Marijuana Policy

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Chronicle AM: BC Calls for Radical Response to Opioid Crisis, 2nd MI Pot Init, More... (8/17/17)

BC health officials present some revolutionary recommendations for dealing with the opioid crisis, Alaska officials defend pot legalization, a second Michigan legalization initiative is okayed for signature gathering, and more.

British Columbia health officials say users should be provided drugs to take home, be able to grow opium poppies. (Wikimedia)
Marijuana Policy

Alaska Officials Defend Legalization in Letters to Sessions. Gov. Bill Walker (I) and Attorney General Jahna Lindemuth have sent two letters to Attorney General Sessions defending their state's marijuana law and the wishes of state voters. Their letters are a response to a letter Sessions sent to governors of legalization states in July. "Marijuana regulation is an area where states should take the lead," they said in the first letter, dated August 1. "We ask that the DOJ maintain its existing marijuana policies because the State relied on those assurances in shaping our regulatory framework, and because existing policies appropriately focus federal efforts on federal interests," they said in the second letter, dated August 14.

Second Michigan Legalization Initiative Gets Okay for Signature Gathering. The state Board of Canvassers on Thursday approved a second marijuana legalization initiative for signature gathering. The initiative, from a group called Abrogate Prohibition Michigan, would end "all prohibitions on the use of cannabis in any form by any person" and specify that no taxes could be imposed. Another group, MI Legalize, is already halfway through the signature gathering phase for its initiative, which envisions legalization, taxation, and regulation.

Los Angeles Gets a Cannabis Czar. The city council voted on Wednesday to approve Cat Packer as executive director of the city's newly fashioned Department of Cannabis Regulation. Packer is a former Drug Policy Alliance state policy coordinator for California. She was also a campaign coordinator for Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, part of the Prop 64 campaign. She will be charged with rolling out regulations for legal marijuana in the city.

Harm Reduction

Washington King County Initiative to Ban Safe Injection Sites Likely Won't Make Ballot. A measure to ban safe injection sites in Seattle's suburban King County is unlikely to be on the November ballot. Petition organizers handed in sufficient signatures on time, but it took two weeks for the petitions to get from the King County Council clerk to King County Elections, so the initiative has missed an August 1 deadline to be certified for the ballot. It could go on the ballot in a February special election, but initiative sponsors say they fear it will be too late to prevent safe injection sites by then.

International

British Columbia Health Authorities Call for Revolutionary Approach to Opioid Crisis. The BC Center for Disease Control has issued a set of recommendations for dealing with opioid use and overdoses that includes providing users with drugs they can take home with them and allowing people to grow their own opium. The current approach to addiction is backwards, BCCDC Executive Medical Director Mark Tyndall told the Globe and News: "We strongly advise people to stop using street drugs, and if they can’t do that, then we offer them … Suboxone or methadone, and if that doesn’t work, we basically tell them to go and find their own drugs even though there is a very real possibility of dying,” he said. "What we should be doing – especially in an environment of a poisoned drug supply – is to start with access to uncontaminated drugs so at least people don’t die, then move on to substitution therapy and eventually recovery."

Medical Marijuana Update

NIH awards a grant to study marijuana and opioid addiction, the head of the NBA hints at a more relaxed approach to pot, Utah activists are ready to begin signature-gathering for a medical marijuana initiative, and more.

National

Last Wednesday, the NIH awarded a grant to study marijuana and opioid addiction. The National Institute of Health last week awarded a $3.8 million grant to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System to study the effects of medical marijuana on opioid use and addiction. The study will examine chronic pain patients suffering from HIV in hopes of developing rigorous evidence to back a growing number of anecdotal claims that marijuana can reduce the resort to opioid pain relievers and treat the associated pain.

On Sunday, the head of the NBA hinted at a new openness to examining medical marijuana. National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver, who has been a staunch foe of relaxing the league's marijuana policy, hinted on a recent trip to Israel that he may be changing his mind. When asked by a reporter about whether the NBA would follow the more pot-friendly NFL's lead, Silver responded thusly in remarks quoted by Uproxx: "I would say it's something we will look at," Silver said. "I'm very interested in the science when it comes to medical marijuana. My personal view is that it should be regulated in the same way that other medications are if the plan is to use it for pain management. And it's something that needs to be discussed with our Players Association, but to the extent that science demonstrates that there are effective uses for medical reasons, we'll be open to it. Hopefully there's not as much pain involved in our sport as some others, so there's not as much need for it."

