Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Becomes 'Green Friday' Where Pot Is Legal

This headline caught my eye: "Va. ABC stores to offer Black Friday discounts." The AP story, posted on the web site of ABC News affiliate WJLA-TV, explains that customers who buy more liquor worth $50 or more will get a ten percent discount, and that customers will also be offered an opportunity today to enter a drawing for a gift card worth $80 to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Virginia Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

What is the difference between a government-owned monopoly on liquor sales offering special discounts and free booze and privately owned marijuana stores in Colorado offering similar discounts on pot?

The first obvious difference is that Virginia's ABC is a residue of 1930s socialism and prohibitionism, while the Colorado weed stores represent American entrepreneurship at its best.

State-owned liquor stores offer all the innovative thinking that one usually associates with government bureaucracies. Marijuana retailers in Colorado (and Washington state and soon in Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C.) have met both their newfound freedom and remaining restrictions with creativity and genuine innovation.

Bloomberg News reporters Duane D. Stanford and Kevin Orland note under the headline "Marijuana Shops Seek Holiday Surge With ‘Green Friday’" that

The legalized pot industry in the U.S. will be worth about $2.3 billion this year and may grow to more than $10 billion by about 2018, according to the San Francisco-based ArcView Group, which invests in the industry.

This “green rush” generated $207 million in recreational pot sales in Colorado during the first nine months of the year, according to the state Revenue Department. In that period, recreational and medical marijuana combined to raise $52.5 million in revenue for the state through taxes, licenses and fees.
CBS News had its own report on "Green Friday," titled "Pot merchants cash in on Christmas cannabis."

In an accompanying story, CBS Moneywatch correspondent Kim Peterson reported:
Black Friday is almost here, and some shoppers are preparing to rush out and buy family and friends a stocking full of marijuana....

Americans freely give each other buzz-inducing gifts of wine or Scotch over the holidays, but buying someone a gift box full of bud? That idea is just sinking in across the state. "People are just starting to consider the notion of, 'Well hey, I can give this,'" Fox added....

Other dispensaries are planning similar Black Friday promotions, and many are taking out ads in local newspapers or promoting their sales online. An edible-pot maker in the state is offering a miniature pumpkin pie laced with marijuana, according to The Associated Press. Stores will also be selling spiced holiday teas, marijuana mint cookies and creams for sore muscles.
Marketing "Green Friday" specials on Black Friday is just one sign of the maturing of the marijuana industry. Matt Ferner and Ryan J. Reilly noted in The Huffington Post earlier this week that
Colorado and Washington state illustrate how cannabis is shedding its stoner image and entering mainstream culture. Marijuana products have been featured prominently in gourmet dinners and in cooking seminars in both states. The drug has become a fashionable substance to offer as a celebratory toast at weddings. Yoga enthusiasts can seek zen at marijuana-fueled classes.

Earlier this year, the Colorado Symphony Orchestra held a “Classically Cannabis” fundraiser, where well-heeled attendees sipped drinks, shook hands and smoked pot from joints, vaporizers and glass pipes, while a brass quintet played Debussy, Bach, Wagner and Puccini.

"Cannabis is being elevated into the pantheon of refined and urbane inebriants, no different than boutique rye or fine wine," said Matt Gray, the publisher of a new gourmet marijuana cookbook.
Could marijuana become legal in Virginia, a state where liqueurs are sold by a government-owned and -operated monopoly?

Bart Hinkle of the Richmond Times-Dispatch thinks it can and should.
"Instead of trying to shake more money out of Virginians’ pockets," he wrote on Tuesday,
the commonwealth should follow Washington’s lead and sell off its liquor business. But it should not adopt Washington’s deceptive practice of trying to claw back its money through hidden fees. So how can Virginia lawmakers scrape up the revenue that would be lost?

Simple: Legalize recreational marijuana, as four other states have. Washington did, and expects to collect $637 million in licenses and taxes by 2019. Colorado hopes to reap $174.5 million over the next three years. By one estimate, legalizing weed in Virginia could raise as much as $500 million for the commonwealth. But even half that would more than make up for ending the liquor monopoly

True, there are many arguments against the state letting people smoke pot. But those same arguments work just as well against the state letting people drink booze — let alone selling the stuff itself.
State Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Alexandria) has introduced a bill for the 2015 session of the General Assembly that takes the first step: decriminalizing personal possession of marijuana within Virginia. SB 656
Decriminalizes marijuana possession and changes the current $500 criminal fine for simple marijuana possession to a maximum $100 civil penalty payable to the Literary Fund and eliminates the 30-day jail sentence. The bill reduces the criminal penalties for distribution and possession with intent to distribute etc. of marijuana. The bill creates a rebuttable presumption that a person who grows no more than six marijuana plants grows marijuana for personal use and not for distribution and provides that the suspended sentence/substance abuse screening provisions apply only to criminal violations or to civil violations by a minor. Marijuana is removed from a statute making it a Class 1 misdemeanor to distribute or display advertisements, etc., for instruments used for marijuana and from the common nuisance statute. The distribution of paraphernalia statute will apply only to an adult who distributes to a minor at least three years his junior. The bill also limits forfeiture of property from sale or distribution of marijuana to quantities of more than one pound; currently there is no minimum amount. The penalty for possession of marijuana by a prisoner is reduced from a Class 5 felony to a Class 6 felony.
So far the bill has one co-patron, Delegate Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church). It has been referred to the Courts of Justice committee. When similar legislation was introduced by former Delegate Harvey Morgan, a Republican, it was killed in committee despite not a single person testifying against it.

While Virginia won't be celebrating Green Friday this year, we know that politicians here and elsewhere across the country are watching Colorado closely to see what happens in a regime of regularized, taxable marijuana sales.

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