Pubdate: Tue, 20 Oct 2015
Source: Denver Post (CO)
Copyright: 2015 The Denver Post Corp
Author: Joey Bunch


Marijuana's Economic Importance Will Come Through Loud and Clear in 
Race for President.

As Republican presidential candidates prepare to debate economic 
issues in Boulder, the sweet smell of success for the state's legally 
sold marijuana industry seems impossible to overlook.

Nationally the legal industry brought in about $3 billion in 2014 but 
is projected to grow to more than $8 billion by 2018, if current 
politics stay the course, according to the Marijuana Industry Factbook.

Colorado racked up $70 million in sales of recreational and medical 
pot last year - nearly $700,000 in tax revenue, plus $13 million in 
licenses and fees. The industry is expected top $1 billion this year.

Combined sales in Colorado topped $100 million in August, compared 
with about $47 million in August 2014.

That economic impact could explode as 11 states consider joining 
Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska in legalizing recreational marijuana.

The question remains whether the economic argument comes in louder 
than Republicans' concerns about the moral and public health 
implications, as well as a view that the 10th Amendment gives states 
the right to decide.

"There is no argument that marijuana is having a huge economic 
impact," said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Denver-based 
Marijuana Industry Group. "When we started out, the top concern was 
safety, but I think almost everyone recognizes that this hasn't had 
an impact on traffic safety, crime rates or teen use, and it's safer 
than alcohol on a lot of fronts.

"Economically, Business Insider has said Colorado has the fastest 
growing economy. We had record tourism last year and home sales are 
through the roof. I don't know how much you can attribute that to 
marijuana, but you can't say it's hurting our economy."

President's power

And there's a lot that a potfriendly president can do to help the 
economics of pot grow and spread, advocates say.

Meanwhile, the Federal Reserve Bank hasn't been willing to risk 
involvement to help extend banking services to marijuana businesses, 
even after Colorado set up its own credit union.

A supportive administration could urge declassifying marijuana as a 
Schedule 1 drug, a classification that deems it as having no medical 
value, under the Controlled Substances Act to allay bankers' fears 
about an industry they're not sure about, said Art Way, the Colorado 
state director for the Drug Policy Alliance, which supports legalization.

In July, the Federal Reserve Bank denied an application from 
Colorado's Fourth Corner Credit Union, which aimed to serve marijuana 
businesses. Credit union backers are suing.

None of the candidates - Republican or Democrat - have gotten 
specific on banking, regulations or taxation - issues Colorado 
lawmakers have had to figure out on their own.

Pot in politics

Talking philosophically or economically about pot sells the issue 
short, said Gina Carbone, co-founder of Smart Colorado, a group that 
advocates for protections for children.

"We feel like kids have been sold down the river with all the shops 
they see and how this is becoming part of mainstream culture," she 
said. "But there's not nearly enough discussion on guardrails to 
protect children or educating children about the effect on a developing mind."

Daniel Rees, an economist at the University of Colorado Denver, has 
written a series of academic papers on the social and health costs of 
marijuana. For instance, legalization of medical marijuana coincides 
with a 9 percent to 11 percent drop in suicide rates for men under 
40. The data is less precise for women.

"It's difficult to get a handle on all the social costs associated 
with legalizing recreational marijuana, but I think there's a good 
case to be made that, on net, the public health consequences are 
positive," Rees said Friday.

Politically, pot probably won't make or break any candidate, said 
state Rep. Jonathan Singer, a Democrat from Longmont who sponsors 
most of the marijuana bills in the legislature.

Constituents in his district haven't rewarded or punished him 
politically, but they expect marijuana to be regulated responsibly, he said.

"Any candidate who chooses to overturn what voters in Colorado, 
Washington and other states have done, I think, do so at their own 
political peril," he said. "I think the war on drugs is over, and I 
don't think there's a broad interest out there to relitigate the past."

"Stuck it to feds"

Tyler Henson, president of the Colorado Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, 
said a continued pro-business approach is crucial on the issue.

"We simply cannot allow bureaucrats and special interests to dictate 
the winners and losers in the industry," he said. "Rather, we should 
be standing up for all Americans, no matter their race or 
socioeconomic status, to have the opportunity to partake in 
Colorado's fastest growing industry and soon the nation's newest 
economic driver.

"Colorado voters took over the job of the GOP and stuck it to the 
feds. The result? 18,000-plus jobs and millions in revenue; take note 
candidates, take note."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom