Pubdate: Thu, 30 Jun 2011
Source: Missoula Independent (MT)
Copyright: 2011 Missoula Independent
Author: Jessica Mayrer


Black Market Economics

Cannabis advocates are warning that the millions of dollars generated 
by Montana's legal medical marijuana industry will flood the black 
market if a law that aims to sap the businesses' profits is allowed 
to take effect.

"It will fuel the drug war even more," says Montana Cannabis Industry 
Association President Ed Docter. "It's going to mean more marijuana 
coming over the borders. These people are not going to stop smoking 
marijuana just because (the Montana Legislature) passed a law."

Republican Jeff Essman's Senate Bill 423 is slated to take effect 
this Friday. It calls for banning marijuana advertising, limiting 
marijuana providers to three patients each, and forbidding providers 
from making a profit. The Montana Cannabis Industry Association and 
eight other plaintiffs filed suit to stop the law. District Judge 
James Reynolds is currently deliberating whether to temporarily halt 
aspects of it.

Bracing for what could be a complete overhaul of the medical 
marijuana industry, Docter finds himself crunching numbers. More than 
30,000 individuals are registered with the state to legally use 
medical marijuana. Each of those patients purchases, on average, 24 
grams of cannabis a month at $10 a gram, Docter says. "That comes to 
$7.2 million a month. That's amazing."

If profit is taken out of the legal medical marijuana equation, 
caregivers and cannabis users may head underground, Docter says, and 
that would hurt the people the industry currently employs. "I got 
into this to create jobs," he says. "Now, I'm in it to save these jobs."

Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir doesn't buy it. Marijuana is just 
like alcohol and tobacco--dangerous, he says. He believes it's better 
to nip the cannabis boom in the bud now rather than letting the 
for-profit industry groom a whole new crop of users via advertising 
and flashy dispensary storefronts.

The medical marijuana law voters approved in 2004 only authorized 
caregivers to provide services, not other pot shop employees. "Every 
one of those employees was committing a felony," Muir says. "Those 
weren't legal jobs."

The black market has always been there, Muir says. "And it will 
probably exist afterward."
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