Pubdate: Wed, 02 Mar 2016
Source: Daily Star, The (Lebanon)
Copyright: 2016 The Daily Star
Author: Elodie Mazein, Agence France Presse


WASHINGTON - Legal marijuana is becoming more and more entrenched in 
the United States each year, and 2016 looks to be no exception.

In fact, some observers say it could be a "tipping point" for an 
ever-growing industry already worth billions of dollars.

By the end of the year, nearly a dozen states will decide whether to 
legalize pot - with seven to determine whether they will allow 
recreational use.

Already 23 out of 50 states, plus the nation's capital, allow pot in 
some form, whether for medical or recreational purposes.

At the beginning of 2016, 86 percent of Americans lived in a state 
permitting cannabis use in some form.

As acceptance of the drug grows across the United States, so too do 
sales, which are expected to hit nearly $22 billion by 2020.

"It is going to be a very, very competitive market in the next five 
years," said John Kagia, director of industry analytics at New 
Frontier, a firm mainly specializing in the cannabis business.

While possession, sale and consumption of marijuana remains illegal 
at the federal level, it is permitted for recreational use in four 
U.S. states: Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, plus the U.S. 
capital Washington.

According to Kagia, "2016 will be the tipping point" for pot, with 11 
states slated to decide whether to allow it in one form or another.

The western states of Colorado and Washington pioneered recreational 
marijuana legalization in 2012, and sales have increased 30 percent 
per year on average since then in the United States, according to New 
Frontier and the ArcView Group, another firm focused on analyzing the 
cannabis industry.

U.S. pot sales climbed to $4.6 billion in 2014 and are expected to 
reach $21.8 billion in 2020, New Frontier says.

The explosion in sales is due mainly to the legalization of 
recreational pot in some states. Although medical marijuana 
represented 92 percent of all pot sales in 2014, its share of the 
total is expected to fall to 47 percent in just four years.

The market for pot is in full bloom thanks to burgeoning industrial 
growing operations, marijuana edibles and a higher demand for 
equipment from those who want to grow - or consume  cannabis at home.

And while entrepreneurs see dollar signs behind every joint rolled, 
so too do state governments that stand to reap massive gains in the 
form of imposed taxes.

Last year, Colorado earned some $135 million in taxes and licensing 
fees on nearly $1 billion in pot sales, according to The Denver Post.

The state of Washington, meanwhile, took in $70 million on statewide 
pot revenue totaling $257 million, a number that came in lower than 
expected after a pot shortage.

As America falls for pot, competition has become increasingly fierce, 
and the variation in regulations and taxes from state to state has 
given rise to some tension.

The amount of pot a person can grow varies as well, with up to four 
plants allowed in Oregon and six plants in Colorado, but none in the 
state of Washington.

Six plants are allowed in the U.S. capital Washington, where 
marijuana advocates celebrated the city's one-year anniversary Friday 
for legalizing pot.

But the U.S. Congress, which has some authority in the capital's 
local governance, has prevented the city from regulating its pot 
market, which means buying and selling marijuana is still illegal.

The next president, who will be elected in November, could tip the 
balance in either direction at the federal level, experts told AFP at 
a marijuana trade show called CannaShow, held just over a week ago in 

For those entering the marijuana industry, the market has sparked 
particular worries and uncertainties such as the fact that all 
payments must be made in cash since banking services are not extended 
to the pot industry, the risk of Congressional intervention or even a 
price war.

Moreover growing cannabis, or "cannaculture" as it's called, is a 
costly endeavor, with plants needing gallons of water and a 
constantly warm environment, and thus electricity.

According to New Frontier, cannabis is the greediest of crops in 
terms of electricity, accounting for 1 percent of all electricity 
used in the United States (the same amount as 1.7 million homes) at 
an annual cost of $6 billion.

Electricity cost accounts for around 50 percent of the wholesale 
price of cannabis.

Despite these pitfalls, pot proponents are quick to point out that 
legalization of the substance has its societal virtues, such as 
putting an end to some discriminatory arrests.

In the U.S. capital, for example, 91 percent of those arrested for 
marijuana-related offenses before legalization were black.

Legalizing marijuana keeps down overcrowding of courts and prisons.

Retired Baltimore police commander Neill Franklin, who is part of the 
advocacy group Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization 
of officers who speak out against current drug policy, said that 
500,000 to 600,000 people are arrested each year for cannabis in the 
United States.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom