Big vic­to­ries for le­gal pot, but path ahead is un­cer­tain

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - WEATHER - By Paul Elias

LOS ANGELES >> The num­ber of Amer­i­cans liv­ing in states with recre­ational mar­i­juana more than tripled af­ter at least three states voted to fully le­gal­ize the drug. But the elec­tion of Repub­li­can Don­ald Trump and GOP ma­jori­ties in the Se­nate and House tem­pered ad­vo­cates’ ex­cite­ment about an eas­ing of fed­eral re­stric­tions.

“There is a mas­sive sense of mo­men­tum, and this will put a lot of pres­sure on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” said Ethan Nadel­mann, founder of the non­profit Drug Pol­icy Al­liance, a pro-le­gal­iza­tion group. What gives him “real con­cern” is Trump.

Nadel­mann and other ad­vo­cates say the pres­i­den­t­elect is “un­pre­dictable,” and they are un­sure where he stands on mar­i­juana is­sues, though Trump has said in the past that he sup­ports state laws le­gal­iz­ing med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

Still, an­a­lysts and ad­vo­cates alike say, the in­dus­try may be too big and valu­able for a Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion to stop, es­pe­cially af­ter Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers le­gal­ized the recre­ational use of mar­i­juana.

Seven states have now le­gal­ized recre­ational pot, and a re­cent Gallup poll showed close to 60 per­cent of Amer­i­cans sup­port the idea.

Colorado, where stores be­gan legally sell­ing recre­ational pot in 2014, re­ported al­most $1 bil­lion in le­gal pot sales last year. Ar­cview Mar­ket Re­search, which tracks the mar­i­juana in­dus­try, es­ti­mates that le­gal an­nual Cal­i­for­nia pot rev­enues could ex­ceed $7 bil­lion by 2020.

“The black mar­ket will not dis­ap­pear overnight,” said Cal­i­for­nia Lt. Gov. Gavin New­som, who helped craft the state’s bal­lot mea­sure. But he said the il­le­gal mar­ket will shrink sig­nif­i­cantly if Cal­i­for­nia can es­tab­lish its mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tions with­out fed­eral in­ter­fer­ence.

“This is the be­gin­ning of the end of the war on mar­i­juana in the United States,” said New­som, who is run­ning for gov­er­nor.

Todd Mitchem, a Den­ver-based mar­i­juana in­dus­try con­sul­tant and lob­by­ist, said the pot busi­ness should ex­pect an in­fu­sion of new in­ter­est from in­vestors and would-be mar­i­juana grow­ers and re­tail­ers.

“It’s go­ing to be huge,” said Mitchem, who pointed out that Colorado’s pot in­dus­try is worth $1 bil­lion a year but the state has only about a tenth of Cal­i­for­nia’s pop­u­la­tion. “Eco­nom­i­cally, you’re go­ing to see a lot more peo­ple en­ter the space and a lot more money en­ter the space.”

Other states, too, will also look with envy at the taxes gen­er­ated by Cal­i­for­nia and other states where mar­i­juana is le­gal, an­a­lyst pre­dicted.

“The states that voted yes­ter­day have a lot of work ahead of them to set up a le­gal­iza­tion and tax struc­ture, but I ex­pect many more states will fol­low their lead,” said Joseph Hench­man of the Wash­ing­ton, D.C., think tank Tax Foun­da­tion.

Even the fi­nan­cial in­dus­try’s re­luc­tance to do busi­ness with mar­i­juana busi­nesses may soon dis­ap­pear. Most banks refuse mar­i­juana-re­lated cus­tomers be­cause of the fed­eral ban.

“It is one thing to ig­nore the mil­lions gen­er­ated in Colorado. It is en­tirely a dif­fer­ent thing to ig­nore the tens of bil­lions that the Cal­i­for­nia cannabis in­dus­try will gen­er­ate,” said Michael Weiner, a Den­ver lawyer who rep­re­sents pot-re­lated com­pa­nies. “The big na­tional banks will want to de­posit those funds and put those funds to work by mak­ing loans.”

North­ern Cal­i­for­nia farm­ers said they hoped Trump would rec­og­nize the busi­ness ben­e­fits of le­gal­ized pot and leave alone the states where it is al­lowed.

Recre­ational mar­i­juana is “go­ing to at­tract a lot of busi­ness,” said Nikki Las­treto, a North­ern Cal­i­for­nia pot grower. “If the Trump thing wasn’t hang­ing over our head, we’d be in heaven.”

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dave Jimenez, left, smokes mar­i­juana with his friend An­thony A. Wed­nes­day, Nov. 9, 2016, in San Fran­cisco. Prop 64 le­gal­iz­ing mar­i­juana for recre­ational used passed in Cal­i­for­nia. The num­ber of Amer­i­cans liv­ing in states with recre­ational mar­i­juana more than tripled af­ter at least three states voted to fully le­gal­ize the drug.

THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Dif­fer­ent types of mar­i­juana are dis­played at Sparc Dis­pen­sary Tues­day, Nov. 8, 2016, in San Fran­cisco. Cal­i­for­nia vot­ers ap­proved a bal­lot mea­sure Tues­day al­low­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state.

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