Pubdate: Wed, 16 Sep 2015
Source: Metro Times (Detroit, MI)
Column: Higher Ground
Copyright: 2015 C.E.G.W./Times-Shamrock
Author: Larry Gabriel


There's good reason to pose this question. There are two petition 
initiatives aimed at legalizing marijuana for recreational use on the 
2016 ballot - and a June poll showed state voters support 
legalization 56 percent to 36 percent.

Faced with what looks like an inevitable course, politicians in 
Lansing are discussing doing the same thing legislatively. There are 
four states that have already legalized recreational use; Ohio is 
voting on it in November, and several other states will be voting on 
it in 2016. Presidential elections bring out the largest crowds, and 
polls say that the majority of voters favor legalization. By the way, 
2016 will be the first election where marijuana is an issue. 
Candidates will be asked about it, especially when visiting states 
where medical or recreational laws are in effect or on the ballot.

So it would be prudent for city leaders to consider what is involved 
when the weed comes to town. Technically it's already legal in 
Detroit. In 2012 we voted to decriminalize possession of up to an 
ounce by adults on private property. Of course that doesn't account 
for where you get it from, and that's what statewide legalization 
would answer. Then cannabis commerce would become a regulated business.

"It would be a good thing for Detroit," says attorney Matt Abel, 
executive director of Michigan NORML and a partner in Cannabis 
Counsel, a legal office in Detroit. "It will help stimulate the 
economy. With zoning and regulation, it can help employ a lot of people."

And judging from Colorado, it would be a significant business. 
Recreational and medical pot sales totaled $700 million in 2014. 
Because Michigan has a higher population, sales here would be 
projected at somewhere over $1 billion. A lot of that will be 
concentrated in population centers such as metropolitan Detroit.

In Detroit proper, we have two resources that play right into the 
cannabis business: empty buildings and open fields. Consider this: 
the Denver real estate market has boomed since recreational 
legalization started Jan. 1, 2014. A recent Wall Street Journal 
article's headline is succinct on the subject: "Marijuana Producers 
Gobble Up Space in Empty Buildings."

In related news, a CNN Money article titled "Denver's Housing Market 
Is on Fire" leads off with "Home prices have shot up by 
double-digits, inventory has fallen dramatically and multiple offers 
with bidding wars have become common. One factor driving the demand: 
pot. The budding industry has impacted home prices since the state 
legalized marijuana in 2012."

If Denver can be compared to Detroit from that perspective, it sounds 
positive. Don't we want commerce taking place in all those empty 
buildings? There are a lot of them, and Dan Gilbert can't use them all.

And what about all those empty lots? There's already a growing urban 
agriculture scene here. I'm not suggesting we grow commercial 
marijuana in open fields, but I do think industrial hemp could be 
grown here. Hemp growing and processing could be a boost to the local 
economy. Anybody who cares to check can find the tens of thousands of 
products that use hemp - from hemp seed oil (found in Dr. Bronner's 
soaps) and proteins for food supplements, to fibers for clothing and 
building materials. In Detroit, you could probably get two crops a year.

Here's something else to consider: Everybody has not gone Mau Mau 
crazy in Colorado or Washington, the two states where recreational 
sales are up and running. Closer to home, consider that the most 
marijuana-friendly city in Michigan, Ann Arbor, is seen as one of the 
state's best business and residential communities. The Ann Arbor Hash 
Bash and Monroe Street Fair attract stoners from across the country 
to openly smoke marijuana in public.

Marijuana might calm things down in the city. Police wouldn't have 
reason to harass people for an insignificant, nonviolent crime. 
People wouldn't be subject to the indignities of arrest and have a 
felony conviction following them around for life. Even if you do have 
a record, the marijuana industry might not look at it unkindly. When 
Washington state was setting up its legalization rules, having a 
conviction for selling marijuana did not disqualify you. In a sense, 
it was looked at as experience.

And if the police don't have to chase marijuana smokers around, 
they'll have more time to do the other things police do to make a 
community nice for people. Maybe it will lower the response time for 
911 calls. The cost of processing and housing offenders will go down too.

Employment in the marijuana economy ranges across an amazing array of 
needs. "Bud tending" is a new skill that comes with the industry, but 
there are lots of traditional things such as legal, carpentry, 
electrical, security, packaging, analysis labs, retail clerks, 
software development. There are grow stores and dispensaries. Soon 
there will be advertising accounts and market analysts.

Judging from the slew of websites and magazines on the subject, 
marijuana media is a growing field. Writing about marijuana has 
become one of my specialties.

However, as much as you might want to be a weed critic, those jobs 
will be as rare as wine critic. Although when the High Times Cannabis 
Cup rolls around, they take on a bunch of folks to judge entries in 
its contests.

There's a lot of economic impact to marijuana legalization. There are 
those who will argue that there is a social cost that we don't want 
to pay. I'd argue that the War on Drugs has had a catastrophic social 
cost that will never be justified.

But moving ahead with legalization and building it into the economy 
will help put that in our rearview mirrors.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom