From California to Maine, nine states to vote on marijuana Nov. 8
The Washington Post - By. Christopher Ingraham - 09/05/2016
This is a pivotal year for American drug policy. More states than ever will consider easing restrictions on marijuana use this November: Voters in five states will decide whether to fully legalize recreational use, while voters in four more will weigh in on whether to allow medical marijuana.
The outcome of these initiatives could set the tone for the national marijuana legalization discussion going forward. Big state victories for the pro-marijuana contingent -- recreational weed in California, medical marijuana in Florida -- could widen the gap between state and federal marijuana policies, ratcheting up pressure on Congress and the next presidential administration to provide a fix.
On the other hand, a string of defeats would signal public unease about condoning the use of an intoxicating substance that isn't tobacco or alcohol. Defeats would suggest that opponents' longstanding criticisms of the legal marijuana industry are making inroads among voters.
As campaigning shifts into high gear in the fall, here's a rundown of where marijuana will be on the ballot in November -- and how those contests are shaping up.
California — Recreational marijuana
A "yes" on weed in the world's sixth-largest economy would loom large in the marijuana debate, making marijuana legal along the entire West Coast.
California is home to nearly 40 million people and an existing $2.7 billion market in medical marijuana. Legalization of recreational marijuana could cause that industry to swell to $6 billion or more by 2020, according to ArcView Research, a marijuana industry research firm. That kind of money is already drawing the interest of businesses and investors, who could leverage their newfound legal lobbying clout to pressure Congress and other states to relax restrictions on marijuana sales and use.
Polls have shown the legalization measure drawing the support of 60 percent -- or more -- of voters, making it perhaps the marijuana initiative most likely to pass this fall. Legalization has been endorsed by some high-profile state and national politicians, as well as the California Democratic Party, the ACLU and NAACP of California, and the California Medical Association. It's opposed by a number of law enforcement groups and some politicians, including Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.).
Supporters of the legalization measure also hold a huge fundraising advantage over opponents. According to Ballotpedia, supporters had roughly $11.5 million in cash on hand as of Aug. 16, compared to opponents' $186,000.
Nevada — Recreational marijuana
While home to only 2.8 million people, legal weed in Nevada could have outsize national impact due to Las Vegas's draw as a tourism destination -- 40 million visitors per year.
Still, there's a lot less money in play in Nevada than there is in California -- supporters of legalization have a little more than $1 million in cash on hand, while opponents have zero, according to the latest campaign finance disclosures.
That dynamic could change heading into the fall. Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson has long opposed marijuana liberalization, and almost single-handedly bankrolled the campaign opposing Florida's medical marijuana initiative in 2014.
A late infusion of Adelson cash in Nevada could tip the scale of public support for the legalization measure there. A July poll found that 50 percent of Nevada voters supported the measure, while 41 percent opposed it.
Arizona — Recreational marijuana
Arizona is the third act of the marijuana legalization trilogy playing out in the West this November. It's also the state giving marijuana proponents their toughest fight -- a July poll found that only 39 percent of likely voters support the measure, while 53 percent oppose.
The measure is not fundamentally different from other legalization bills on November ballots. But Arizona has different demographics than its neighbors to the north and west. The state has voted Republican in every presidential election since 1996, and Republicans are less likely to support marijuana legalization than other Americans.
Massachusetts — Recreational marijuana
Massachusetts, on the other hand, is one of the deepest blue states in the nation, but voters there don't seem to be warming up to the legalization measure on their ballot this fall. Just 41 percent said they'd vote for it in July, down from the mid-to-high-50s a few months earlier.
Some elected officials have been campaigning fiercely against the state's marijuana measure, including Governor Charlie Baker. In March, he joined the state attorney general and Boston's mayor to pen an op-ed in the Boston Globe that was highly critical of legalization efforts. Soon after it published, a state Senate committee released a report detailing how lawmakers could blunt the measure's impact should it pass , such as requiring child-resistant packaging on marijuana products and putting strict limits on advertising.
Maine — Recreational marijuana
Marijuana appears to be on stronger footing in nearby Maine. Polls conducted there earlier this year suggest the state's legalization measure currently enjoys upwards of 50 percent support.
That initiative was nearly derailed when Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap invalidated tens of thousands of petition signatures necessary to put the measure on the ballot. But a judge reversed Dunlap's decision on an appeal from the pro-legalization campaign, clearing the measure's way forward.
Maine has traditionally been at the forefront of marijuana change. The state was one of the first to decriminalize the use of small amounts of marijuana in the 1970s, and it was quick to follow California's lead in legalizing medical marijuana in 1999. In 2013, residents of Portland, the state's largest city, voted to legalize the possession of marijuana.
Florida — Medical marijuana
On the medical marijuana side of the ledger, Florida is the biggest fight. Supporters and opponents have poured close to $10 million into the contest there. It would make Florida the first state in the South with a robust medical marijuana law.
Florida voters narrowly rejected a constitutional amendment for a California-style medical marijuana market in 2014. While 58 percent of voters approved it, the measure failed to meet the 60-percent threshold necessary for a constitutional change.
This year's measure is similar to the failed 2014 initiative, but supporters hope that a more Democratic-leaning electorate in a presidential election year will tip the scales in their favor.
Florida's bill has garnered a number of high-profile endorsements from state and national political leaders, as well as groups like the NAACP, ACLU and some labor organizations. Most recent polls show support surpassing the 60 percent threshold needed for passage.
But the 2014 amendment also had blockbuster polling numbers in the summer leading up to the election, only to collapse going into the fall. This could have been due to a late infusion of Adelson cash for the anti-marijuana campaign and a growing unease among voters with the specifics of the marijuana law.
Arkansas — Medical marijuana
Arkansas is also making a play to be the first southern state allowing medical marijuana. The effort recently received a boost when the state Democratic party put a call for medical marijuana into their party platform.
Voters there narrowly rejected medical marijuana in 2012, but a June survey put support at 58 percent among likely voters.
That support may be stymied by the fact that there are going to be two competing medical pot measures on Arkansas' ballot: One of those is a simple state statute, while the other is a constitutional amendment.
The measures are similar, and voters are free to vote for both. If both pass with a simple majority vote, the measure with the most support will be enacted. But there's also a danger of "splitting the ticket," and diluting medical marijuana support between two measures.
North Dakota — Medical marijuana
In something of a surprise move, a medical marijuana measure recently qualified for the ballot in North Dakota. How this one will play out is anyone's guess. It appears the last polling on medical pot in the state was done in 2014, when 47 percent of voters approved of medical pot and 41 percent opposed it.
North Dakota's always been a bit of an odd man out when it comes to medical marijuana. Its neighbor to the west, Montana, approved medical pot by ballot in 2004. Its neighbor to the east, Minnesota, approved it via legislature in 2014.
But North Dakota is a notoriously conservative state. Authorities there have already been warning about the alleged cost to implement the measure. But backers dispute the official cost estimates.
Montana — Medical marijuana
Wait, doesn't Montana already have medical marijuana? Well, yes and no. Voters approved medical pot in 2004, but since then, state lawmakers have been working to undermine that measure. In 2011, they passed legislation that, among other things, prevented medical dispensaries from charging for their services beyond the cost of recouping a licensing fee. In the year following the law, the number of medical marijuana providers plummeted by 90 percent.
Share on Facebook
it Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s secret stash.
A new report from CIBC World Markets says Canada’s federal and provincial governments could reap as much as $5 billion annually in tax revenues from the sale of legal marijuana.
CIBC economist Avery Shenfeld crunched the numbers using current estimates of Canadian recreational pot consumption, the revenue experience in U.S. states that have legalized, and other factors – such as prevailing “sin tax” rates on alcohol and tobacco.
The Liberal government has promised to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana and has made MP Bill Blair, the former Toronto police chief, the lead on investigating a new regulatory model.
Trudeau maintains that legalized pot will not be a cash cow, and that all revenues will be used to address public health and addictions issues.
The bank report suggests there will be a sizeable bump in government revenues from the eventual legal sales, but says the cash will not enough be to make government deficits simply go up in smoke.
VIA Global News
Share on Facebook
MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AFP) – Mexican health authorities issued Friday the first permit allowing four individuals to grow and use their own marijuana for recreational purposes, following a landmark Supreme Court ruling.
While the permit opens a crack in Mexico's prohibitionist policies, the government health watchdog Cofepris stressed that the authorisation is limited to those four people only.
The group, part of the Mexican Society for Responsible and Tolerant Personal Use (SMART), is pushing for full legalization of marijuana, arguing that it will help reduce the country's relentless drug violence.
Their legal victory has set a potential precedent for others to seek similar permits while forcing President Enrique Pena Nieto and Congress to debate whether to change the country's marijuana laws.
For now, Cofepris underlined in a statement that under the current laws marijuana "is still an illegal substance" and its cultivation and sale remain forbidden.
But the four SMART members -- two lawyers, an accountant and a social activist -- are allowed to "sow, grow, harvest, prepare, possess, transport and consume marijuana for recreational uses," Cofepris said.
They are not permitted, however, to sell it to other people or use marijuana in front of children, pregnant women "or people who do not give their consent."
The SMART members say they have no intention of using marijuana. Their goal, they say, is to force the government's hand.
While Pena Nieto has repeatedly voiced his opposition to legalisation, he has convened experts to a national debate in several states between January and March to decide potential new regulations.
Congress, meanwhile, is discussing a bill that would legalise the import and consumption of medical marijuana.
VIA Jamaican Observer
Share on Facebook
Mexico’s top court is set to decide whether a federal law forbidding the production and use of cannabis violates the constitution.
The Mexican supreme court could legalize the consumption and production of marijuana for recreational later this month if it decides that parts of a federal law forbidding its production and consumpution are unconstitutional
The court is set to vote on the issue in a hearing scheduled Oct. 28, according to documents posted on its website.
In August, a lower court granted a mother and father the right to import a marijuana-based medicine to treat their 8-year-old daughter's epilepsy.
Marijuana, along with cocaine and crystal meth, has been a major source of income for criminal gangs in Mexico, with the profits fueling official corruption and a violent drug war that has killed at least 80,000 people over the last decade.
Other countries in Latin America have decriminalized cannabis possession for personal use and in some cases legalized small-scale production. In Colombia, for instance, it has been legal to possess up to 22 grams of marijuana since 1994, though the sale of the plant remains illegal. Similarly, in Ecuador it is legal to possess up to 10 grams of cannabis, though sale and production remain prohibited.
The South American country Uruguay, meanwhile, has some of the most relaxed marijuana policies in the world. In 2013, former President José Mujica fully legalized the use of cannabis, with retail sales set to begin next year. The government has set the price for marijuana at $1.20 a gram.
Share on Facebook
The billboard will be at the corner of Orms and State streets.
By Tom Mooney
PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- Regulate Rhode Island will unveil a billboard in Providence Tuesday informing state officials — who are considering investing tax dollars in building a new baseball stadium in the city — of what the group says is another way to attract new businesses, good jobs, and young professionals to Rhode Island: regulating and taxing marijuana.
The ad campaign will be launched at 11 a.m. with a news conference in front of the billboard at 90 Orms St. (SE corner of Orms and State streets). Regulate Rhode Island Director Jared Moffat will be joined at the event by Paul DeFruscio, the CEO of Jennifer Rose Associates LLC, a company that specializes in packaging marijuana-infused products, and Marc Shepard, co-founder of New England Cannabis Conventions.
The “Field of Dreams”-themed ad features stadium lights shining on two young professionals standing among a small field of marijuana plants, and it reads: “If we build it, they will come… It’s time to establish a regulated marijuana market in Rhode Island.”
Share on Facebook
- Jose Mujica (AFP Photo / Miguel Rojo)
The president of Uruguay has been nominated for this year's Nobel Peace Prize. According to his advocates, José “Pepe” Mujica's much talked-about marijuana legalization is in fact "a tool for peace and understanding."For the second year in a row, the Drugs Peace Institute, which has supported Mujica’s marijuana legalization drive since 2012, insisting that the consumption of marijuana should be protected as a human right, has endorsed his candidacy, along with members of Mujica's leftwing political party the Frente Amplio, the PlantaTuPlanta (Collective of Uruguayan growers) and the Latin American Coalition of Cannabis Activists (CLAC).
Despite an avalanche of global criticism, in late December Uruguay became the first country in the world to fully legalize the production and sale of the popular herbal drug. Under the new law, which comes into full effect in early April, Uruguayans will have several options to gain access to it.
The Drugs Peace Institute said that Mujica’s stand against the UN-led prohibition of mind-altering substances is a "symbol of a hand outstretched, of a new era in a divided world."
"It is a promise to bridge the gap between defiant marijuana consumers and the prohibiting society. Hopefully, the start of the acceptance of this consumption by society and the concomitant development of understanding of its use as a natural medicine, historically used for spiritual liberation, might initiate a process of healing in a world, very confused and deeply divided, over its religious legacy," the Dutch NGO stated on its website.
People take part in a demo for the legalization of marijuana in front of the Legislative Palace in Montevideo, on December 10, 2013, as the Senate discuss a law on the legalization of marijuana's cultivation and consumption. (AFP Photo / Pablo Porciuncula)
The institute pointed out that, unlike coca-based products that reinforce the ego and individual self-esteem, marijuana has the "peculiar quality of diminishing the consumer’s ego." It pointed out that so far only one government leader has succeeded in challenging the prohibition: "the World’s Poorest President” - Mujica - dubbed so due to his modest lifestyle.
"Jose Mujica once said that he’s been looking for god but [hasn’t] found him yet. By legalizing marijuana and opening the doors of spiritual happiness to the young, he might not have found the god of other nations…, but he certainly has followed in the footsteps of Jesus when he said ‘Let the children come to me. Don't stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to those who are like these,’" the NGO noted.
“I’m very thankful to these people for honoring me,” Uruguay’s president responded in Havana, as quoted by La Nación Argentine daily. “We are only proposing the right to try another path because the path of repression doesn’t work. We don’t know if we’ll succeed. We ask for support, scientific spirit and to understand that no addiction is a good thing. But our efforts go beyond marijuana - we're taking aim at the drug traffic," Uruguay's 78-year-old guerrilla-turned president said.
The leader of the South American state has championed the controversial legislation as a way to snuff out the illegal drugs trade in Uruguay, noting that both Washington and Colorado had legalized marijuana. He signed the bill into law on December 25. The Uruguayan government has until April 9 to finalize the regulations that will govern the sale and cultivation of marijuana.
Marijuana aficionados will be given carte blanche to grow cannabis. However, the law forbids having more than six hives per person. There will be a cap on the amount that can be bought every month, initially set at 40 grams. Residents aged over 18 will have to register in a special nationwide database that keeps track of how much marijuana was purchased in the past month. The law will forbid foreigners to buy it, and in an attempt to undercut the illegal market price of $1.40, the market price for the drug will be set at a dollar a gram.
Late last month, Uruguay's National Cannabis Federation launched special training courses on the cultivation of the popular plant. The training courses are also put forward as one of the measures taken by the authorities to control the trafficking and consumption of marijuana.
The international community lashed out at Uruguay's leader, with the UN’s International Narcotics Control Board chief, Raymond Yans, saying that Uruguay "knowingly decided to break the universally agreed and internationally endorsed treaty." Mr Yans argued in a statement that claims that the law would help reduce crime were based on "rather precarious and unsubstantiated assumptions."
Uruguay's president made it into the top 10 finalists for the award last year. However, the 2013 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons.
Mujica has been president of Uruguay since 2010. He was a member of an armed political group inspired by the Cuban revolution, the Tupamaros, in the 1960s and ‘70s. After the military coup in 1973, during the dictatorship, he spent 14 years in prison. This included being confined to the bottom of a well for more than two years.
When democracy was restored in 1985, Mujica was freed under an amnesty law. He was Minister of Livestock, Agriculture, and Fisheries from 2005 to 2008 and a senator afterwards. When he became president, he pledged to give away 90 percent of his monthly salary to charities that benefit poor people and small entrepreneurs. Much to everybody's surprise, the unpretentious leader has also shunned the grandeur of the presidential residence in favor of his humble farmhouse.
Share on Facebook
BY NIRAJ CHOKSHI
DENVER — On Wednesday morning, Sean Azzariti became the first person in the nation — and potentially the world, experts say — to buy marijuana for recreational use under a regulated, sanctioned system. The former marine who served twice in Iraq helped to make history, but his involvement on New Year’s Day reflected another change: the professionalization of a multi-million dollar industry that just 20 years ago was fully underground.
Azzariti turned to pot after receiving prescriptions for daily doses of 6mg of Xanax, 4mg Klonopin, and 30-50 mg of Adderall to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder, he said. “I just looked at this cocktail, and I was like I just can’t do this. Absolutely no way. I’d just be a drug addict,” he says. “[Cannabis] saved my life, basically.”
His involvement was part of an organized media event hosted by the industry — a reflection of a business that, after emerging from the shadows, is becoming increasingly professional. Store owners talk about $100,000 investments and expanding by tens of thousands of square feet. Even the profile of the business people involved has changed. A few years ago, most in the medicinal marijuana business had a high risk for tolerance or extraordinary passion for the work, says National Cannabis Industry Association Deputy Director Betty Aldworth.
“But now what we see more and more are experienced investors, experienced entrepreneurs coming in with lower-risk tolerances,” she says. “People who tend to be more averse are looking at this industry seeing potential and poking their toes in the water.”
Toni Fox, who is both passionate about the legalization movement and a serious business owner, owns the 3D Cannabis Center, the 18,000 square foot space where Azzariti made his purchase. She plans to expand and expects her average monthly revenues of $30,000 to grow more than eightfold to $250,000 once improvements are made. Medicine Man, a few miles away, boasts an even-larger 20,000-square-foot production space with plans to double it underway. Painting that expanded space alone had cost roughly $100,000, according to Peter Williams, who owns the company with his brother Andy and mother Michelle Zeman.
Even the industry organization, the NCIA, is experiencing rapid change. A year ago it counted 118 member organizations. Today it’s nearly 400, Aldworth says. And they just hired two outsiders with experience in Washington, D.C.: Deputy Director Taylor West, whose focus includes communication and education; and Michael Correia, a former Republican House staffer who is the group’s director of government relations.[Disclaimer: West and the author are former co-workers.]
“This is an industry growing up, this is an industry that needs and deserves full representation in D.C.,” Aldworth says. “The consumers of adult-use recreational marijuana deserve that, as do the businesses.”
Ancillary industries have also popped up. There are business strategists, lawyers who specialize in marijuana regulations and security firms. Blue Line Protection Group boasts 30 employees and 12 contracts with marijuana-related business seeking extra security, according to a spokesman. The business was providing security at Medicine Man on opening day.
No one knows the exact impact the newly legal sales will have on the economy, but if the actions of the businesses that secured licenses is any indication, it’s going to be a boon.
In its second “State of Legal Marijuana Markets” report, ArcView Market Research projected that the newly legal recreational sales in Colorado will add $359 million to the economy, while Washington stands to gain $208 million.
Share on Facebook
By Nick Wing
Attorney General Eric Holder gave a green light on Thursday to two states whose efforts to legalize marijuana had been locked in by legal uncertainty for more than nine months. With that announcement, Colorado and Washington -- both of which passed pro-pot initiatives at the polls last November -- can now proceed with establishing a framework for the taxation and regulation of legal weed for adults.
The administration's decision holds clear and immediate implications for the two states, both of which had been hesitant to act too quickly over concerns that the government might decide to enforce federal law, which still considers marijuana an illegal substance.
But the move also, and perhaps more importantly, throws open the gates for other states to pursue similar pot legalization efforts, so long as they include "strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems." Experts on both sides of the issue have already said they expect to see movement come quickly.
A similar pattern held for medical marijuana. The movement made steady progress up until 2009, when the Obama administration announced it would allow states to implement medical pot laws without federal interference. That promise turned out to be heavily footnoted, but the pledge itself ushered in a flood of ballot and legislative activity that burst the medical marijuana dam over the next four years. Thursday's announcement can be expected to do the same.
Public support for legal pot has surged in recent years at both state and nationallevels, with a majority of U.S. voters now in favor. This suggests that legalization would be most viable in states that allow citizen ballot initiatives. State lawmakers could also potentially take the reins on legalizing cannabis as the issue becomes more mainstream, however, like they did in New Jersey in 2010 with the passage of a bill approving medical marijuana.
Political dynamics are at play, too. Democratic strategists hoping to goose youth- and liberal-voter turnout in 2014 are incentivized to put pot on the ballot, though weed advocates themselves are better off running campaigns during presidential years, when the electorate doesn't skew as elderly as it does during midterms.
Below, the states that are most likely to take the next steps toward legalizing marijuana:
Marijuana reformers in Alaska have been hard at work trying to make their state the next to legalize pot. In June, a ballot measure to tax and regulate pot and legalize it for adult recreational use was certified. Organizers must now collect at least 30,169 valid signatures of registered Alaska voters by December 2013, which would ensure that the initiative receives a vote in the primary election on Aug. 19, 2014.
Pot has already been decriminalized and legalized for medical use in Alaska. A survey of Alaska voters taken earlier this year by Democratic-leaning Public Policy Polling found that 54 percent supported legalizing marijuana.
In June, marijuana legalization proponents began a campaign to gather the 259,213 signatures they'll need in order to get the issue on the 2014 ballot. The language of the proposed measure is rather expansive, and also includes a system of state taxation and regulation.
Marijuana was legalized in the state for medical use in 2010 by ballot initiative. A poll taken earlier this year found that 56 percent of Arizonans supported legalizing some amount of cannabis.
A statewide initiative to legalize marijuana failed in California in 2010, but reformers are hoping to find success in 2014 and beyond. Earlier this month, organizers filed the California Hemp Act 2014, a measure that would legalize cannabis both in its standard and non-psychoactive forms. Beginning Oct. 1, the campaign will have 150 days to gather 750,000 valid signatures from California voters in order to get the issue on the 2014 ballot.
Marijuana has already been decriminalized and legalized for medical use in California. A poll taken earlier this year found that 54 percent of Californians support legalizing pot.
Marijuana advocates in Nevada have yet to mount a large-scale effort to get legalization on the ballot in an upcoming election, as most organizers in the statesee 2016 as their best chance for a push. The liberal bent of the state makes it a popular target for reformers, however, and it's not yet clear whether Thursday's DOJ decision could increase desire for more immediate action.
Nevada has legalized medical marijuana, and earlier this year the state passed a measure establishing a dispensary system to help increase access for sick citizens. According to a recent poll, 56 percent of Nevadans would favor legalizing cannabis for recreational use if the money raised went to fund education.
Medical marijuana legalization advocates in Oregon have already announced plansto campaign for an initiative to be placed on the ballot in 2014. An earlier legalization effort, which was poorly coordinated and widely mocked inside the state, failed in 2012. Organizers believe there is plenty of room for improvement.
Oregon has already decriminalized marijuana and legalized it for medical use. According to a poll taken in May, 57 percent of likely voters in Oregon support a proposal to tax, regulate and legalize marijuana for recreational use.
The Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-pot advocacy group, has announced Maine as one of its top targets for legalization in upcoming election cycles. An initiative circulating through the state Legislature fell painfully short in a state House vote earlier this year, but MPP has announced plans to help coordinate a grassroots campaign to get a legalization measure on the ballot in 2016.
Marijuana has been decriminalized and approved for medical use in Maine. According to a PPP poll released this week, 48 percent of registered voters in Maine believe pot should be legal for recreational use.
The deep-blue New England state is being eyed as a prime opportunity for legalization, with marijuana reform advocates pointing to high margins of support for previous pro-pot initiatives. No official campaign for a ballot initiative has been launched yet, though many predict it is only a matter of time.
Massachusetts has decriminalized marijuana and just last November passed a ballot measure legalizing it for medical use. A February PPP poll found that 58 percent of the state's residents would be in favor of legalizing, taxing and regulating cannabis.
Montana has had a checkered history with marijuana laws. Voters passed an initiative legalizing cannabis for medical use in 2004, but opponents have since taken various steps to amend the measure or repeal it all together. Reform advocates remain hopeful that voters will support full legalization. They wasted no time following the 2012 election, filing a ballot question in hopes of putting the issue before voters in 2014.
There are no recent statewide surveys to gauge current support for pot legalization, though previous polls have showed a majority of Montana voters supporting the decriminalizing of marijuana.
Marijuana advocates have high hopes that Rhode Island will be one of the first in the next round of states to legalize. This could come through a ballot initiative, but Rob Kampia, the executive director of MPP, recently said the issue could be ripe for state lawmakers to take on. While there's not yet a high-profile campaign to get legalization on an upcoming ballot, the state Legislature did consider a bill on the matter last session. While lawmakers debated the legislation and invited witnesses to testify on its merits, they never held a vote.
Rhode Island recently decriminalized marijuana and passed legalized medical marijuana around 2007. A PPP poll taken in January found that 52 percent of voters in the state support legalizing pot for recreational use.
Vermont has made strides to scale back marijuana prohibition over the past year, with a successful measure to decriminalize and a separate bill to establish a system of dispensaries for the state's medical cannabis patients. Observers see the state's strong support for the recent reelection of Gov. Peter Shumlin (D), an advocate for marijuana reform, as a sign that voters could get behind a ballot initiative to legalize. There is no large-scale effort toward this end yet, but a legalization bill was introduced in the state Legislature last session. It didn't receive a vote.
Polls have consistently shown Vermonters to be supportive of efforts to scale back prohibition on marijuana.
Share on Facebook
How to invest in legalized marijuana
Mark Twain is said to have remarked that a gold rush is a good time to be in the pick and shovel business. Investors may be able to apply that same bit of wisdom to the growing number of U.S. states that have legalized pot.
