Cannabis Industry Drives Public Policy, Not Other Way Around, Say Experts

Cannabis plant at early flowering stage

Legal marijuana is catching on, according to NPR, and that means that business is flourishing in the states that have legalized it for either recreational or medicinal use. Yet the industry isn’t being shaped by public policy so much as the other way around.

Part of that growth stems from the revenue that marijuana businesses are seeing, especially in states where cannabis is 100% legalized. Washington state made $260 million in sales in 2014, which netted $65 million in taxes; Colorado saw revenues of $700 million last year.

If all 50 states were to legalize marijuana fully, according to one estimate, they could make about $3 billion collectively in taxes.

All that money can buy some serious influence where public policy is concerned.

Other states are poised to join in, especially with the medical marijuana industry. In New Hampshire, Gov. Maggie Hassan has approved a bill that would let doctors prescribe cannabis for more illnesses, and New York will begin granting business licenses and possibly offering other cannabis business resources for medical marijuana growers this month.

Visitors to the Cannabis Business Summit in Colorado noted that even politicians are seeing potential for the industry. Presidential candidate Sen. Rand Paul even raised money for the industry at a private fundraiser, becoming the first-ever presidential candidate to do so.

Mason Tyvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, said at the business summit that this is no mistake. “Four years ago you had to chase down the presidential candidates and really nag them to talk about marijuana,” he said.

But that’s changed as the industry has expanded so rapidly over the past couple of years. Now candidates are answering questions about cannabis rather than dodging them, Tyvert said, and the issue is no longer one that can be ignored.

“You have business owners. You’ve got employees. You got a base of tax revenue,” Tyvert explained. “You really have to start treating this like any other legal industry.”

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