Fearing competition, medical marijuana industry opposes full legalization of the stuff
Social conservatives who oppose legalization of marijuana probably don’t realize it, but they’re siding with an industry that’s against free-market competition.
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Talk about a buzz kill.
Pot legalization activists are running into an unexpected and ironic opponent in their efforts to make cannabis legal: Big Marijuana.
Medical marijuana is a billion-dollar industry — legal in 18 states, including California, Nevada, Oregon and Maine — and like any entrenched business, it’s fighting to keep what it has and shut out competitors. Dispensary owners, trade associations and groups representing the industry are deeply concerned — and in some cases actively fighting — ballot initiatives and legislation that could wreck their business model.
That pits them against full legalization advocates, who have been hoping to play off wins at the ballot box last fall in Colorado and Washington state that established some of the most permissive pot laws in the world. Activists are hoping to pass full legalization measures in six more states by 2016.
From the point of view of dispensary owners, legalization laws — depending on how they’re written — can have little immediate upside and offer plenty of reasons for concern. For one, their businesses — still illegal under federal law — benefit from exclusive monopolies on the right to sell legal pot, but state measures still don’t end the risks of an FBI raid or Internal Revenue Service audit. Meanwhile, those same federal laws that prohibit growing, selling and using keep pot prices high.
Full legalization advocates, like the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, say it’s all about the money.
“There are people who are benefiting financially and would prefer to see nothing change that,” said Erik Altieri, communications director for NORML’s northeast chapter.
“NORML believes the only way to truly ensure access for those patients who need cannabis for medical purposes is to legalize its use for all adults,” he added. “This will provide every adult safe and convenient access to quality cannabis, regardless of whether or not their state legislators think their specific condition ‘qualifies.’”
There wasn’t always a major divide in the cannabis camp. The two sides of the movement have long worked together on descheduling marijuana as a controlled substance and stopping federal raids on legal dispensaries.
Many owners of medical marijuana dispensaries got their start in the broader anti-drug war movement and are still on the same intellectual side of the issue — working to decriminalize pot.