Arkansas

Last Friday, state officials reported no grower or dispensary applications yet. With the state halfway through its application period for medical marijuana grow and dispensary licenses, state officials said that they had yet to receive any applications, but they weren't worried. "We are not concerned, as we understand the applications require detailed and specific information that will take time to complete," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told the Associated Press. "Applicants are likely performing their due diligence to provide quality applications." The deadline for applications is September 18.

Connecticut

Last Tuesday, a federal judge ruled a job applicant not hired because of medical marijuana can sue. A federal district court judge in New Haven ruled that a woman who was using medical marijuana in compliance with state law can sue an employer who rescinded her job offer after she tested positive for marijuana. The woman had previously disclosed her medical marijuana use and had quit her former job when, one day before she was supposed to begin her new job, the company notified her it was rescinding the offer. The ruling echoes one last month in Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, and may signal the beginning of judicial recognition of the employment rights of medical marijuana users.

Hawaii

Last Saturday, the state's first dispensary was temporarily shuttered by bureaucratic delays. Maui Grown Therapies, the state's first permitted medical marijuana dispensary, had to suspend sales just five days after opening due to supply issues because of delays at the Hawaii State Labs Division. The dispensary was set to begin sales to walk-in customers Monday, but now has to hold off until, it hopes, Wednesday.

Maryland

On Monday, regulators approved eight more cultivation licenses. The state's medical marijuana regulators on gave final approval for licenses for eight medical marijuana cultivation companies. Previously, only one grower had received a license. More growers are needed to provide product for the state's anticipated 102 dispensaries.

New York

Last Thursday, regulators proposed new regs to expand the medical marijuana program. The state Health Department has released new proposed regulations that would ease access to the program. Among the proposals are reducing security requirements for registered groups, shortening the length of the course doctors must take to be able to recommend medical marijuana, and allowing two more types of marijuana products to be sold.

Utah

Last Thursday, initiative backers got the okay to begin signature gathering. The Utah Patients Coalition has received permission from state officials to begin signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative. The group will need 113,000 valid voter signatures before April 15, 2018.

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format, visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: OR Defelonizes Drug Possession, Iran Could Cut Drug Executions, More... (8/16/17)

Oregon is the latest state to decriminalize drug possession, Iran moves to reduce drug trafficking executions, Philippines President Duterte cheers on cops killing drug suspects, and more.

We could see less of this if a bill in Iran's parliament wins final approval. (handsoffcain.net)
Marijuana Policy

Maine Legal Pot Sales Won't Meet February Deadline. The legislative committee tasked with implementing marijuana legalization finished its preliminary work Tuesday, but with the committee's recommendations still having to be turned into a draft bill to be debated by legislators, the agencies that will oversee the recreational market will not be able to meet a February deadline for opening pot shops, committee co-chair Sen. Roger Katz (R-Augusta) said.

Michigan Legalization Signature Gathering Campaign Passes Halfway Mark. MI Legalize, the folks behind the 2018 marijuana legalization initiative, announced Wednesday that they will pass the 200,000 mark on raw signatures next week. The campaign has set a goal of collecting 366,000 raw signatures to meet a state requirement of 252,523 valid voter signatures to qualify for the ballot. The campaign needs to gather its signatures within a six-month window and appears to be easily on track to do so.

Drug Policy

Oregon Becomes Latest State to Defelonize Drug Possession. Governor Kate Brown (D) signed into law on Tuesday a bill that defelonizes the possession of personal amounts of all drugs, including cocaine, heroin, and methamphetamine. Possession of small amounts will now be a misdemeanor. The new law takes effect immediately. [Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly described the law as decriminalizing drug possession.]

International

Iran Parliament Moves to Reduce Drug Executions. The Majlis on Sunday passed a long-discussed amendment to the country's drug laws that would limit imposition of the death penalty in drug trafficking cases to those involving more than 110 pounds of opium or more than 4.4 pounds of heroin, morphine, or cocaine. Iran carried out more than 500 executions last year, most of them for drug offenses, making it one of the world's leading executioners. An estimated 5,000 people are on death row for drug offenses in Iran, and the new law would save many of them from the gallows. But it's not a done deal yet: The measure still needs another parliamentary vote and then must be approved by the council of clerics.

Philippines Police Kill 32 in Drug Raids, Earn Praise from Duterte. In one of the bloodiest operations of a very bloody war on drug users, police killed 32 people on Monday in raids in Bulacan province. Police were doing a heck of a job, Duterte said in remarks reported by France 24 TV: "The ones who died recently in Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid, that was good," Duterte said. "If we could kill another 32 everyday, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country."

