HIGH TIMES: Go West, Young Man


NEW YORK TIMES: One of the odder experiments in the recent history of American capitalism is unfolding here in the Rockies: the country’s first attempt at fully regulating, licensing and taxing a for-profit marijuana trade. In California, medical marijuana dispensary owners work in nonprofit collectives, but the cannabis pioneers of Colorado are free to pocket as much as they can — as long as they stay within the rules. The catch is that there are a ton of rules, and more are coming in the next few months. The authorities here were initially caught off guard when dispensary mania began last year, after President Obama announced that federal law enforcement officials wouldn’t trouble users and suppliers as long as they complied with state law. In Colorado, where a constitutional amendment legalizing medical marijuana was passed in 2000, hundreds of dispensaries popped up and a startling number of residents turned out to be in “severe pain,” the most popular of eight conditions that can be treated legally with the once-demonized weed.

More than 80,000 people here now have medical marijuana certificates, which are essentially prescriptions, and for months new enrollees have signed up at a rate of roughly 1,000 a day. As supply met demand, politicians decided that a body of regulations was overdue. The state’s Department of Revenue has spent months conceiving rules for this new industry, ending the reefer-madness phase here in favor of buzz-killing specifics about cultivation, distribution, storage and every other part of the business.

Whether and how this works will be carefully watched far beyond Colorado. The rules here could be a blueprint for the 13 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that have medical marijuana laws. That is particularly the case in Rhode Island, New Jersey, the District of Columbia and Maine, which are poised to roll out programs of their own. Americans spend roughly $25 billion a year on marijuana, according to the Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron, which gives some idea of the popularity of this drug. Eventually, we might be talking about a sizable sum of tax revenue from its sales as medicine, not to mention private investment and employment. A spokesman for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws says hedge fund investors and an assortment of financial service firms are starting to call around to sniff out opportunities. MORE

njweedfarmers1.jpgRELATED: The state Senate Monday voted 27 to 5 in favor of legislation that gives the Christie administration an additional 90 days — until Oct. 1 — to implement New Jersey medical marijuana bill, or as it is officially known, the New Jersey Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act. Proponents had hoped to see the law go into effect Thursday, the beginning of the state government’s 2010-11 fiscal year, but Christie asked for the delay in order to prepare health and law enforcement officials for the new service. MORE

RELATED: The State Senate has passed a bill that would extend the deadline to roll out New Jersey’s medical marijuana program to early January. The bill gives Gov. Chris Christie’s administration 90 more days for the program to begin. When former Gov. Jon Corzine first signed the law in January, the deadline was October 1. The Star-Ledger reported earlier this month that the Christie administration also wants to amend the law to grow and distribute all medical marijuana from Rutgers University’s agricultural center, which would eliminate the possibility of entrepreneurial growers and dispensaries getting some of the state’s business. It would further tightening what is already one of the most restrictive medical marijuana laws in the country. MORE

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