In Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper’s 45-minute State of the State Address, he covered topics such as resource management, job retention and growth in educational funding. He also mentioned one of the fastest growing businesses in the world: the evolving marijuana industry.
The governor has never been shy about voicing his dissatisfaction with the initiative — just last year, he called the plan reckless. Hickenlooper has always been outspoken about his distaste for the legalization of cannabis in the Centennial State but the State of the State address may have been a turning tide in the governor’s public views.
“At this time last year, we had to face the question of whether it was even possible to have a legitimate recreational marijuana industry regulated appropriately. To date, evidence shows that our regulatory system is beginning to work,” he said.
His optimistic statement is a far cry from his past sentiments on what he called the marijuana experiment, but may have changed his mind after seeing the way things have turned out. In an interview, he admitted that things would have been different if he had his way concerning legalization.
“I opposed it… and I think even after the election, if I’d had a magic wand and I could wave the wand, I probably would’ve reversed it and had the initiative fail.” he said. “But now I look at it… and I think we’ve made a lot of progress… still a lot of work to be done. But I think we might actually create a system that can work.”
Medical and recreational marijuana revenue including sales fees and taxes were projected early last year to total nearly $1 billion dollars. However, the revenue versus the proposed spending budget for the following fiscal year was so far from original estimations, Colorado residents may see a tax refund. Due to an amendment approved in the Taxpayer Bill of Rights in 1992, up to $54 million could potentially be returned to citizens. Unfortunately, recent changes in November of the proposed budget have reduced the possibility of a refund.
Revenue isn’t the only highlight of a legalized cannabis state. In December, Colorado approved an $8 million budget in grant funding for eight separate studies researching medical benefits of marijuana for PTSD, brain tumors, Parkinson’s disease, pediatric epilepsy and studying the efficacy of marijuana’s painkilling potential compared to that of prescription opioids. These studies mark a change in marijuana research which historically has been almost entirely targeted toward studies showing the negative side effects of use.
Despite the successes that have followed legalization, Hickenlooper was also quick to address the many ongoing challenges the state is facing in his speech.
“We know many challenges remain. One of the ongoing public safety concerns is that the marijuana industry operates almost strictly in cash, without traditional forms of banking,” he said. “Cash only business invite corruption, just look at the history of prohibition. We will continue to push the federal government to allow banking for this industry.”
While more and more medical and recreational dispensaries are finding ways to accept debit and credit cards in addition to cash, there are still momentous issues marijuana centers must face without traditional banking. The last bank to shut its doors to the marijuana industry, Colorado Springs State Bank, closed an estimated 300 accounts amidst fears of federal retribution. Luckily, MBank in Oregon recently declared their services useable to the marijuana industry in Colorado, nearly a year after the Obama administration cleared banks to do business with marijuana sellers.
Hicklenlooper shared, “We have worked from scratch, with health officials, industry, law enforcement, concerned parents and regulators, and the General Assembly, to develop robust regulations that allow the industry to develop and prosper in a safe and legitimate way.”
Regardless of past setbacks, these advancements not only mark a serious change in consumer, state and commercial opinion, they spread optimism throughout the industry. If nothing else, the public experiment could serve as a lesson in trial and error for other states interested in legalizing cannabis. Many can learn from watching Colorado.
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