CANNABIS INDUSTRY EXPERT LOOKS AT PROS and CONS
Voters in several states, and at least 17 cities and counties across the nation, dealt a blow to the United States’ long war on drugs, passing measures that would never have succeeded ten years ago. This is a sharp contrast to the mere 12% who favored legalization back in 1969. The social acceptance of marijuana has dramatically changed since the ‘60s and ‘70s. With an acceptance of 67% of Americans aged 18 to 29, and slightly less for ages 30 to 64, the only age group that still opposes legalization are the 65 and older crowd. Although 86% of all ages support allowing medical marijuana (MM) as a way to alleviate symptoms of arthritis, HIV, AIDS, MS, cancer, chemotherapy, and other conditions where the use of marijuana would likely help the patient.
The initiatives on this year’s ballots ranged from legalizing recreational marijuana sales and use for adults in Oregon and Alaska, to permitting it for medical purposes in Florida, to decriminalizing possession of small amounts in cities and counties in Maine, Michigan and New Mexico. Californians had to decide whether to downgrade possession to a misdemeanor. For some, the question was easy: They’re either for some level of legalizing marijuana or against it. But for others, the issue is not so cut-and-dried.
“Decriminalizing marijuana can be good for the country – and it can be potentially dangerous,” says Wall Street commodities expert Steve Janjic, CEO of Amercanex, an electronic marketplace exchange for the cannabis industry.
“I’m a part of the industry, but that doesn’t mean I’m in favor of every measure to legalize pot,” Janjic says. “We need to proceed with care and thoughtful consideration of possible consequences, intended and unintended, of the decisions we make. We have the opportunity to fix some problems through decriminalization, but we don’t want to end up with even bigger problems down the road.”
Americans have the highest rate of illegal drug use in the world, according to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, and the United States has the world’s largest prison population by far—largely fed by the war on drugs—at 500 per 100,000 people. Despite the changes, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance by the federal government, along with heroin and LSD.
According to the 2014 polls, a majority of Americans now support making marijuana legally available for adults to use. 57% live in states that have reformed their marijuana laws, by either allowing MM, or through the decriminalization of it—a fine—not jail time.
The last 12 months have been a success for marijuana advocates, as Washington and Colorado became the first states to legalize recreational use. On November 2014, three states: Maryland, Minnesota and New York, passed effective MM laws, and Maryland, Missouri, and the District of Columbia replaced possible jail time with fine for possession. Alaska and Oregon’s voters chose to legalize marijuana and regulate it similarly to alcohol for adults age 21 and up. Florida was the only initiative that fell short for MM, with a close 58% of the 60% vote needed to pass.
“Because we now have four states with sales and use of recreational marijuana, and medical marijuana in 23 other states, we can start looking at what works and what doesn’t,” Janjic explains. “As a society, we’ll be able to make better informed decisions going forward.”
• The crime rate is down and tax revenues are up in Colorado.
Washington state’s cannabis stores have been open only since July, but Colorado’s have been in business since January. They provide an early glimpse of trends.
“In the first six months of sales, and 18 months of decriminalization, overall crime rates in Denver dropped 10 percent and violent crimes were down more than 5 percent,” Janjic says, citing a report by The Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit whose mission is to advance policies and attitudes that reduce the harm of both drug use and drug prohibition.
Marijuana sales generated $10.8 million in revenue in the first four months – 50 percent more than anticipated. Part of that money is earmarked for schools.
• Examine how medical marijuana laws are written.
Some of the folks in Massachusetts, (which passed its medical marijuana law), are now concerned the bill’s writers allowed for dangerously high possession limits. The state’s limits are the third highest in the country at 10 ounces every 60 days.
“Growers are always breeding for greater potency, so smaller amounts of marijuana are required,” Janjic says. “The worry in Massachusetts is: ‘What will happen to the leftovers? Will so much availability mean it will be easier for teenagers to get?’”
That’s a concern because numerous studies show marijuana can cause structural changes in teens’ brains, resulting in cognitive and mental health problems. The National Institute on Drug Abuse says teens are more likely to become addicted to marijuana than people who begin using as adults (one in six versus less than one in 10 for older users).
• Decriminalizing marijuana will mean fewer criminals – and the associated costs.
Advocates for legalizing possession of small amounts of marijuana point to the unintended consequences of felony convictions, including economic hardship for the families of breadwinners who go to prison; prison crowding; the cost to society of law enforcement and punitive measures.
“Colorado is expected to save $12 million to $40 million a year by reducing penalties,” Janjic says, citing the Colorado Center on Law and Policy. “That state averaged more than 10,000 arrests and citations every year for possession of amounts that are now legal there.”
Steve Janjic is CEO of Amercanex (Americanex.com) founded to provide a transparent, neutral and non-manipulated marketplace for institutional cannabis-industry participants, including growers and retailers. The commodities exchange strictly adheres to the centralizing regulatory and reporting requirements to local and regional regulatory authorities. Janjic is also the global head of eFX Sales and Distribution at Tullett Prebon, one of the world’s largest institutional brokerage firms, with 168 years in the marketplace.
COLORADO SUPREME COURT
TO CLARIFY MORE “GRAY AREA”
Colorado has legalized marijuana, but the gray area still exists. Brandon Coats, a quadriplegic from a car accident, realized that pot helped calm his violent muscle spasms and has been a medical marijuana patient since 2009. A telephone operator with Dish Network for three years, Coats failed a drug test in 2010 and got fired. He never used pot at work, but the THC remained in his system. Now, before the Colorado Supreme Court, Dish argues that, because pot remains illegal at the federal level, the state law doesn’t cover medical marijuana.
