When it was announced that the state of Colorado had topped $1 billion in cannabis sales for the year of 2016, it gave credence to the fact that Americans not only support marijuana legalization, but really enjoy consuming it as well. The news also settled the nerves of potential industry investors.
With uncertainty swirling around the Trump administration’s plans of how it will deal with the fledgling industry, it seems foolish for the Justice Department to hamper its ascendancy by prosecuting businesses that are sanctioned in “legal” states. Furthermore, Colorado generated $200 million in tax revenue in 2016. Meddling with that kind of money, which is already earmarked for education, figures to be tremendously unpopular with politicians. A billion dollars is a staggering figure. But let’s examine some other eye-opening population stats.
Tourism, of course, is responsible for a large portion of cannabis sales in Colorado; the state’s population stands at just under six million residents. The three most populous states which have enacted legal, adult recreational cannabis use are California, Oregon and Washington. California has about 39 million residents, Oregon has approximately four million and just over seven million people live in the state of Washington. So, in time, these states can expect similar results.
But these population figures are dwarfed by the untapped eastern US. Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia make up the Northeast megalopolis, which boasts over 50 million residents.
The Northeast, in particular, represents a marketplace that can hardly be fathomed. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo still maintains that cannabis is a “gateway drug,” and, due to his Presidential aspirations, has firmly voiced his opposition to recreational use. (New York allows medical use, but its program is highly restrictive).
The states of New England are in the top ten of the highest number of cannabis users per capita in the nation, outdistancing the rate of use in California. But while the states that allow legal use have worked assiduously to create a workable system of commerce, the eastern US States have been resistant, even when medical laws have passed.
In Maine, voters passed recreational cannabis narrowly in November, but the measure still faces opposition from lawmakers. In fact, Maine Gov. Paul LePage has even remarked that voters “did not know what they were voting on.” The legislature has nine months to create a program for cannabis sales, but legislators are trying to delay implementation.
Massachusetts also passed recreational cannabis in 2016. Shops won’t open until 2018, but some lawmakers are seeking a tax rate above 37 percent—higher than Washington’s current rate—which critics believe would strengthen the black market for cannabis.
New Hampshire, with 70 percent of state residents in favor of changing marijuana laws, is looking closely at decriminalization. Currently in Vermont, a bill has been introduced that would legalize possession of up to 2 ounces or less and allow for the cultivation of up to two mature marijuana plants, and seven immature plants. But those arrested by police with more than specified amounts would still be subject to prosecution. Rhode Island is trying for the seventh time to pass recreational marijuana. It doesn’t want to lose ground to neighboring Massachusetts, where Rhode Island residents can travel over the border easily to purchase cannabis. Connecticut is also looking to legalize though passage is facing formidable opposition. But with the state facing a $1.7 billion projected budget deficit, the idea of regulating and taxing cannabis is gaining momentum.
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The Northeast is arguably the most liberal-minded region of America. All of the states in the Northeastern Megalopolis supported Clinton, not Trump. Still, being a liberal doesn’t necessarily translate to rational views regarding cannabis—especially among lawmakers.
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