Legalized Marijuana: Sooner Rather Than Later?

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Legalized Marijuana: Sooner Rather Than Later?

By Melissa Kress, Convenience Store News - 07/22/2016

RESTON, Va. — Four states plus Washington, D.C. have legalized marijuana, and at least one analyst believes this is just the beginning.

While Washington State, Oregon, Alaska and Colorado are currently the only states to have laws making marijuana legal, roughly half of the states in the nation have laws on the books that either decriminalize marijuana, clear it for medical use only, or a combination of both, according to data provided by analyst Nik Modi, managing director at RBC Capital Markets.

Presenting during the recent Convenience Distribution Association webinar, "Tobacco 2016: State of the Union," Modi said legalized marijuana across the United States may not be that far off.

"It is a real policy topic we have to talk about. We could be heading toward legalization sooner rather than later," he said, predicting it could be five to seven years down the road.

Modi cited some benefits that states have experienced since legalizing marijuana. For example: 

  • Colorado generated $444 million in tax revenue related to marijuana in 2014 and $60 million through June 2015.
  • Washington State generated $65 million in tax revenue last year.
  • Cannabis-related offenses in Washington State were down 95 percent.

The number of Americans favoring legalization of marijuana is also growing. In 1969, only 12 percent said they thought use of marijuana should be legal. That number grew to 31 percent in 2000 and jumped to 58 percent in 2015, according to Gallup statistics.

Modi, citing other figures by the Pew Research Center, also noted that 69 percent of millennials, 53 percent of Gen X and 52 percent of boomers say marijuana should be legal.

How Will This Play Out on the Legislative Scene? 

Legalization is on the table in several states this year. Massachusetts has a referendum in place to regulate marijuana in line with alcohol. Earlier this year Hawaii introduced a legalization bill. In addition, the Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative is gathering support to appear on the ballot this year. And while California does have a specific measure yet, the issue will most likely pop up during this year's election, Modi explained.

On the political front, the presumptive Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton reportedly supports medical marijuana and would be in favor of rescheduling it from a Schedule 1 drug to a Schedule 2 drug.

Legalized marijuana debate aside, politics and this year's presidential election may not have that much effect on the tobacco industry as a whole. According to Modi, the Food and Drug Administration wanted to issue its final deeming rule during the current administration because the regulatory measure could have been placed on the backburner if a Republican presidential candidate won the November election.

Republican nominee Donald Trump has talked about his straight-edge lifestyle and is "a wildcard in the tobacco industry," Modi said. On the other side of the aisle, Clinton has been a strong advocate of public health.

Thus far, tobacco has not been a focus in the presidential race. "It is hard to see any really change at the federal level in 2016 or 2017," Modi said. "Quite honestly, we have bigger fish to fry as a country."

The Convenience Distribution Association (CDA) is the trade organization that works on behalf of U.S. convenience products distributors.