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Selling Smoke

A Nation in Green

Cannabis is the most widely used illicit substance in the western world, assuaged by the impact of cannabis on mankind since 2900 BC. If one were to argue that cannabis, a plant that grows from seeds in the earth, is bad because of its destructive influence on society, bringing detriment and fiscal relief as the Class 1 substance, like LSD or heroin, to the public and police officers, respectively. This is the world we live in.

Through recent studies, semi-legalization—medical marijuana—findings suggest the promise and potential of the herb, supported by a plethora of medically-backed evidence reiterating that a) marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol; b) marijuana has not been found to physically addictive; c) there are proponents of using marijuana to treat severe physical illnesses, and; d) the majority of the nation (pretty much everyone) favors legalization. The question lies therein, whether legalizing the substance in the United States on a federal level would be beneficial and building to society, or detrimental to the development of the modern age. On one hand, the growth experienced by the United States in medical marijuana sales observed a projection of 30 percent in 2017; 45 percent in 2018, and 300 percent between 2016 and 2021, according to a study conducted by New Frontier Data, a data analytics firm focused on the cannabis industry. New Frontier Data forecasts that the new source of revenue—which may be applied on the federal level—would be a great start into digging out of the national debt, generating at least $132 billion in tax revenue and more than a million new jobs across America within a decade.

This means that, for the federal government, they would receive approximately $51.7 billion in sales tax from a legal marijuana market between last year and 2025. Why the fed has not realized the potential of a legitimate business that remains illegal—and unable to be taxed—is unbeknownst to many on Capitol Hill and the rest of the nation. While 29 states currently allow for the use of medical marijuana—namely Colorado, Washington, and Oregon—marijuana is legal for adult recreational use in only eight states. To catch a whiff of the upside of legalizing the leaf, this journalist spoke with former roommate and NORML contributor Andrea F., for his informative take on the pros of propagating the substance on a federal level.

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INTERVIEW 1

With legal cannabis in the recreational and medical states, what is the effect it has had on prescription drugs in the medical industry at at-large?

Andrea: The legalization of cannabis has definitely had positive effects on the community at large, in terms of the reduction of overall overdoses and addiction rates from the use of prescription drugs. Thus, the number of prescription drugs’ sales has seen a noticeable drop; both from doctors recommending cannabis use and citizens buying recreational cannabis.

How has the legalization of cannabis affected the medical and recreational industry at at-large?

The recreational market has been an entirely new sector of the cannabis industry and has surely emboldened the entire legalization movement as a broader segment of the population can now access cannabis without the need to acquire a medical registration card.

What effect has the legalization of cannabis in states where it is legal affected minors under the age of 18 who consumed equally or less since legalization?

With proper educational programs, safety measures inside the dispensaries, and overall legislative efforts, the proliferation of cannabis use among teenager and minors has not materialized. As a great example, you can check the Colorado Department of Health and Human Services’ statistics where you can see how in most counties within states, teenage cannabis use has reportedly stayed the same for the most part, a number of counties have seen a decrease and a few have seen a slight increase.

In your opinion, where do you see the Cannabis industry delivering the most value/revenue?

Tax revenues from the mere sale of cannabis have generated hundreds of millions of sales in Colorado alone and that money has been invested back into the local communities in terms of law enforcement funding, public school projects, and clinical rehabs to help treat opioid overdoses.

How is cannabis affected other states that have used or implemented the cultivation of this plant?

A lot of development has occurred in states that haven’t legalized recreational or medical cannabis, such as South Carolina, Kentucky, Minnesota, and Virginia, due to the legally acceptable low levels of THC, the psychoactive component of the species. This has occurred from the proliferation of information and education about the topic and from the many ways industrial hemp can be processed and implemented into almost every sector of the economy.

With events of legalization, how can local communities who have implemented Industrial Hemp change their economy?

In many ways: paper production, clothing production, bio-plastics, formidable food source, hemp oil for the cosmetic industry, eco-friendly construction material, and the list goes on. The plant is used at best as a 3rd rotation crop to also bonify the soil due to the plant’s properties in releasing large amounts of nitrogen and other macronutrients for the next crop cycles.

How has legalization affected criminal justice reform?

In the states, such as Colorado, the rate of arrests for petty drug-related crimes has decreased, since, according to recent statistics from the DOJ and the FBI, cannabis arrests account for more than 50 percent of the non-violent drug-related crimes.

As states have legalized cannabis at the state—but not federal—level, how is it affecting other industries like tobacco and alcohol?

