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Big victories for legal pot, but path ahead is uncertain

Published:Wednesday | November 9, 2016 | 4:36 PM
In this October 28, 2016, file photo, supporters of Arkansas Issue 7, a medical marijuana initiative that would have allowed patients with certain conditions an opportunity to obtain or grow marijuana to ease their symptoms, rally outside the Arkansas Supreme Court building in Little Rock. Arkansas could become the first state in the South to legalise medical marijuana.
Chris Hughes, a.k.a ‘Cannabis Man’, promotes a ‘yes’ vote for Amendment 2 on Monday, November 7, on Eglin Parkway in Fort Walton Beach, Florida, with other supporters. If the amendment is passed, medical marijuana would become legal for individuals with specific debilitating diseases.


The number of Americans living in states with recreational marijuana more than tripled after at least three states voted to fully legalise the drug. But the election of Republican Donald Trump and GOP majorities in the Senate and House tempered advocates' excitement about an easing of federal restrictions.

"There is a massive sense of momentum, and this will put a lot of pressure on the federal government," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder of the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalisation group. What gives him "real concern" is Trump.

Nadelmann and other advocates say the president-elect is "unpredictable," and they are unsure where he stands on marijuana issues, though Trump has said in the past that he supports state laws legalising medical marijuana.

Still, analysts and advocates alike say that the industry may be too big and valuable for a Trump administration to stop, especially after California voters legalised the recreational use of marijuana.

Seven states have now legalised recreational pot, and a recent Gallup poll showed that close to 60 per cent of Americans support the idea.

Colorado, which legalised recreational pot in 2014, reported almost $1 billion in legal pot sales last year. Arcview Market Research, which tracks the marijuana industry, says legal annual California pot revenues alone could exceed $7 billion by 2020.

Expect new investors

Todd Mitchem, a Denver-based marijuana industry consultant and lobbyist, said the pot business should expect an infusion of new interest from investors and would-be marijuana growers and retailers.

"It's going to be huge," said Mitchem, who pointed out that Colorado's pot industry is worth $1 billion a year but that the state has only about a tenth of California's population. "Economically, you're going to see a lot more people enter the space and a lot more money enter the space."

Other states, too, will also look with envy at the taxes generated by California and other states where marijuana is legal, analysts predicted.

"The states that voted yesterday have a lot of work ahead of them to set up a legalisation and tax structure, but I expect many more states will follow their lead," said Joseph Henchman of the Washington, D.C., think tank Tax Foundation.

Even the financial industry's reluctance to do business with marijuana businesses may soon disappear. Most banks refuse marijuana-related customers because of the federal ban.

"It is one thing to ignore the millions generated in Colorado. It is entirely a different thing to ignore the tens of billions that the California cannabis industry will generate," said Michael Weiner, a Denver lawyer who represents pot-related companies. "The big national banks will want to deposit those funds and put those funds to work by making loans."