Opinion: Marijuana is here to stay, but local sales bans are driving it underground


San Diego sheriff’s deputies sell marijuana after raiding illegal dispensary. Courtesy of OnScene.TV

The majority of Californians in 2016 voted to replace the illicit cannabis market with a taxed and regulated market – a market that would be controlled by licensed companies, not criminal entrepreneurs.

Five years later, the voters’ desire has still not come true. And while many people are quick to point the finger at Sacramento and the state’s high tax rates, in many cases local elected officials are largely to blame.

This is because more than half of the cities and counties in the state prohibit the operation of licensed cannabis businesses. With no legal aboveground cannabis outlets in these jurisdictions, illicit market providers are more than willing to respond to consumer demands.

Simply put, local moratoria prohibiting the establishment of licensed cannabis retailers do nothing to limit local residents’ access to cannabis; they only limit their access to legal cannabis.

The production and sale of marijuana exists in every neighborhood in California. However, in the localities which have chosen to regulate this market, these transactions take place in a secure environment. Consumers have access to lab-tested products. And the financial income from these transactions is redirected to the local community.

In contrast, in localities without a regulated market, these transactions take place in the shadows – initiated by unlicensed sellers who do not verify IDs, do not have the means or inclination to test the quality. or the purity of their products, and which most certainly do not pay sales tax.

Local voters and their elected officials must choose the type of cannabis market they wish to operate in their neighborhood. Acting as if there is currently no local market for marijuana – or that banning licensed cannabis retailers would somehow prevent cannabis and the cannabis trade from “their community” – simply denies the reality.

In addition, concerns expressed by some politicians that starting traditional marijuana businesses would negatively impact community security and prosperity have proven to be unfounded. Rather than being poles of attraction for criminal activity, studies have repeatedly shown that licensed operators are associated with reductions in neighborhood crime. Indeed, these operators take charge of the supervision of the districts in which they operate.

They employ security personnel and install security cameras. They displace illegal local operators. They are associated with an increase in local land values ​​because they create jobs and stimulate economic growth. More recently, Colorado county-level data determined that localities with licensed retail facilities have experienced job growth at higher rates than neighboring cities that have not.

Unlike street vendors, licensed retailers do not provide minors with marijuana. According to data published in 2021 in the journal JAMA Pediatrics, 97% of adult retailers in California have verified customer IDs before making a transaction. A separate study by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety and local law enforcement found 100% compliance among licensed cannabis retailers.

Finally, it must be recognized that youth who reside in communities with authorized retailers are no more likely to use cannabis than youth in other jurisdictions. According to research published by investigators at the RAND Corporation, “Young adults who live in an area with a higher density of any type of outlet (cannabis retail) are not significantly more likely to report stronger intentions to use cannabis, electronic cigarettes or cannabis. mixed with tobacco / nicotine in the future.

It’s time for local authorities to end NIMBYism and unwarranted fears surrounding the establishment of marijuana retailers. Cannabis is here and here to stay. Municipalities must embrace this reality and provide the oversight necessary to hold these businesses accountable and make this market safe, transparent and profitable for the community.

Paul Armentano is the deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

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