Since people are learning about the positive medical effects of cannabis and how the product is way less dangerous than tobacco or alcohol. Both tobacco and alcohol companies have definitely seen a reduction in sales where legalization has occurred.

In your opinion, why has cannabis sativa/industrial hemp remained illegal today?

Because cannabis, as a species of plant, has been utilized throughout the centuries and across numerous civilizations at a medical, recreational, and industrial level. Due to the vast accessibility and easiness to grow the plant, it can be used to decentralize the supply of what are, nowadays, very concentrated sectors of the economy. Powerful private players and lobbyists convinced the US government and the public at large to demonize and criminalize cannabis in order for them to profit from the utilization of other non-renewable natural sources.

Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not see the promise in a greener future, evident in his actions earlier this January as he rescinded guiding principles from Obama's presidential occupancy in order to make it easier for U.S. attorneys to enforce federal law in states that legalized the substance.

Sessions said that he is just reinforcing existing legislation, directing all U.S. attorneys to "use previously established prosecutorial principles that provide them all the necessary tools to disrupt criminal organizations, tackle the growing drug crisis and thwart violent crime across our country," he said in a statement.

In response, some in the industry might, in a nod to Sessions' actions, make a move on forcing Congressional involvement for the regulation and proliferation of marijuana on a federal legal level. Recognizing that of the promise in the cannabis industries that is evident across companies—with regards to their average net profit margins and expected annual revenue—it would be prudent to take note of the current statistics surrounding that of marijuana’s success.

Polls have pretty consistently shown that a majority of the public wants marijuana to be legal. Gallup's October 2016 poll and CBS News' April 2017 poll found that an estimated 60 and 61 percent, respectively, support legal marijuana throughout the United States. A separate poll from Quinnipiac University in April of this year found support for legalizing medical cannabis at an overwhelming 94 percent, compared with five percent who opposed the idea. According to a study conducted by the American Epilepsy Society in 2015 titled "Efficacy and safety of epidiolex (cannabidiol) in children and young adults with treatment-resistant epilepsy" by at least 18 medical experts, found that anecdotal reports regarding CBD usage suggests 'promising' efficacy in children with treatment-resistant epilepsies (TRE). Known medical treatments ranging from anticonvulsant, anti-nausea, or pain-relief applied to patients with diseases including: ALS, bipolar I, schizophrenia, Lou Gehrig's Disease, Tourette's, Parkinson's, and autism. All these known benefits backed by science, and yet, some might think otherwise.

However, some in contest with federal marijuana legalization posit that the herb would up costs on taxpayers, which has the potential to lead to the complete opposite of a net benefit for the country. On the other end of the spectrum, the police officers enforcing cannabis-related arrests have cost the U.S. approximately $3.6 billion annually, according to figures produced by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The true cost is issued to society, as marijuana continues to tax and toll the populace, ruining lives and inspiring a new generation of criminals hellbent on retribution. In a 2012 census conducted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, there were 658,000 arrests made for pot possession—leaps and bounds away are the 256,000 arrests for heroin, cocaine, and other illicit substances—bolstered thereof by a 2016 census revealing that a staggering 1.2 million arrests were made for drug-related offenses. If the substance were to be legalized, as the opposing 'They' suggests, racial disparity will continue to increase and money will be wasted on marijuana possession arrests. It is a fact that these arrests now account for over half—an estimated 52 percent—of all drug arrests in the United States, filling prisons with non-violent, low-level offenders requiring time, cost, and effort from law enforcement who really should be spending their time on more pressing matters (i.e. preventing school shootings, stopping rapists, finding bad guys) and, most likely, know this to be true. The effect that comes out of policing urbanite neighborhoods looking for stoners smoking skunk weed carries racial undertones (see also: profiling), as Black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, according to information released in a 600-page, medically-substantive report published through the ACLU.

Even though the color of skin does, undoubtedly, not discriminate the rate of marijuana usage, the data shows that the war on weed is, quite literally, black and white when it comes to the unconstitutional "Stop, Frisk and Search" practices currently being used by police to measure their success based on the number of arrests the department makes.

The report relies largely on data contained within the FBI's Uniform Crime Reporting Program and estimates conducted by the United States Census Bureau, backed by a formidable roster of government officials and members of law enforcement, provincial scholars and science experts well-versed in the field. The quorum reached, apparently, is that until legalization or depenalization is attained, law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney's office should re-examine their priorities on marijuana possession laws. To see what the other side of legal looks like, I spoke with family member Sarah, someone I know extremely well who works in federal law enforcement for her insight into the regulation and possible legalization of the substance.