Although federal law prohibits the sale or possession of marijuana, Massachusetts last week joined the ranks of states — 18 plus Washington, D.C. — that allow its use for people suffering from chronic illnesses like cancer, HIV/AIDS, multiple sclerosis and epilepsy. In Washington and Colorado, meanwhile, voters passed an initiative to allow pot for recreational use. Those changes have kickstarted a small but fast-growing medical-marijuana industry, estimated to be worth about $1.7 billion as of 2011, according to See Change Strategy, an independent financial-analysis firm that specializes in new markets. In Colorado alone, sales topped $181 million in 2010, and the business employed 4,200 state-licensed workers, says Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association , a nonprofit trade group that campaigns for marijuana’s federal legalization.
In addition to profiting itself from growing and selling marijuana, the industry benefits a slew of other businesses, such as insurers, lawyers and agricultural-equipment firms, experts say. “Call it the ‘green rush,’” says Derek Peterson, CEO of GrowOp Technology , an online retailer of hydroponics — products used in the cultivation of indoor plants — and a subsidiary of OTC stock Terra Tech TRTC +16.00% . “The industry is expanding, and there are all kinds of investment opportunities.”
For regular investors looking to get in on the action — and without having to actually grow or sell drugs — there are several small-cap stocks that stand to gain from marijuana’s growing acceptance. Medbox MDBX +41.18% , an OTC stock with a $45 million market cap, for example, sells its patented dispensing machines to licensed medical-marijuana dispensaries. The machines, which dispense set doses of the drug, after verifying patients’ identities via fingerprint, could potentially be used in ordinary drugstores too, says Medbox founder Vincent Mehdizadeh. Based in Hollywood, Calif., the company already has 130 machines in the field, and it expects to install an additional 40 in the next quarter. “The smart money is trying to help with compliance and transparency,” Mehdizadeh says.
Of course, investing in drugs the federal government still outlaws poses enormous risks to investors, says Sam Kamin, a law professor and the director of the Constitutional Rights & Remedies Program at the University of Denver. In fact, nearly 500 of the estimated 3,000 dispensaries nationwide have either been closed by the federal government or shut down in the past year, says a spokesman for StickyGuide.com , an online directory and review site for medical marijuana dispensaries — and yet another ancillary business that’s currently seeking investors.
That said, there are many companies that appear to be betting on a change in federal law. Steep Hill is a quality-control laboratory that tests medical marijuana to see if there’s any contamination from mold, bacteria or harmful pesticides. The company, based in Oakland, Calif., is also actively seeking funding of up to $3 million. David Lampach, co-founder and president of Steep Hill, expects a federal law legalizing medical marijuana within the next decade. Cannabis Science in Colorado Springs, Colo. CBIS -29.61% , an OTC stock with a market cap of $41 million, is developing marijuana-based medicines to help cancer and HIV/AIDS patients. “We’re at the beginning of the revolution in medicine,” says CEO Robert Melamede.
Other companies are creating a range of quirky products that allow people to use marijuana without smoking it. Medical Marijuana MJNA -16.81% , an OTC stock with a $69 million market cap, based in San Diego, Calif., offers more than 50 ways to ingest marijuana , from Dixie Elixir soda to Dixie Chill ice-cream and a range of Dixie Edibles, like chocolate truffles and crispy rice treats.
While experts say competition in the medical-marijuana business is growing fast, they add that there are also still plenty of opportunities for entrepreneurs. For example, Troy Dayton, president and CEO of ArcView Group , an angel investor network for the industry, says demand has been growing for handheld tobacco vaporizers like those made by Ploom (which charges $250 for its “premium loose-leaf vaporizer”). “There’s a rush now to make the ideal vaporizer,” Dayton says. “There’s still room for a kingmaker in this space.”
In the meantime, at least one drug company is directly selling medical marijuana to patients around the world. GW Pharmaceuticals (GBP), based in London, markets Sativex, billed as the world’s first marijuana-based medicine. With a market cap of around $137 million, it’s listed on the Alternative Investment Market, a submarket of the London Stock Exchange. Sativex is currently sold as a mouth spray to help alleviate symptoms of multiple sclerosis in several countries, including the U.K., New Zealand, Germany, Spain, Denmark and Canada, a spokesman says, and it is currently seeking FDA approval in the U.S. for use as a pain reliever in late-stage cancer patients
Share on Facebook