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Turning over a new leaf

Colorado, Washington need to lead way for future marijuana legislation

Published: Thursday, November 8, 2012

Updated: Thursday, November 8, 2012 19:11

Washington and Colorado became the first states to decriminalize recreational marijuana use this week, and all bloodshot eyes are on them to see what unfolds next.

The new law will allow adults over the age of 21 to buy as much as one ounce from a licensed retailer in Washington and grows up to six plants on private property in Colorado. Certification of the vote could take about a month, but possession and growing operations would become effective immediately. Massachusetts also jumped on board and approved a measure to allow medical marijuana, becoming the 18th state to permit it.

While this is a big step against the so-called “war against drugs” and for marijuana reformation, the two states are now going to have to set the example if they want to further the movement. And they’re also going to have to fight the good fight with the federal government.

Colorado and Washington governments are fine with citizens possessing a little pot now, but the federal government isn’t exactly fine with it. In the past, it has frequently cracked down on larger medicinal marijuana operations. But even though federal law still supersedes state law, advocates should be optimistic. The government lacks the resources and patience to prosecute people every time it hears someone is carrying a small amount of pot.

The financial possibilities for the states are hard to ignore. No one has yet to pinpoint exactly how much money can be made, but there are anywhere from 25 million to 60 million U.S. marijuana consumers so total spending may add up to $45 billion to $100 billion a year if the cost of distribution stays the same.

On top of that, the new law could bring in $180 million in taxes and savings over three years in Colorado and $500 million to $600 million in taxes from pot shops annually in Washington.

So is New York ready for the same treatment? The short answer is no.

A medical marijuana bill in New York has been introduced multiple times so far and the Democrat-controlled Assembly has even passed it twice during the past five years. The Republican-led Senate won’t pass the legislation, though, and a bill for recreational use hasn’t even been drafted yet.

A Quinnipiac University poll from two years ago found that 71 percent of New York voters support doctor-prescribed medical marijuana. It might be time to move forward on that legislation, but there are too many polar opposites – from Conservative Western New York to Liberal Downstate New York – in this state to start thinking about introducing the idea of legal recreational use.

The first few months of legislation for Colorado and Washington are going to be critical to see if this is a system that will actually work. There are a lot of factors and issues that are going to have to be scrutinized. For instance, how will this effect people in the workplace? There’s nothing in Colorado Amendment 64 that says that employers have to allow people to smoke in the workplace (it’s a public place and most likely indoors, so it will probably not even be an option anyways), but will employers have the ability to restrict use when the work is not on the job?

What we’re lacking right now is research – non-political but scientifically strong research. The only legal marijuana source for research in America is – wait for it – the National Institute on Drug Abuse, a clear conflict of interest for progression and unbiased since NIDA has a mandate from Congress to only study substances of abuse as such. Nothing about benefits or positives – just what is bad about it and why it should be continued to be banned.

There are a lot of little loopholes in this that give opponents of the law some leeway even without fighting against it, especially with the feds watching closely. The lens on Colorado and Washington is now huge. It will be months until framework for businesses are set up and over a year until state-approved marijuana stores can open, but the first impression starts the moment the legislation is certified. The government needs to be patient. It’s time to try new things and see if we can move forward.



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