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Ask the Experts: What happens now that more states voted for marijuana legalization?

Delaney Kuric | Head Illustrator

Following Election Day, marijuana is now legalized in some form in 28 states. Voters passed measures to legalize it in seven states this past Tuesday and the number of states with legal recreational use of cannabis is now seven, along with Washington D.C.

The Daily Orange spoke with Andrew Hathaway, an associate professor at the University of Guelph and an expert on drug policy, criminal justice and moral regulation, as well as Brad Poulos, an instructor at Ryerson University and expert in cannabis business about legalization and what it means for the country.

The Daily Orange: Why is legalization a political issue?

Andrew Hathaway: You can get into the broader philosophical question of, does the government have the right to dictate someone’s state of consciousness? Is it the role of government to restrict or legislate morality as opposed to criminal conduct that actually results in the harm of other people?

Depending on where you stand on either side of that, people come up with evidence based arguments that flow from or support those values. I think ultimately it’s based on values and personal philosophy on how they look at drugs.

The D.O.: What does legalization of marijuana look like in the United States?

A.H.: There’s a number of models of legalization. Certain states have certain jurisdictions within those states that are able to opt out, so you have legalization on one side of the street and not so much on the other. And then of course there are concerns about trafficking between states that are legal and not and those kinds of things.

Since the policy has taken effect, the emphasis seems to be a lot more on reducing the flow to the black market, keeping it highly regulated and trying to reduce the portion that gets diverted from the legal market to the illegal market, which can be as simple as getting to a person underage.

The D.O.: Why has there been a stronger push for legalization in recent years?

A.H.: It’s become a part of mainstream society. And (there has been) a recognition of the sheer cost and resources and proportion of people, particularly people of color, picked up for petty drug offenses.

There’s a recognition of how harmful the drug laws are to society. Cannabis-related crime — the crime of simple possession — makes up a huge part of what we call the drug war. It makes up three-fourths of all drug related crime. Some argue it’s the entire basis of the war on drugs.

One side says that pot is bad for society and the other side says it’s maybe not good, but not bad enough to restrict it.

The D.O.: Is there a difference in the medical and recreational business?

Brad Poulos: There’s not a lot of difference between the recreational and the medical market. In Washington, for example, the medical market has shrunk considerably because of the lack of difference between the two of them. It’s such a small difference that a lot of the medical (users) just go to the local recreational dispensary and get their product there. So it’s actually resulted in a migration from the medical market to the recreational market because they’re so similar.

The D.O.: How does government benefit from legalization?

A.H.: They treat it like a business. Why not make it safer by licensing it and let the state make a little money off it?

The D.O.: How has the marijuana industry changed under legalization?

A.H.: There’s been a proliferation of product under legalization. That’s for sure. In the last 10 years, the varieties of different ways of inhaling it, vaporizing it, and dissolving it. Medicalization pushed that as well. All the different methods of introducing it into the system, prolonging its effects, getting it to the bloodstream as opposed to the brain to control pain. All these different understandings of the effects of it have developed. But a majority of pot smokers still like the old-fashioned joint.

Regulation looks like an industry. You get innovation and taxation. You get different market structures that resemble any other kind of legitimate business.

The D.O.: What are the prices for cannabis like under legalization?

B.P.: It depends on the jurisdiction. Some of the tax rates are up near the 40 percent rage and some are down near 13 or 14 percent. The government takes a significant piece.

A.H.: The prices go up. People are expected to pay more than they would with their friendly neighborhood dealer that they’ve always gone to. So if the marketplace isn’t satisfying them that they’re getting a better and more reliable product and a wider range of products, I think there could be an insurgence into the black market.

The D.O.: Where do the taxes on marijuana go?

B.P.: That’s not always as transparent as it could be. In a lot of cases what they’re doing is making sure the tax money is at least enough to pay for all of the regulatory costs for having this market actually exist. Any surplus, though, depends on the state. In some cases it’s directed to specific programs, usually somewhere in the health and welfare area. And in other cases it’s just not transparent at all.

The D.O.: What are the regulations government place on cannabis businesses?

B.P.: In every state, they have rules that essentially mandate from seed to consumer that everything has to be in state. So everything gets duplicated from state to state to state. The models vary by jurisdiction in some places.

The D.O. Is this a stable industry to be in right now?

B.P. No. The beginning of any industry is very fun to be in but it’s also fraught with danger. It’s a highly regulated industry to be in, as well, so you’re very much at the whim of a bunch of governments. You’ve got federal and state regulation. Then you’ve got a whole bunch of municipal things to worry about as well.

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