If Rep. Chris Kelly, D-Columbia, has his way, Missouri could join the ranks of Colorado and Washington in allowing recreational marijuana sales. Kelly’s bill, which he introduced one week ago, provides for a 25 percent sales tax and specific recommendations on licensing growers and retailers.
Colorado legislators spent two years between the time voters passed Amendment 64 till the time they began to see the social and economic effects of their decision. Colorado law now allows for the commercial production and distribution of cannabis within the state.
Colorado’s market boomed during the first week of recreational transactions, which began Jan. 1, with retail sales from 37 dispensaries across the state exceeding five million dollars. Colorado projects an annual marijuana revenue of $600 million, a rate of sales which would generate roughly $67 million in tax money, according to the International Business Times.
Senior Mariah Brady said the current criminalization of marijuana is economically inefficient because she said legalizing and regulating weed could help generate tax revenue which could be used for purposes such as public education funding.
“It’s stupid to spend so much money putting people in jail for [marijuana] or criminalizing people for it when the government could make so much money off of it by taxing it and making it legal,” Brady said. “You take the money you’re spending to keep it illegal, all that money you’re spending on jails, you’re going to take that spending away and increase your income because [the government] is going to tax it.”
RBHS government and economics teacher Chris Fischer said Brady’s ideas could be naive. Although he recognizes the financial logic in legalizing weed, unexpected problems may result from such policies. Extreme inflation of the drug’s price should be anticipated, he said, which can be illustrated by the current legal marijuana markets.
“I think you can make very rational economic arguments for the legalization and regulation of marijuana,” Fischer said. “With that said, I think if you look at Colorado right now, I think there’s some negative externalities with that kind of policy that they didn’t really anticipate. For example, the price of it. The street value has skyrocketed, which is OK, but if you still have medicinal regulations where you’re trying to afford it to people who really need it, are you pricing yourself out of the market?”
A price increase is just one result of the legalization and commercialization of weed as a consumer product. If marijuana becomes recreationally legal in any given state, Brady believes illegal sales will take a devastating blow. This makes buying pot safer for consumers, she said, and takes possible violence out of the purchasing process.
This sentiment may only be partially true, however. In an interview for Public Broadcasting Service, Mason Tvert, a cofounder of A Safer Alternative for Enjoyable Recreation, said he believes marijuana regulation would “dramatically reduce consumers’ exposure to harder drugs and the temptation to experiment with them,” as well as ensuring the quality and safety of the marijuana consumers are buying. However, Tvert also said mere decriminalization would do nothing to eliminate the violent underground market, which is where he said the real violence associated with marijuana stems from.
Junior Phillip Browning* sells marijuana and said the profits that come from his sales outweigh any safety concerns. He said making money in the illegal drug market is essentially the same as generating a profit in any other legal market. The idea, he said, is to buy the drug in large quantities for a lesser price and sell smaller amounts at higher dollar values.
“Weed is just another commodity,” Browning said. “It’s just like selling anything else, except illegal. You buy in bulk and sell in small quantities. Most people will buy a quarter ounce, or seven grams, for $90, and sell grams for $15 to $20. You do the math. Once you’ve sold enough to break even, you either keep selling and collect profit or smoke what you have left.”
Legal sales of recreational marijuana would likely take most of Browning’s customers, he said. Illegal street transactions would become unnecessary for consumers if pot were readily available in stores and dispensaries, he said.
“If you’re pushing pounds out of state, legalized weed could drop your prices, but you’ll still have business,” Browning said. “If you’re flipping [an ounce] every week or so, you’ll lose customers to the legal stuff. Unless you have fantastic prices — if you’re close to the source or grow it yourself — the legalized stuff will kill your market. From a user’s perspective, I’d love to be able to smoke without worry. But as a dealer, it’ll undercut my prices and I’ll lose most, if not all, of my business.”
Fischer said the successful implementation of a legal marijuana market may hurt illegal dealers, although black market trade would be difficult to obliterate completely. Strict regulations could result in a lack of sufficient growers to meet market demand, ensuring the marijuana sales on a street level, he said.
Additionally, legalization in one state may increase the chances of the weed being smuggled out of state into illegal areas.
“It will still have a street value,” Fischer said. “If it’s readily accessible and you can regulate it so that we can meet supply, there’s enough cultivators, we regulate businesses such that they can meet the demand, then common sense would tell you that it would really hurt the black market. But that doesn’t mean that all that’s going to happen.”
Perhaps the legal marijuana market is too infantile to predict, but without a doubt, the marijuana industry will change the economic playing field by introducing a commonly consumed drug as a legal, commercially regulated consumer product. Brady said the transformation of weed from an illegal substance to a commercialized crop will attract opportunists who recognize the potential of the marijuana industry.
“Think about what tobacco did,” Brady said. “It’s just going to open a market that millions of people can get into and it’s just going to open so many doors and so many opportunities. There are going to be big businesses and stocks and more available jobs. It’s just going to create a lot of opportunities for people.”
By Anna Wright[MoneyRollGraphic]
Infographic by John Gillis
Senior Mary Collins* is a self-proclaimed “quasi-stoner.” She wouldn’t say she smokes enough to be a fullblown “stoner,” but she does all right for herself nonetheless.
One hit and she says the familiar haze yawns into existence. Two hits and the haze begins its absentminded settlement into brain divots and messes of nerves. Three, four hits and the haze sighs into the beds of nails and the chap of lips and the waning of kneecaps. Five or more hits and the haze has laced every vein and bloodstream and tract of skin. Five or more hits and thoughts have quickened their stride and exaggerated their depth and limbs feel like lime Jell-O and every word like a marble miracle. Five or more hits and she is high.
