For marijuana smokers, politics is often viewed as a cut-and-dried proposition. “Legalize it” has long been the one and only rally cry. As some states have legalized it, and others are close behind, it is time to start broadening cannabis political horizons. Now that the path to legalization seems inevitable, it’s time to consider more complex political questions. What should the next priorities be for smokers in the coming years? Here are some issues that could make a big difference for America’s cannabis community.
One of the most complicated political issues has come to the forefront of this election season: trade. As legalization moves forward in the U.S., countries like Mexico have entered into a bit of a trade arms race to legalize their product, hoping to funnel money from the cartels to the Mexican government. At the same time, less traditional drug importers, like Canada, are exploring revenue possibilities as well.
As more states legalize marijuana, the shape of the market, and whether the product will be primarily domestic or imported, will have lasting impacts on the American marijuana industry. Whoever can be the first one through the door after legalization stands to set the tone in a rare new market. As with all products, lawmakers will have to balance U.S. job creation with the potential savings and variety that come with an international product.
For decades, patents have been a bone of contention in the medical industry. Healthcare watchdogs see patents as a way for medical companies to gouge consumers. Patent reform also has huge consequences for the marijuana industry. Small players in the emerging space are worried that patent warfare could erupt in the weed business. A Monsanto of the ganja world could gobble up patents for prominent strains and leave small players without access to their own product.
There are already initiatives out there fighting a preemptive fight against big business and potential patent trolls. The Open Cannabis Project is one such effort; it aims to publish information on strains in a massive database before they can be swallowed up in corporate machinery.
In states where weed is legal, there are already initiatives aimed at organizing marijuana workers. As with most industries, unionized marijuana shops will have an impact on the consumer. While corporations tend to argue that unions lead to price increases, they often forget to mention that unionized shops help insure a quality product prepared transparently. You can already support marijuana union organizing in Washington, Colorado, and California.
One of the biggest arguments for marijuana legalization has been an increase in tax revenue. So far, marijuana revenues have been a boon to states where weed has been legalized. One challenge the marijuana industry has faced is that since marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, tax laws meant to deter criminals apply to businesses selling weed legally on a state level. Businesses report as high as a 70 percent effective federal tax rate. Once marijuana is legalized nationally, this will obviously change, but this points to just how critical tax law can be for businesses. As marijuana companies grow, governments will try to find the right balance of maximizing tax income while fostering growth.
As with all agricultural endeavors, environmental concerns are a central issue for the marijuana business. One UC Berkeley biologist recently made the case that legalization will have environmental benefits. Illegal industries are also unregulated industries. Not only is there no enforcement of laws that aren’t on the books, but if a grower is worried about avoiding the law, they may not be able to grow in the most environmentally advantageous way. As legalization becomes a reality, there will be a back and forth between businesses and environmental groups as growers take on eco-friendly practices enforced by government regulations.