Legalizing Marijuana: Colorado Cashes In, But Will Face Setbacks

Gerald Morales

By  Mon Jan 13, 2014

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After Colorado became the first state to sell legal marijuana, there has been a surge of interest from Americans about purchasing the substance. A CNN poll found that over 50 percent of Americans are now in favor of legalizing marijuana.

Anyone 21 years or older can now legally purchase marijuana in the state of Colorado, whereas before, a person needed a medical marijuana card to be able to purchase the substance in the state. Colorado now sells it legally, and Washington is expected to do the same later in the year. Washington and Colorado are the only two states where marijuana is available for purchase without a medical marijuana card.

Colorado earnings, a good thing for state revenue

Colorado sold more than five million dollars of marijuana after its first week of legalizing the substance. On an annual basis, the state predicts that it will produce $600 million as the result of selling marijuana. As a result, it is expected to produce $70 million in taxes this year, which is a good chunk of change that can be used to help its economy.

Because Colorado is the only state that sells it legally without a prescription, many customers from outside of the state are visiting to make their purchases. The travelers help stimulate the economy by paying for things like gas, food and hotel accommodations on their trip to buy the drug.

While marijuana can produce millions in revenue, and Colorado is definitely cashing in since marijuana became legal to sell, there are still setbacks.

Banks not accepting payments from dispensaries

Federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal substance, and it is recognized as a Schedule I drug, which is on the same level for substances like LSD and heroin. Therefore, banks cannot legally accept business deposits from someone that is known to be in the marijuana industry, it is a violation of money laundering laws. Even though dispensaries make money legally, banks do not want to take a risk and wind up paying a fine. Banks decline debit or credit card transactions from dispensaries, and they won’t open bank accounts for money that is  known or suspected to be earned from marijuana.

Since banks have this rule, dispensaries must hold bulk amounts of cash, which puts owners and workers at risk. Regular businesses conduct hundreds and thousands of dollars in transactions a day through credit and debit cards, reducing the amount of physical cash they must manage. Marijuana dispensaries can only deal with cash, making them more of a target to criminals.

Many dispensary owners open bank accounts without claiming relation to the marijuana industry. Although this works for some, most find their accounts closed within a few months, which forces them to open a new account elsewhere.

In the meantime, many dispensary owners must find a safe place to store bulk amounts of cash they acquired through legal marijuana transactions. That can put their business or home at risk for a possible theft, and can endanger their employees or family.

Legislation is currently being drafted from the Justice Department to provide guidance on how the banking industry can conduct business matters with legal marijuana businesses.

Other issues

A major downside of legalizing marijuana in Colorado is that it may be difficult for law enforcement to properly crack down on impaired drivers. Unlike with a breathalyzer test for alcohol, there is no way to immediately determine the amount of THC (the main mind-altering ingredient found in the Cannabis plant) in a person’s body at a given time.

The Marijuana Policy Project released a report in which several tests were conducted to determine how much THC a person had in his or her body. The problem with both the breath and blood tests is that they produce inconsistent results. Some people who were sober produced test results that showed otherwise, which would have resulted in an arrest if they were behind the wheel.

Regular smokers are more at risk because THC in their body will stay with them longer. A person could very well get pulled over and sent to jail while sober. Expect a growing number of mistaken DUID (driving under the influence of drugs) charges to be made this year in Colorado and Washington.

Education is key

Hopefully a more accurate test can be created in the future. Meanwhile, a portion of the tax money produced from selling marijuana could be used to fund ads related to smoking and driving, as well as to fund the cost of educating drivers on the dangers of smoking and driving. The money should also be used to fund commercials on television to remind people about the dangers of driving while under the influence of marijuana.

The main emphasis from the ads should be on how a person should manage their intake of marijuana before they attempt to drive. There is no clear indication as to how much marijuana a person can safety inhale before operating a motor vehicle, but studies found from the Marijuana Policy Project suggest users should wait two to three hours after inhalation to operate a motor vehicle. The ads and commercials should place emphasis on what is a safe amount of marijuana to intake, and how long a person should wait before getting behind the wheel.

Where do you stand on the subject, are you for or against legal marijuana? How do you feel about banks neglecting to accept legal marijuana money? Send us your tweets, or comment on our Facebook page.

 

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