The prohibition of cannabis in the US and around the world has been an abject failure. Arguably the biggest failure has been the complete inability to prohibit the substance. In 1937, when cannabis was effectively outlawed, smoked marijuana was almost unheard of.
Today, the US is about 5% of the world’s population and we use approximately 25% of the world’s supply of cannabis. At the same time we have engaged in a policy of mass incarceration, mostly for drug crimes, which has made the US the largest jailer per capita of any other civilization in history.
A significant drug cartel has sprung up and 60% of its revenue is from cannabis distribution, according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. This has turned parts of the world into corrupt war zones. The negatives about prohibition outweigh any potential positives even if it prevents people from using cannabis, which it clearly does not.
The states of Washington and Colorado have taken a historic step in leading us away from the awful mess that is prohibition. Due to their passage of state legalization initiatives, the world’s eyes, weary from the horrible failed policy, are watching closely. Now it is up to these two states to show the world a better way. In short, they need to not screw it up.
And they need to show revenue. Then they need to show proof that youth use does not rise with legalization and that per-capita highway death rates do not climb. They also need to prove that crime rates, as well as incarcerations, go down. Finally, they need to demonstrate a deliberate system that does not allow for diversion of product to restricted localities.
The states themselves, however, only play a regulatory role. It is the legalized marijuana industry that will ultimately roll out the end of prohibition. More than any other industry, its fate is in its own hands. If implementation does not cause huge societal problems and provides savings and revenue, the rest of the world will want that for their locality.
If it works, legalization will spread and push organized crime out while creating new markets. If there are problems or even the perception the experiment did not work for any reason, it could go the other way. In short, if either the state or the industry does not take the task seriously, the notion of legalized marijuana could die in its infancy.
The business opportunity is huge. It’s estimated that the global cannabis market is more than $100 billion annually. It is a recession-proof product. Society has spent billions proving cannabis is popular even when outlawed. It’s clearly not just a fad. The industry however, at least the legal industry, is not without risk. The American cannabis industry, including the ancillary products sector, is federally illegal. This little sticking point generally keeps investors squeamish. Everyone involved in the criminal conspiracy, including the state, could go to prison.
Cannabis prohibition was brought to us in the ’30s by an effective PR campaign. It was rebranded as marihuana with side effects listed as homicidal mania and instant and hopeless addiction.
People today have lived with a prohibition campaign that has made negative claims and pushed public perception to the negative their entire lives. It is understandable that some people are uncomfortable with cannabis or the perception that it should become legally available in their communities.
While public sentiment is going in the right direction, we must be careful to avoid any negativity that could kill the industry. It is key that those of us in the legal marijuana sector keep this top of mind. First, a business should be organized and executed immaculately. It should care about advertising that can have the perception of targeting minors.
However, it’s not good enough to run a business right. We should be engaged with helping competition run their businesses correctly. If the industry expands, everyone will do well. Businesses need to be banding together to hold themselves to a high standard. Industry groups need to be vigilant and create a sector that is responsible, anticipate potential issues, and solve them before they become problems.
Only by running the legal marijuana industry responsibly are we going to change the most important thing for our survival: the public’s perception.
John Davis is founder and CEO of Northwest Patient Resource Center.