“The high … it’s like the invisibility shield in Harry Potter when it’s the protective
spell, how it just slowly starts to cover Hogwarts,” Collins said. “That’s kind of what it feels like; you just start to feel a haze go over you. Your body feels weightless, and it feels kind of tingly, like you’re on a roller coaster and everything is really heavy and movement is really weird. And in your head you’re just coming up with these really abstract, intensely weird things.”
Marijuana usage is hardly new. From the dramatic anti-marijuana propaganda film, “Reefer Madness” in the ‘30s to the constantly-munchies-afflicted Scooby Doo and Shaggy in the ‘70s to the 2008 classic, “Pineapple Express,” weed culture has been around for a long time. However, with recent states legalizing marijuana, new research has also been emerging concerning marijuana’s effect on the brain — especially that of a still-developing teen. Matthew Smith, a professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University, was part of a study looking at young adults who were about 17 years old when they used marijuana daily for three years. They were then abstinent for two years, after which they completed MRI scans.[quote cite=”Matthew Smith, Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Northwestern University”]The younger the people were when they started using marijuana daily, the more abnormal the brain looked … Recent research suggests that one in six teens who try marijuana become addicted.[/quote]“We found that structures in the middle of the brain — for example the thalamus and striatum — looked abnormal in two independent groups of people with a past history of daily marijuana use,” Smith said in an email interview. “The younger the people were when they started using marijuana daily, the more abnormal the brain looked. The more abnormal the brain structures looked, the poorer the performance on tests of memory. [The thalamus and striatum] are particularly important for cognitive function like learning and memory, as well as motivation and rewarding feelings — for example, getting excited about something fun or being able to get things done. Recent research suggests that one in six teens who try marijuana become addicted. There is well-documented evidence that frequent marijuana use has harmful effects on the brain and important cognitive functions that are critical for doing well in school and life in general.”
But with the bad comes the good, and vice versa. Though recreational marijuana use has only been decriminalized in two states so far — and just within the last couple months — medical marijuana is set to be legal in 21 states by the end of 2014. This is because medical marijuana has a host of beneficial effects, such as the ability to suppress nausea, soothe pain, decrease muscle spasms, stimulate appetite and stop convulsions, according to webmd.com. Because of these inherent abilities, medical marijuana is considered profoundly therapeutic in nature, used in the treatment of conditions like cancer, AIDS and HIV, dementia, epilepsy and multiple sclerosis. Collins tends to buy into this more positive view of marijuana; she sees it as something natural and beneficial when people use it responsibly and in moderation. Though she is aware of the potential threats marijuana poses to a teenage brain, the unique happiness that strikes her when she smokes outweighs any drawbacks it may have.
“I feel like [marijuana] enlightens me in a way,” Collins said. “It opens my eyes to new things. I really enjoy the feeling because I feel like you can’t be sad, and that’s really nice. You’re just kind of happy — at least for me, I get really happy. And I always have really deep, intense conversations with people … I think that’s my favorite part, that higher state you’re in where you can discuss so many things that you wouldn’t normally discuss, because they’re so ridiculous that they wouldn’t make sense in any other context but being super stoned. On the medical side of things, I could see how [marijuana use] could slow down the development of the brain, but I mean I’m pretty happy with what I know.”
The discrepancy between public perception of the effects of alcohol and marijuana frustrates Collins. Alcohol’s effects on the developing brain are comparable to marijuana’s effects, if not worse.
There are about 88,000 deaths attributable to excessive alcohol use per year in the United States, about 5,000 of which are underage deaths, according to the Center for Disease Control. While alcohol has clear, immediate short-term effects on the brain like thought, speech and movement impediment and loss of control over emotion and judgement, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Center for Substance Abuse Prevention, extensive research has uncovered long-term effects as well. With about 18 million Americans suffering from alcoholism, addictiveness is a long-term problem, as well as damage to learning and memory performance.
“No one ever dies from weed,” Collins said, “but alcohol poisoning kills a lot of people. I’ve experienced someone going through alcohol poisoning in front of my very eyes, and it was one of the scariest moments of my life, and it’s terrifying to think that taking too many shots can do that to you, make your body seize up and not be able to breathe. But weed, I never have that fear, that I’m out of control because there’s some part of my mind that’s always still conscious. With something [like alcohol] that’s so bad, it sucks that you get a finger wagging if you tell your parents you’re drinking, but you could get in so much more trouble if you tell them you’re smoking weed. I feel like that’s incredibly unfair because [weed is] so much better for you.”
Regardless of any comparisons highlighting similarities and discrepancies between alcohol and marijuana, Smith believes both share one trait: their intoxicating sway over the developing brain.
“The most important thing to remember is that the abuse of either substance during adolescence can be harmful to the teen brain,” Smith said. “Although brains continually change during our whole life, the brain is trying to achieve its maximum potential during the teen years. Because of this, teen brain development is particularly sensitive or vulnerable to outside influences. From this perspective, it is important for teens to delay their use or experimentation with alcohol and marijuana until their 20s, when their brains may have reached their max potential. Just a delay of a few years might make a big difference.”
Collins, however, believes now — in the lazy apex of youth — is exactly the time to experiment. Marijuana is her present, not her future.
“I think I’m gonna get burnt out on it. I see it as something that’s just fun for right now, maybe through college and stuff, here and there,” Collins said. “But I don’t see myself doing it in my 30s or my 40s or my 50s really. I recently found out that one of my friends’ grandma smokes all the time. And that’s the greatest thing I’ve heard because I love her grandma so much and finding that out was even better – but I don’t personally see it as a constant usage. I could picture it in my future, but I’m not really planning for it.”
By Urmila Kutikkad
*name changed upon request