The state laws that are accepting marijuana use are clashing with the employers’ drug-free policies. Coats’ lawyers argue that those in nonhazardous jobs, (who are not impaired at work), should not have their jobs jeopardized.
This case is being anxiously watched all across the country, because it will affect how companies treat employees who use the drug.
HERE’S WHAT VOTERS CHANGED
ON TUESDAY, NOV. 4TH, 2014
OREGON: Voters passed a measure that now legalizes the possession, use and sale of recreational marijuana for adults age 21 and over. This makes Oregon the third state in the nation to end the prohibition of marijuana, joining Colorado and Washington state, which both legalized retail cannabis in 2012. Adults can have up to 8-oz. of marijuana at home and up to 1-oz. in public.
WASHINGTON, D.C.: Initiative 71 was passed, which legalizes adult marijuana use, possession of up to 2-oz., and home cultivation of up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The sale of marijuana remains illegal.
MAINE: In South Portland, the measure passed that removes all legal penalties for possession of up to 1-oz. of marijuana by adults. Portland already legalized recreational use last year.
NEW MEXICO: Voters in New Mexico’s Bernalillo and Santa Fe counties overwhelmingly approved the decriminalization of marijuana and marijuana-related paraphernalia, with the penalty reduced to a $25 civil infraction.
CALIFORNIA: Voters passed a measure where nonviolent felonies, like drug possession and shoplifting, will be downgraded to misdemeanors, and as many as 10,000 people could be eligible for early release from state prisons, and it’s expected that courts will annually dispense around 40,000 fewer felony convictions.
NEW JERSEY: Voters approved a bail reform measure that will reduce the pretrial incarceration of those accused of low-level drug violations. Poorer defendants, who can’t afford bail but who are not considered a threat to the community, will now be eligible to be freed through an alternative release system while awaiting trial. Judges can still deny pretrial release to individuals who pose a clear danger, to repeat offenders, and to those who are a probable flight risk.
ALASKA: Alaska became the fourth state in the U.S. to legalize recreational marijuana and is one of 23 states that have already legalized medical marijuana.
FLORIDA: Florida was the only initiative that fell short for MM with a close 58%, but 60% was needed to pass. While Amendment 2, which would have legalized medical marijuana in the state, failed to pass, it did garner a majority of voter support.
Las Vegas may have a reputation as “Sin City”, but it doesn’t mean that Nevada is lax on drug enforcement. Nevada’s laws are changing, but marijuana is NOT legal here, except for those carrying a MM (Medical Marijuana) card, and it’s important to know the state’s illicit drug laws pertaining to medical marijuana cards, possession, buying and selling of MM and its relation to DUI’s.
Medical marijuana has been allowed in Nevada since 2000, and possession has been decriminalized, but Nevada still has some of the harshest drug laws in the country. MM cardholders were forced to either grow their own plants, or have someone else grow it for them (with a limit of 7 plants maximum per grower). It created a huge legal problem that was referred to as part of the “gray area” and on June 12, 2013, Nevada’s Governor Brian Sandoval changed the “must grow your own” gray area of the law. Nevada’s law now allows dispensaries or MM establishments authorized to cultivate or dispense marijuana or manufacture edible marijuana products or marijuana-infused products for sale to persons with a medical marijuana card. About 9,000 MM cards have been issued by the state, and with marijuana dispensaries now on the horizon to open in 2015, thousands more cards are expected to be issued. Cardholders can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow no more than 12 marijuana plants.
Laws in Nevada state that any person who doesn’t carry a MM card and is in possession of less than an ounce of weed is committing a misdemeanor, which carries a $600 fine for first offense and $1,000 fine for second offense, but no prison sentence. The third offense can land you a year in jail and a $2,000 fine. All following marijuana possession offenses are treated as felonies and carry a 1-4 year prison sentence and a $5,000 fine.
Selling marijuana is another subject altogether and treated with Nevada’s harshest drug laws. It is considered a felony, punishable by a least 1 year and potentially up to 6 years in prison for a first offense, and 2 years to 10 and 15 years for second and third offenses and all carry a $20,000 fine. Selling marijuana within 1,000 feet of a school zone or to a minor will double all sentences and fines.
Anyone who carries a MM card should know the risk of the strict DUI standards in Nevada. Basically, you can have a MM card or you can drive a car – but you probably can’t do both legally. Smoking weed even a few times a week can produce enough marijuana metabolites or THC in your blood to be over the legal limit. “It’s the one aberration in current Nevada law, where you are taking a legally prescribed drug, and you are driving accurately but a cop stops you, they test your blood, and you are arrested for a DUI,” explains Nevada State Senator and attorney, Tick Segerblom, who says the law needs to be changed.
Adam Sternberg, who helps people obtain MM cards says: “They know this gray area exists and they can get 100% conviction rate, because they can.” He says he sees DUI cases every day, in which the drivers were not impaired but were still convicted. Patients who smoke every day or even every week can’t possibly meet the 2 nanograms in the blood standard that Nevada sets. Traces of marijuana can stay in a person’s system for weeks or over a month, at levels exceeding Nevada’s legal limit. Anyone with a MM card who smokes is going to be well over that level, pretty much all the time.
Senator Segerblom is trying to get 105,000 signatures to get recreational marijuana legalized through a vote by 2016. “It’s a no-brainer,” Segerblom says. “People are so ready to tax it, regulate it and make some money on it. It’s just perfect for our economy.”