Pubdate: Sat, 08 Nov 2014
Source: Economist, The (UK)
Copyright: 2014 The Economist Newspaper Limited


Almost Half of American States Have Taken Steps to Legalise Cannabis. 
the Federal Government Should Follow

BESIDES choosing lawmakers, on November 4th voters in three American 
states and the District of Columbia considered measures to liberalise 
the cannabis trade.

Alaska and Oregon, where it is legal to provide "medical marijuana" 
to registered patients, voted to go further and let the drug be sold 
and taken for recreational purposes, as Colorado and Washington state 
already allow.

In DC, a measure to legalise the possession of small amounts for 
personal use was passed.

A majority of voters in Florida opted to join the lengthening list of 
places where people can seek a doctor's note that lets them take the 
drug. However, the measure fell just short of the 60% needed to 
change the state constitution. Even so, that such a big state in the 
conservative South came so close to liberalising shows how America's 
attitude to criminalising pot has changed.

After this week's votes only 27 states outlaw all sale or possession 
of marijuana.

In the rest, a thriving "canna-business" is emerging (see article): 
trade in the drug is escaping the grasp of organised crime and 
becoming normal, just as alcohol did after the end of Prohibition. 
But even as moves to legalise and regularise the business continue at 
state level, the federal government and Congress remain dead set 
against the drug. A panoply of federal laws to curb the marijuana 
trade remain in place; and in recent months the Drug Enforcement 
Administration has raided cannabis dispensaries in California that 
are operating under state licences.

The cannabis industry is now in a legal no-man's-land. In some states 
the distinction between medical and recreational use is hazy: just 
fake a back problem and you can join the ranks of licensed pot-heads. 
Entrepreneurs are creating a range of products that is, literally, 
mind-blowing: not just smokes, but cannabis cakes, chocolates and 
massage oils. Yet even where state governments allow people to 
partake of the weed for pleasure, growers and sellers face the 
constant threat of seizure or arrest by the Feds. National laws make 
it hard for them to open bank accounts or get credit, and thus to 
rent premises or invest in production. They cannot sell across state lines.

This makes it harder for the business to distance itself from the 
criminal underworld, which is one of the main purposes of 
legalisation. It also has safety implications. Smaller states will 
struggle to monitor quality standards and set safe doses for the huge 
variety of marijuana products coming to market.

The federal Food and Drug Administration-the world's foremost 
regulator of drug safety-refuses to inspect the cottage industry for 
fear of legitimising it. (Strangely enough, such qualms do not deter 
the Internal Revenue Service, which readily taxes the proceeds.)

Marlboro, man

Opponents of legalisation are happy to see the business stay small, 
amateurish and nervous.

They argue that if it got into the hands of giant corporations with 
big marketing budgets, as tobacco and alcohol have, pot use would surge.

However, the weed business is already vast-worth some $40 billion by 
one estimate-and it is largely in the hands of gangs that, unlike 
big, stockmarket-listed firms, would not hesitate to sell dodgy 
stuff, to youngsters as well as adults.

A legal, well-regulated pot industry would be a safer, less 
crime-infested one, but it would not necessarily be a bigger one: 
tobacco use has plunged as regulation has been tightened and public 
education about its health risks has improved.

The federal government and Congress should face up to the reality 
that across swathes of America, pot is now all but legal-and voters 
want it that way. They should redirect their efforts to making it as 
well-regulated as booze and cigarettes.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom