Le­gal weed: Cha-ching!

State rak­ing in mil­lions in taxes from le­gal­ized mar­i­juana sales

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - OPINION - Rus­sell Wanger­sky is TC Me­dia’s At­lantic re­gional colum­nist. He can be reached at rus­sell.wanger­sky@tc.tc — Twit­ter: @Wanger­sky.

A pall hangs over Den­ver, Colorado. Law­less­ness stalks its streets, while stu­pe­fied pot­heads loll on ev­ery cor­ner, stoned sense­less on le­gal weed.

Well, ac­tu­ally, no, it’s not re­ally like that at all. Re­ally, it’s just an­other day.

Den­ver’s like any other big Amer­i­can city: on the 16th Street Mall, there are va­grants on the cor­ners, Bron­cos and Pa­tri­ots fans spool­ing around while they wait for the start of the AFC fi­nal later in the day. Coffee shops are set­ting out chairs in the un­sea­son­able warmth, and a ro­bot street per­former, painted en­tirely sil­ver, is mak­ing plans with friends for af­ter the game.

At lunchtime, the bar­tender at the Rhein House is wrestling with the beer lines: the cool­ing sys­tem has run amok, heat­ing the lines in­stead. Cold beer is spray­ing out of the noz­zles as foam. It’s go­ing to make for a hard af­ter­noon sell­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of recre­ational drug. And as far as le­gal weed goes? It hasn’t had much of a mark, be­yond, well, money.

“Tourism and cash.” That’s the bar­tender’s take as he dumps out glasses of foam. “The fed­eral govern­ment could come in and shut it down at any time, but they’re just watch­ing the money.” And money there is. The taxes Colorado’s col­lected so far? Well, the govern­ment’s own num­bers show US$12.2 mil­lion in taxes, li­cences and fees for De­cem­ber 2015 alone - $72 mil­lion in the first nine months of this fis­cal year, on track for close to $100 mil­lion by the end of 2015-16. More than taxes on al­co­hol.

The kind of money that Cana­dian gov­ern­ments must be think­ing about, es­pe­cially be­cause the fed­eral govern­ment has promised le­gal­iza­tion, and, with the cur­rent eco­nomic down­town, there’s not one prov­ince that couldn’t use a source of cash. Es­pe­cially a source of cash that’s brand new, on a prod­uct that is cur­rently vir­tu­ally the sole pre­serve of crim­i­nals. There prob­a­bly won’t be weed tourists, not if the le­gal­iza­tion is na­tion­wide — but there would be taxes, and weed stores.

The Eu­flora Cannabis Dis­pen­sary is like any other store on the 16th Street Mall.

Its pix­il­lated elec­tronic sign, as big as any other retail store’s, lights up at 10 a.m., right around the time a man spins his wheel­chair to a nearby cor­ner, care­fully po­si­tions the stump of his leg, in plain and bare sight, bluntly am­pu­tated above the knee, and starts his pat­ter: “Got any change for a one-legged man?”

In­side, the store is as sparse and clean as a cos­met­ics store: mar­i­juana on dis­play in plas­tic jars you can crack open and smell, $20 a gram for dif­fer­ent strains with names like Cherry Skunk and Joker. Be­side each jar, an iPad with a touch-screen menu for the dif­fer­ent ef­fects of each strain - the side-ef­fects, the dif­fer­ent types of high. With the ex­cep­tion of the se­cu­rity check­ing ev­ery­one’s iden­ti­fi­ca­tion at the door, it could be any store, any­where.

Weed dis­pen­saries have popped up all over the city, growth mir­rored, fit­tingly, only by the num­ber of craft brew­ing op­er­a­tions: “It was a church yes­ter­day, now it’s a brew­ery,” the Rhein House bar­tender quips.

One street over, it’s sim­pler com­merce: “Wanna buy my all­day bus ticket?” a woman shouts.

“I just got back from sell­ing mine,” her in­tended cus­tomer calls back.

On the street, there are a hand­ful of peo­ple out­side smok­ing. Most of the time, it’s the sharp, fa­mil­iar smell of to­bacco smoke.

Other times, the heavy, pun­gent skunk­i­ness of mar­i­juana.

And in both cases, the smell of taxes rolling in.

Rus­sell Wanger­sky

East­ern Pas­sages

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