Last year was an interesting year to say the least. Colorado basically became the first state to effectively legalize marijuana for recreational use and since then, voters in a few other states — Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia — decided that they wanted in on those generous tax revenues as well.
The legalization of medical marijuana was by no means a new concept in the United States, as California made the decision to legalize medical pot back in the mid-1990s. But, even though public support of the substance has grown immensely over the past several years (with a 52% majority in favor of legalization, as of this past November), recreational legalization of an “illicit” substance still came as a surprise to many Americans.
It has been about a year now that Colorado citizens and visitors could walk right into a shop and buy marijuana — no prescription card needed, and no explanation required. And, during this past year, the media has had a field day, many of them choosing their “color” and picking a side.
With all of the widely public information about the industry — the scrutiny it has faced and its evolution and growing pains over the past year — what’s fact, what’s fiction, and what’s fear?
Well, we scoured through some of the information from the past year to find out. We also asked some tough questions to Erik Altieri, communications director from the organization NORML. Here’s what we found out.
Myth No. 1: Legal marijuana has resulted in nothing but major problems for Colorado so far
Fact: While the industry has had its growing pains, the benefits to legalization have also become evident.
Over this past year, we’ve heard reports of several problems the industry has faced. There have been reports of small businesses in Colorado being unable to have their banking needs met because state law contradicts Federal law, problems in the workplace where legal users are fired for failing drug tests, and dosage problems with edibles.
Bringing in roughly $60 million in tax revenues during 2014 for the State of Colorado alone, there is no denying the monetary benefits. Let’s not forget to mention the numerous jobs the industry has generated, and the medical benefits we’ve seen it provide.
Have there been some hiccups along the way? Of course. But, we have by no means seen the catastrophe that some feared (people are not walking the streets like incoherent zombies, the entire state isn’t using the substance, violence rates are not rapidly increasing as Denver actually saw a drop in violent crime during the first half of the year, etc.).
Myth No. 2: You will definitely get fired for using legal marijuana
Fact: While it is certainly possible for you to get fired for having THC in your system (even if you live in a place where marijuana is legal), you will not necessarily get fired for a THC-positive test. This depends on your employer’s policies and applicable state and local laws, which are subject to change.
Most of us have heard reports of medical marijuana patients being fired for using marijuana off-duty even though it was “legally” prescribed to them. Although this is a possibility, this is not a certainty for every recreational marijuana user or medical marijuana patient. For instance, Arizona law does not allow an employer to discipline or refuse to hire a medical marijuana patient if they only use off-duty (there are some exceptions to this, however).
NORML’s Altieri explains, “Workers in states that have legalized marijuana for recreational or medical purposes should not have to fear loss of employment for consuming marijuana in their off hours any more than an adult would for consuming a beer over the weekend. That said, employers also should not be required to tolerate impaired employees on the job site.”
There is not a perfect solution for this today. He adds, “While certain tests are better at only detecting recent consumption (saliva tests typically pick up use in the past several hours), these can still be rather inaccurate and it would be much preferred that we move towards a policy that evaluates employees based on their impairment and not for inert metabolites in their system.”
This is something we may see happening in the future as the marijuana industry evolves.
Myth No. 3: A bunch of people are overdosing because of edibles
Fact: Some edibles do contain higher dosages of marijuana. But as of yet, even in large amounts, the effects of the substance itself are generally not known to cause deadly overdose. According to the National Institute of Drug Abuse, too much of the substance can cause serious symptoms and reactions, like anxiety, panic attacks, and loss of touch with reality.
Many of us saw the fake news stories about how marijuana killed 37 people on its first day of legalization. Some of us heard about the German research that found that marijuana resulted in the deaths of two healthy men. But overall, although anything is possible, marijuana is not really considered to be a “killer drug” like painkillers, cocaine, or alcohol, even when it’s eaten in higher doses.
“To address the issue of edibles, the best solution is likely two-fold. It should partially be the responsibility of the businesses selling these products to ensure that consumers are educated on proper dosing methods and are made explicitly aware of how potent the product they are purchasing is. The state should, and is currently in the process of, better regulating the edibles market. These new regulations will likely require that edibles have much stronger labeling requirements, to ensure clear communication of content and potency, as well as limit the strength of single serve products,” explains Altieri.
On the same note, however, it’s also up to the consumer to pay attention to what they are consuming, and ask questions. “NORML also strongly encourages consumers to educate themselves prior to taking any marijuana products and to start slow and small when it comes to edibles to ensure the most enjoyable experience.”
Myth No. 4: The marijuana industry is not regulated
Fact: By no means are there businesses arbitrarily opening up shops on a whim. The legal marijuana industry already faces state regulation by the MED (Marijuana Enforcement Division), and additional state (and perhaps even federal) regulation will likely come in the future.
The MED (among other things) conducts background investigations, issues licenses, and enforces compliance. The division also promotes safety and transparency in records and in record-keeping.
Myth No. 5: Our country has never experienced anything like this before. What is the world coming to?
Fact: So many substances, products, and services have faced scrutiny over the years, being prohibited then permitted (or vice versa). Think entertainment and censorship, alcohol, and even privacy laws.
When we asked Altieri to make a parallel between legal marijuana and another situation in history. He said that “the similarities between marijuana probation and its impending end and that of alcohol prohibition are astoundingly similar in many ways, but another decent parallel is the legalization of gambling in the United States.”
He explains how “this [gambling] too followed the state by state approach and started with tamer policies (legalization of numbers games/lottery) before moving towards broader ones dealing with casinos, online gambling, etc. Prior to it’s legalization in a large number of states, gambling and games of chance were largely run by gangs and cartels in a black market setting, with the revenue going towards criminal activity.” Sound familiar?
“By legalizing gambling, many states began to reap the benefits,” he says. “This included delivering a blow to criminal enterprise, creating a new revenue generating industry to fund important programs such as public education, and attracting tourists and their dollars to many areas such as Las Vegas. It is easy to see how the legalization of marijuana is following a similar trajectory.”
So, what’s next for the legal marijuana industry? We’ll find out soon enough. But, in the meantime, join the conversation. Tell us what you think on our Personal Finance Cheat Sheet Facebook Page.