­tous effects we’ve seen with alco­hol and cig­a­rettes: health prob­lems, dri­ving under the influ­ence, and addic­tion. Once the indus­try gets rolling, those cel­e­brated tax rev­enues will prob­a­bly evap­o­rate. Just in the last few days, Col­orado State Uni­ver­sity released a study indi­cat­ing that the tax rev­enues expected from the Cen­ten­nial State’s newly legal indus­try will not pay for its reg­u­la­tion. Nor will it bring in a wind­fall of money pro­po­nents promised would pay for new school con­struc­tion and other social ben­e­fits. Even if the tax pro­jec­tions do pan out, as the indus­try grows in size and influ­ence, lob­by­ists will exert pres­sure on politi­cians to lower taxes and loosen reg­u­la­tions, just as the tobacco indus­try has done in the past, to max­i­mize prof­itabil­ity. This is the nature of the inter­play of busi­ness and pol­i­tics; for the most part, busi­ness has the upper hand. Other advo­cates point to the poten­tial of a dimin­ished drug trade – grow­ers, par­tic­u­larly Mex­i­can drug gangs, will no longer have as lucra­tive a demand for their wares, and deal­ers won’t be engag­ing in crim­i­nal activ­ity because their sales have dried up. But this too doesn’t fac­tor in the flip side of busi­ness: where one mar­ket oppor­tu­nity ends, another one begins. Drug lords may see a short-term cur­tail­ment of their rev­enue upon legal­iza­tion, but they’ll branch out to sell other ille­gal sub­stances, like some new designer drug or some drug that has been out of vogue. Legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana isn’t a sim­ple, cre­ative way to fill up the government’s depleted bank account or strike it rich in a new indus­try. It will only add to the cacoph­ony of big busi­nesses jock­ey­ing for your dol­lar and com­pet­ing for politi­cians’ favor. The pub­lic needs to take a long-pause before it starts clam­or­ing for the legal right to buy mar­i­juana at the local 7-Eleven. Social respon­si­bil­ity dic­tates cau­tion. Source: Topix LLC Link: http://​poli​tix​.topix​.com/​h​o​m​e​p​a​g​e​/​5​7​6​0​-​l​e​g​a​l​i​z​i​n​g​-​m​a​r​i​j​u​a​n​a​-​f​o​r​-​p​r​o​f​i​t​-​i​s​-​a​-​b​a​d​-​i​dea Author: Jamie P. Chan­dler and Palmer Gibbs Date: April 23, 2013

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Legal­iz­ing Mar­i­juana For Profit Is A Bad Idea

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