Pubdate: Thu, 07 Aug 2014
Source: Pottstown Mercury (PA)
Copyright: 2014 The Mercury, a Journal Register Property
Author: Daylin Leach
Note: Guest Columnist State Sen. Daylin Leach of Upper Merion is a 
Democrrat representing Pennsylvania's 17th state Senate District in 
portions of Montgomery and Delaware counties.
Page: A6


This past week, I and three members of my legislative staff flew to 
Denver, Colorado, to see for ourselves what the complete legalization 
of cannabis looks like. Given the polls, what other states are doing, 
and the arc of history, it seems difficult to deny that legal 
cannabis is coming to Pennsylvania fairly soon.

We wanted to make sure we understood how it works and what Colorado 
did right, and wrong, in an effort to ensure we do this the right way 
when the time comes.

We packed as much information-gathering as we could into our three 
days. We toured two facilities where the marijuana is grown, one lab 
where it is processed, one where it is tested for potency and 
impurities and two dispensaries, which are essentially marijuana 
stores. We then visited the headquarters of the National Conference 
of State Legislators to discuss trends in legislation.

We also tried to spend some time just interacting with Denver. We 
wanted to see how people were living their lives with these new 
policies in place. How noticeable is legal marijuana on the streets, 
in restaurants, at a Rockies game? Is life different? What would 
ending prohibition mean day-to-day here in Pennsylvania? Here is what 
we have found:

The thing that became most clear during our trip is what a tremendous 
economic opportunity this is. The larger grow facility we toured 
employs 65 people in high-paying horticultural jobs. The labs we saw 
employed doctors, medical technicians, mechanical engineers and 
extensive support staff. The dispensaries employed security, 
technicians, and even the sales force, known as "bud-tenders," had to 
be highly educated about their products, and thus commanded a very good salary.

Further, the tax revenues coming into the state are astronomical. It 
is estimated that in the first six months of legal cannabis, the 
state of Colorado has pulled in well over $50 million in direct tax 
revenues, plus millions more from licensing fees, and indirect 
businesses such as paraphernalia companies, apparel, tourism, etc. 
Also, residential as well as warehouse real estate (that would 
otherwise be dilapidated and abandoned) is being snapped up at 
premium prices. This is all on top of the millions saved by not 
having to prosecute tens of thousands of people for marijuana offenses.

Beyond the money, it struck us how professional everyone involved in 
the business is. Cannabis is highly regulated, and these regulations 
are strictly enforced. So you really have to know your business in 
order to succeed. Less serious people who got into the legal cannabis 
early have largely gone out of business.

As for the impact on society, what we saw and what we heard from 
locals we spoke to indicates it's all been good. One obvious benefit 
is that sick people who need medical marijuana are getting it. Also, 
good people aren't being thrown into the criminal justice system.

But beyond the obvious, crime is down and traffic accidents are down. 
It is true that a higher percentage of traffic accidents involve 
people who test positive for pot, but you would expect that since 
they didn't test for it often prior to legalization.

It was also clear that Colorado has not turned into a state full of 
"stoners." There is no noticeable change in productivity, absences 
from work or dropping out of school. If you didn't know marijuana was 
legal in Colorado, you wouldn't guess it from being out and about in 
the city. Smoking is illegal in public. And although we did see a few 
people smoking vape pens on the streets, that was only on Saturday 
night, and since people also smoke tobacco from vape pens, we can't 
say for sure that they were even smoking marijuana.

The bottom line is that we saw a system that is working. The 
marijuana workforce is professional, skilled, and dedicated to 
serving their customers. Business is booming to the point that more 
than one person we talked to likened the coming cannabis explosion to 
the tech explosion of the 1990s.

In Colorado, we met hard-working people doing honest labor, and happy 
citizens responsibly living their lives in a prosperous and healthy 
state. The tragedy is that all of these people, every one of them, 
would be criminals in Pennsylvania. We would arrest them, prosecute 
them, incarcerate some of them and ruin all of their lives. We'd kill 
their business and deny sick people medicine they need.

That is the true insanity of prohibition, and the primary reason it 
is on its way to the ash-heap of history.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom