Sunday, April 20, 2014

It's 4/20: Time for a Marijuana News Round-up

Easter falls on 4/20 this year, which means in addition to bunnies and chocolate eggs, Americans are thinking about marijuana.

Here's a brief round-up of marijuana-related news in celebration of the dual holiday.

First, where did the "420" tradition come from?

An Phung offers this explanation on the NBC Los Angeles web site:
While there are no shortages of theories about how the “high" holiday came to be, several published reports give the credit for 4/20's creation to a group of Northern California high school students. The friends say they started using the term as code for pot-smoking in 1971, after planning to meet at 4:20 p.m. one day to smoke and search out a rumored pot crop.

The term spread, eventually reaching, through mutual acquaintances, members of the Greatful Dead [sic] rock band, the friends claim. The lingo was picked up by High Times magazine in 1990, according to BBC News, after an editor saw the term on a Grateful Dead concert flyer.

While others have also come forward to claim they are parents of the pot phrase, the friends, who call themselves the Waldos, say they have letters and other documents to back their story.
What about the weed business?

While he cautions that too much optimism may be premature, Andrew Bender reports in Forbes that Colorado is seeing a boom in the tourist industry since recreational pot was legalized earlier this year:
In the first quarter of the year, Denver International Airport saw record traffic, online searches for Denver hotels were up 25 percent, the real estate market has boomed, and the nation’s first cannabis-themed tour operator has sold out all its tours. That’s a lot to cheer about going into the 420 Rally this weekend, itself newly expanded and set to bring in record numbers of visitors.
Bender offers details such as this:
Cannabis tour operator My 420 Tours has sold out all six of its tours so far this year, at rates of $1,399 to $1,699 for 5 days. CEO and founder J. J. Walker says that the tours let visitors “see the industry from inside and out” with visits to dispensaries and growers, cannabis cooking classes, hashish-preparing lessons and plenty of product samples. Oh, yes, and snacks.
And this:
[Ricardo] Baca and [J.J.] Walker also credit pot with new real estate construction, sales and rentals. “There’s tons and tons of construction starting and apartments being built,” Walker says.

Baca has heard from apartment search services that there’s been a huge influx of people, especially those in their twenties, moving to the state for the marijuana. “They don’t want to have to be looking over their shoulder or for it to be illegal just to have some in their refrigerator.”

Meanwhile, Walker says, commercial rental rates for potential dispensaries or growers’ warehouses have skyrocketed.

“People are moving here for the industry and the opportunity and freedom it represents,” Walker says. Talk about all-American values.
Hunter Stuart offers these four statistics (and nine more equally compelling) at The Huffington Post:
$1.53 billion: The amount the national legal marijuana market is worth, according to a Nov. 2013 report from ArcView Market Research, a San Francisco-based investor group focused on the marijuana industry.

$10.2 billion:
The estimated amount the national legal marijuana market will be worth in five years, according to that same ArcView report.

$6.17 million: The amount of tax revenue collected in Colorado on legal marijuana sales in just the first two months of 2014.

$98 million: The total tax revenue that Colorado could reap in the fiscal year that begins in July, according to a recent budget proposal from Gov. John Hickenlooper.
Another economic benefit of pot legalization is that it is usually accompanied by the legalization of industrial hemp production. According to a report in the Post Independent:
“Hemp can fix every problem in the world if we just let it, so let’s get to work finding out the hundreds of thousands of uses for hemp,” said Sen. David Balmer, R-Centennial.

In 2011, the U.S. imported $11.5 million worth of hemp products, largely from China and Canada, compared to $1.4 million in imports in 2000. Most of that was hemp seed and hemp oil, used in granola bars, soaps, lotions and cooking oil.

Colorado authorized hemp cultivation in 2012 when it legalized marijuana for recreational use. Farmers must apply for permits with the state Department of Agriculture, which are being issued for the first time this year, though a few growers didn’t wait and brought in sparse and scraggly experimental crops last year.

Twelve other states have removed barriers to hemp production — California, Kentucky, Indiana, Maine, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia, according to the Vote Hemp advocacy group.
As for those who worry that legalizing marijuana (for medical or recreational purposes) will lead to an increase in violent crime, Erin Delmore of MSNBC reports:
[E]ven after Colorado legalized the sale of small amounts of marijuana for recreational use on Jan. 1 of this year, violent and property crime rates in the city are actually falling.

According to data from the Denver Police Department, violent crime (including homicide, sexual assault, robbery, and aggravated assault) fell by 6.9% in the first quarter of 2014, compared with the same period in 2013. Property crime (including burglary, larceny, auto theft, theft from motor vehicle and arson) dropped by 11.1%.
Delmore cites a study, "The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006," by four criminologists at the University of Texas at Dallas ( Robert G. Morris, Michael TenEyck, J. C. Barnes, and Tomislav V. Kovandzic), which concludes (references omitted):
The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML [medical marijuana legalization] is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault. Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. Although, this is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.

In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes. To be sure, medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault. While it is important to remain cautious when interpreting these findings as evidence that MML reduces crime, these results do fall in line with recent evidence and they conform to the longstanding notion that marijuana legalization may lead to a reduction in alcohol use due to individuals substituting marijuana for alcohol. Given the relationship between alcohol and violent crime, it may turn out that substituting marijuana for alcohol leads to minor reductions in violent crimes that can be detected at the state level.
With these advantages -- reductions in crime, economic growth, increased tax revenues -- it should come as no surprise that Americans have become more open to the idea of marijuana legalization in recent years.

Writing in The Weed Blog earlier this month on a survey of Americans about pot laws, Paul Armentano of NORML reported:
Seventy-five percent of Americans believe that the sale and use of cannabis will eventually be legal for adults, according to national polling data released this week by the Pew Research Center. Pew pollsters have been surveying public opinion on the marijuana legalization issue since 1973, when only 12 percent of Americans supported regulating the substance.

Fifty-four percent of respondents say that marijuana ought to be legal now, according to the poll. The total is the highest percentage of support ever reported by Pew and marks an increase of 2 percent since 2013. Forty-two percent of respondents said that they opposed legalizing marijuana for non-therapeutic purposes. Only 16 percent of Americans said that the plant should not be legalized for any reason.
Pew reported its findings like this:
The survey by the Pew Research Center, conducted Feb. 14-23 among 1,821 adults, finds that support for the legalization of marijuana use continues to increase. And fully 75% of the public –including majorities of those who favor and oppose the legal use of marijuana – think that the sale and use of marijuana will eventually be legal nationwide.

By wide margins, the public views marijuana as less harmful than alcohol, both to personal health and to society more generally. Moreover, just as most Americans prefer a less punitive approach to the use of drugs such as heroin and cocaine, an even larger majority (76% of the public) – including 69% of Republicans and 79% of Democrats – think that people convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana should not have to serve time in jail.
(The same survey also showed Americans' preference for medical treatment rather than criminal penalties for users of harder drugs like heroin and cocaine.)

However you slice it, the news is good for proponents of ending the drug war, at least as far as marijuana is concerned. People are beginning to understand that prohibition doesn't work, it is unable to overcome the economic laws of supply-and-demand, it encourages the growth of illegal enterprises, and it punishes -- sometimes with death -- otherwise innocent Americans.

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