Last year I found myself researching the cannabis laws in Washington State and Colorado for a couple whose dream it is to establish a testing laboratory for medical and recreational marijuana in their hometown of Seattle. She was a medical professional, he was a former law enforcement officer who retired early due to a debilitating disease of the stomach–that’s to say when they tentatively approached me with their “hare-brained” scheme, they did not come off as middle-aged stoners or white Rasta converts.
And so I admit to my preconceived notions that the business of decriminalised marijuana in the USA would be conducted by the old Cheech and Chong stereotypes, or long-haired boarders of the surf-, skate-, and snow- varieties. But I also admit I was very sketchy on the whole subject matter, so set about researching the science, the laws, the numbers and the online media and public reaction to Washington State’s decriminalisation legislation passed in December 2012.
They wanted a marketing plan for their start-up business, a small, state-approved marijuana testing facility, the profits from which the owners were intent on investing into the research and development of cannabinoid derived, non-THC (therefore no ‘high’) medicines, which they were convinced would benefit the health of millions in the long run. Presenting me with scientific papers, links, studies, advocacy groups and legalese-laden documents, I realised these perfectly ordinary people had uncovered a vast base of information about aspects and benefits of marijuana I had never heard of or imagined.
The health benefits of medical marijuana are well-enough documented and proven that 20 US states and Washington DC have legalised its use. But not everyone wants or needs the psychoactive effects of THC. Children, elderly people, working people who can’t afford to be off their heads on a daily basis just to control their symptoms there are a myriad of reasons why patients whose condition could be helped by proven effects of marijuana just don’t want to get stoned.
For me, their vision was a laudable and plausible one: if cannabinoids can benefit sufferers of post traumatic stress disorder and other psychological conditions, relieve chemo patients of nausea and discomfort, control painful symptoms of multiple sclerosis, HIV/AIDS and a list of other diseases, it makes sense that the research should be done on removing the high for those patients who don’t want or need it.
And besides, if ‘Big Medical’ is anything to go by, we have nothing to lose by investigating the full potential of medical marijuana–have you listened to the TV ads for drugs that are supposed to be good for what ails you? As long as you are fortunate enough not to succumb to one of the dozens of possible contra-indications, several of which “may result in death”?
From depression to arthritis to asthma to heart disease, prime time USA cable is a litany of expensive poisons just begging to be prescribed by your physician. So if a natural plant extract could be simply manipulated to remove the one “unwanted” side effect–which by all reports is not the worst drug-induced buzz in the world–wouldn’t you think its time had come, in this end of pot-prohibition era?
From a marketing perspective, the most insane aspect of the whole project were the sales forecasts for recreational marijuana in Washington State, which starts retailing in July 2014: I’ve done a lot of projections in my time, but the potential for revenue from testing a very small (State-mandated) sample of all recreational cannabis forecast to be sold at legal dispensaries was off the scale.
No matter how many times we shaved down the figures, from a profit perspective there was obviously money to be made even using the most conservative assumptions.
Which is what Colorado now knows, not two months into the year of decriminalised marijuana. The cork has exploded on demand, and sales have threatened to exhaust supply at many dispensaries. This week Gov. John W. Hickenlooper estimated that the state’s marijuana industry could reach US$1 billion in sales in the next fiscal year, with recreational sales making up about US $610 million of that business.
“It’s well on its way to being a billion-dollar industry,” said Michael Elliott, executive director of the Marijuana Industry Group, a Colorado trade association. Speaking to the New York Times, he added: “We went from 110,000 medical marijuana patients to four billion people in the world who are 21 and up.”
The budget proposal that Mr. Hickenlooper released last Wednesday projects the state could collect about US$134 million in taxes from recreational and medical marijuana for the fiscal year beginning in July. He proposes to spend US$99 million on programs including substance-abuse treatment, preventing marijuana use by children and teenagers, public health and law enforcement.
So what can Saint Lucia learn from Colorado’s imminent fiscal bonanza?
Well, one burgeoning revenue stream from the liberalization of the new green gold comes from the beautifully-monikered ‘ganjapreneurs’, many of whom are (literally) blazing trails in the tourism sector by providing guided pot-tours, dispensary crawls and even sophisticated fine-dining and wine affairs where the guests spark up a designers spliff just before a (presumably) humungous ice cream sundae for dessert.
Think of the possibilities for the island, where we can clearly grow our own ‘international herb’, and already have ganja-tourists giving Saint Lucia high (oops) praise on availability and quality–the only difference would be adding 15% VAT to their beachfront purchases.
We may be stratospheres away from Colorado in terms of our ability as a country to go for broke on legalising cannabis, but with Jamaica pronouncing they will decriminalize before the end of 2014, and a Caricom discussion in the offing, surely it’s time to consider some independent thinking about what a sensible strategy for ganja could offer our decimated island economy. And surely such a strategy would be far superior to say, selling off Saint Lucia and resources to the highest bidder? Of course Pancho De Caires and the Cannabis Movement have done plenty of groundwork in their ‘Ganja Document’, but more about that next time.