On August 16, 1964, Lowell Eggermiers walked into a San Francisco police station, and announced, “I am starting a campaign to legalize marijuana smoking. I wish to be arrested.” Whereupon he fired up a joint and his wish was granted.
In 1964, possession of marijuana was a felony crime in every state. A first conviction for a minor possession could result in up to a year in prison, which is about what Eggermiers served.
James R. White III, a libertarian attorney who described himself as “to the right of Barry Goldwater,” organized the original marijuana reform advocacy group, LeMar (Legalize Marijuana) in 1964 to support Eggermier’s defense.
Also in 1964, Dr. Raphael Mechoulam, a Bulgarian-born Israeli chemist at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, identified delta-9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) as the active psychoactive compound in marijuana.
When asked why he chose to do research on marijuana, Dr. Mechoulam replied, “Well, a scientist should try to find topics of importance.”
About two weeks after Eggermier’s arrest, on Aug. 28, 1964, Bob Dylan introduced the Beatles to marijuana. It was also in 1964 when Dylan wrote and released the title track of an album by the same name, “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” an anthem for change.
Fast forward to today, in doing the research for this blog, I came across the website of the 1964 Supply Company, which describes itself as “a cannabis lifestyle brand run by a collective of craft cannabis artisans and industry pioneers.”
According to the company, 1964 “marked a time of change and new horizons.”
Pot’s Gone Mainstream
Certainly, times and attitudes have changed. A Quinnipiac poll in August found that 94 percent of Americans support legalized medical marijuana and 75 percent oppose the government enforcing marijuana prohibition in states that have chosen to legalize.
That coincides with an October Gallup Poll discovered that 64 percent of Americans favor the legalization of marijuana, and that only 20 percent of support the federal government enforcing federal laws in states that have already legalized the substance.
Certainly, it would appear on its face that legal marijuana has gone mainstream. According to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), cannabis is used by 16.2 percent of the population of the United States, the second highest, no pun intended, in the world. (Iceland is the highest at 18.3 percent.)
California was the first state to legalize the use of medical marijuana in 1996 via a ballot initiative. So it was not surprising that it became the eighth state in the nation to allow for legal and regulated recreational marijuana, again approved by a ballot initiative on Nov. 8, 2016.
A Huge Economic Impact
By virtue of the fact that California is the most populous state in the union, approaching 40 million, and has the world’s sixth largest economy, the market for marijuana there will be very large.
A study by the Agricultural Issues Centre at the University of California, Davis predicts that sales from recreational cannabis will eventually reach $5 billion a year. The state already sells marijuana worth more than $2 billion a year for medical purposes. For comparison, Colorado sold $1.3 billion in total, for recreational and medical use, in 2016.
The UC Davis study coincides with forecasts by Green Wave Advisors that California should reach $5.3 billion in retail sales in its first year. But there are plenty of other predictions, all of which agree that this is a big and growing industry.
The recently released Green Market Report forecasts sales in California at $9.1 billion to $11.5 billion to $11.5 billion, with the creation of 160,000 new jobs, while ICF International estimates the California market could reach between $15.9 billion and $20.2 billion per year.
According to cannabis research firm ArcView, the North American legal marijuana industry grew by 34 percent in 2016 to $6.9 billion, and is expected to grow by an average of 26 percent per year through 2021.
“The total economic output from legal cannabis will grow 150% from $16 billion in 2017 to $40 billion by 2021,” Arcview said in a statement. “U.S. consumer spending on legal cannabis in 2021 of $20.8 billion will generate $39.6 billion in overall economic impact, 414,000 jobs, and more than $4 billion in tax receipts.”
In its report, “US Legal Cannabis: Driving $40 Billion Economic Output,” Arcview states that the legalization of adult-use sales in California will lead to the creation of nearly 99,000 cannabis industry jobs and 146,000 indirect jobs in the state by 2021.
About $1 billion dollars in wholesale, excise, and cannabis-specific sales taxes were taken into state treasuries during 2016. Arcview forecasts that number to grow to nearly $2.8 billion by 2021. Adding local sales taxes, the 2021 figure could jump to $4 billion and $4.7 billion.
ICF projects California to earn between $2.4 billion and $3 billion a year in tax receipts from sales of marijuana. The state’s current budget deficit is $1.6 billion.
But Hold On There
By me quoting all these economic impact guesses, and that’s truly all they really are, you might think that I am a proponent of legalization.
Actually, I am quite torn on this subject. Mind you, I view myself as a live and let live kind of fellow. For example, I have no problem with gay marriage. To quote that great Texas icon Kinky Friedman, “I support gay marriage. I believe they have a right to be as miserable as the rest of us.”
But I have qualms about the legalization of marijuana. While I do not want to see a person’s life ruined on a minor possession charge (and therefore favor decriminalization), my reservations about legalization are rooted in the workplace.
In my capacity as a consultant to industry, if I were representing a company in a site search for a location for let us say a future manufacturing plant, and if that site search area were to include a state or states where recreational marijuana was legal, it would behoove me to voice concerns to my client about absenteeism, productivity and workplace safety. As workforce is a primary factor in a corporate site search, those are, in my mind, proper considerations.
I would also advise a corporate client that the possibility exists that they could face legal challenges to drug-free workplace rules in jurisdictions where marijuana is legal. I’m merely saying that this is something to take into account, and I would not be serving my client well unless we did have that conversation.
The bottom line is this: In states where recreational marijuana is legal, is there a greater chance or frequency of some workers being impaired while on the job? I’m not sure we know the answer to this.
But Paul Bittner, partner and vice chair of the Labor and Employment Group at the law firm Ice Miller, contends that that legalization of marijuana can have many ramifications on the workplace, including:
It will affect a company’s current drug policy.
It may impact the overall safety of a company’s employees, suppliers and customers.
It could affect a company’s hiring procedures.
It can affect a company’s standing with the federal government.
It may affect a company’s insurance policy and rates.
A Possible Indicator?
And while it is by no means a perfect comparison, The Denver Post reported in August 2017 that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. (The legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado began in late 2012.)
Colorado transportation and public safety officials, however, say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana. But if more people are hitting the streets impaired, might they be doing the same at work?
An article in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in May 2015 concluded that there is a likely statistical association between illicit drug use, including marijuana, and workplace accidents. While some studies suggest that marijuana use may be reasonably safe in some controlled environments, its association with workplace accidents and injuries raises concern.
And therein lies my concern. I believe that data in forthcoming years will give us a better picture of the effects of legalization of marijuana on the workplace. In other words, we shall see.
Having said all that, I believe decriminalization of marijuana nationwide makes sense and that Congress should act to do just that. Decriminalization means that a given activity no longer qualifies as criminal conduct and can only be treated as a civil infraction, if that.
Criminal convictions can have devastating consequences on a person’s life, making it difficult for them to obtain employment, bank loans and housing. So I have to think that decriminalization is needed to repair the damage done.
But we have an ill-informed attorney general in Jeff Sessions who has made claims that have been dispelled by science, such as cannabis’s gateway effect and the idea that marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.
Furthermore, having last week rescinded a trio of memos from the Obama administration that had adopted a policy of non-interference with marijuana-friendly state laws, Sessions takes a moral stand, saying “good people don’t smoke marijuana.”
I live in Texas, and anybody who says that Willie Nelson is not a good person is just as ill-informed as our attorney general. To quote former Texas Governor Rick Perry on Nelson’s long-time use of marijuana, “You gotta love Willie.”
I’ll see you down the road.
Dean Barber is principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC, a location advisory and economic development consulting firm based in Dallas. Mr. Barber is available as a keynotes speaker and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 972-890-3733.