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INTERVIEW 2

How has the legalization of cannabis affected the medical and recreational industry at at-large?

Sarah: In my opinion, the legalization of cannabis has brought the use of the drug to the mainstream. It has become increasingly popular for medical uses and is often over-prescribed. Medical licenses seem to be increasingly more accessible to people for reasons such as headaches and nausea, which may have normally been treated by an Advil or Dramamine. The recreational use of marijuana has transformed from a basement smoke session to a widespread social movement. The fact that it is “legal” in some states has brought it out from the shadows and put it front and center of those communities. In my home city of DC, I now can’t walk down the street without smelling marijuana at some point on my walk at all hours of the day!

What effect has the legalization of cannabis in states where it is legal affected minors under the age of 18 who consumed equally or less since legalization?

I think there are two different issues when it comes to minors, one is with young children and the other is with teenagers. I am reminded of the stories coming out from Colorado where young children have accidentally ingested cannabis/marijuana products. Particular examples include when a young child accidentally ate his grandmother’s “peach ring” edibles, and another brought “lollipops” to the elementary school playground. Children have gotten very sick from these incidents which are entirely preventable. The lack of control once someone legally purchases these products is a huge problem. The ability for someone to access a cannabis product that is lying around the house, even if legally purchased, is extremely dangerous once minors and young children are involved. When it comes to teenagers, I would also imagine that there is a similar relationship between use of cannabis products by minors as there is between minors' use of alcohol. When the access is there, teenagers will take advantage of it.

How has legalization affected the justice system?

I do think that legalization has allowed the criminal justice system to focus on other, more violent, drug-related crimes. This is a big plus. However, the fact that cannabis is still illegal in MOST states limits the positive effect of legalization on the criminal justice system as a whole. The fact that these laws aren’t standardized across state lines means that there are people who may be arrested or prosecuted once they leave their state’s marijuana sanctuary. In addition, there seems to be a greater need for policing the use of these products once they leave the dispensary. Finally, because it is still federally illegal, federal law enforcement and criminal justice resources are still being devoted towards investigating and prosecuting marijuana-related crimes.

What are your biggest concerns with marijuana legalization?

First and foremost, marijuana is a gateway drug. Even if that drug is legal and regulated and taxed, other drugs are not and that is where many people end up falling into trouble. As a country, we are already suffering from the widespread opioid crisis and while marijuana is a far cry from opioid addiction, it can be a slippery slope for those already suffering from addiction problems. Additionally, legalizing marijuana impacts more than just current users. By making it legal to use and purchase marijuana, new users may be attracted to trying the drug who may otherwise have avoided it. Second, in order to responsibly introduce this as a new aspect of our society, we must include extensive public education about the benefits, risks, and use of the drug. There must be similar education as there is with alcohol and tobacco—anything else is simply irresponsible.

But, what about the possible impact on the economy?

The ability for state and local governments to tax the sale of marijuana has definite benefits. However, the way dispensaries and businesses market and sell marijuana will likely target heavy users who may have other drug and alcohol problems. We’ve seen this with alcohol and tobacco, where companies make most of their profits from users with serious addiction issues. While this may be good business, is it really in good conscience?

In your opinion, why is cannabis sativa/industrial hemp still illegal today?

While there are definitely benefits of legalizing marijuana, such as the ability for law enforcement and the criminal justice system to focus on other “bigger” issues such as the opioid crisis, I firmly believe that the role of states in legalization and the “family values” of our country will prevent nationwide legalization on a federal level. Legalization is currently decided on a state-by-state basis, and there are many Conservative states where there is no chance of legalization being passed due to the religious and socially conservative nature of the citizens who live there. On a federal level, this would also be deeply unpopular for the same reasons. I believe that nationwide legalization will never occur unless an administration or Congress were to pass legislation making it federally legal. This is unlikely to ever occur due to the unpopularity with the Conservative base.

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How unlikely, indeed. Society can huff, puff, and pass the information gleaned from this diatribe around, but until words turn into action, it remains legal conjecture. Falling forward, further analysis on the psychotomimetic effects, that possess the potential to be tested in cognitive enhancement trials in patients with severe trauma, mental disorders, or other physical maladies, makes the most politically-correct sense if cannabis and associated cannabis research is ever to be legalized on the federal level. Only through educated discourse will this issue make any movement through Congressional chains—bending, breaking or, more favorably, redesigning. Your call, America.

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