Belize Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Set for Parliament. An amendment to the country's Misuse of Drugs Act that would decriminalize the possession of up to 10 grams of marijuana is set to be filed in parliament on Friday, according to committee members and Solicitor General Nigel Hawke. The proposal has been in the works since 2015, when legal drafting got underway.

Chronicle AM: FDA Opens Public Comment on International Scheduling of New Drugs, More... (8/15/17)

It's the mid-August doldrums, but the FDA has opened public comment on whether and where to schedule a bunch of new drugs -- and CBD! -- under the international drug control treaties, the NBA's commissioner hints he's softening his stance on marijuana, and more.

A bunch of fentanyl analogs are among the new drugs -- and CBD! -- being considered for global scheduling. (Wikimedia)
Medical Marijuana

NBA Head Hints Openness to Examining Medical Marijuana. National Basketball Association (NBA) Commissioner Adam Silver, who has been a staunch foe of relaxing the league's marijuana policy, hinted on a recent trip to Israel that he may be changing his mind. When asked by a reporter about whether the NBA would follow the more pot-friendly NFL's lead, Silver responded thusly in remarks quoted by Uproxx: "I would say it's something we will look at," Silver said. "I'm very interested in the science when it comes to medical marijuana. My personal view is that it should be regulated in the same way that other medications are if the plan is to use it for pain management. And it's something that needs to be discussed with our Players Association, but to the extent that science demonstrates that there are effective uses for medical reasons, we'll be open to it. Hopefully there’s not as much pain involved in our sport as some others, so there’s not as much need for it."

Maryland Regulators Approve Eight More Cultivation Licenses. The state's medical marijuana regulators on Monday gave final approval for licenses for eight medical marijuana cultivation companies. Previously, only one grower had received a license. More growers are needed to provide product for the state's anticipated 102 dispensaries.

Drug Policy

FDA Opens Public Comment on New Drugs Considered for International Scheduling. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has published a notice in the Federal Register announcing a 30-day public comment period for persons or organizations wishing to weigh in on whether and where a number of unscheduled drugs should be included in the restrictive drug schedules of the 1971 Convention on Psychotropic Substances. The substances under consideration include several fentanyl analogs, some new psychoactive substances (AB-PINACA, AB-CHMINACA), pregabalin, tramadol, ketamine, and cannabidiol. You have until September 13 to file comments.

Chronicle AM: NIH Awards Grant to Study MedMJ and Opioids, Hawaii Dispensary Woes, More... (8/14/17)

The National Institute of Health is ready to see what impact medical marijuana can have on opioid use, Hawaii's first dispensary hits a (temporary) regulatory hurdle, human rights groups warn on the Philippines and Indonesia, and more.

Can medical marijuana help with chronic pain and reduce opioid dependence? NIH pays to find out. (Creative Commons)
Marijuana Policy

Marianas Islands Legalization Bill Refiled. Sen. Sixto Igisomar has refiled a marijuana legalization bill, Senate Bill 20-62. This version of the bill is not yet available on the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands legislative website, but last year's version is available here. The bill would not legalize marijuana by itself, but would allow a popular vote on the question: "Should the commonwealth legalize and regulate marijuana by approving the CNMI Cannabis Act of 2018?" If approved by a majority of voters, it would then become law.

Medical Marijuana

NIH Awards Grant to Study Marijuana and Opioid Addiction. The National Institute of Health last week awarded a $3.8 million grant to researchers at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System to study the effects of medical marijuana on opioid use and addiction. The study will examine chronic pain patients suffering from HIV in hopes of developing rigorous evidence to back a growing number of anecdotal claims that marijuana can reduce the resort to opioid pain relievers and treat the associated pain.

Hawaii's First Dispensary Temporarily Shuttered By Bureaucratic Delays. Maui Grown Therapies, the state's first permitted medical marijuana dispensary, had to suspend sales just five days after opening due to supply issues because of delays at the Hawaii State Labs Division. The dispensary was set to begin sales to walk-in customers Monday, but now has to hold off until, it hopes, Wednesday.

International

Is Indonesia Embracing Philippines-Style Drug War? Death Toll Mounts. Amnesty International has reported that at least 55 people have been killed under an apparent "shoot on sight" policy aimed at drug offenders in the archipelago. The victims were killed "without judicial process," the human rights group noted. President Joko Widodo and National Police Chief General Tito Karnavian have repeatedly expressed frustration with drug trafficking and what they call lenient punishment for them. On June 21, Widodo reiterated an earlier order for law enforcement to shoot drug dealers without compunction.

Human Rights Watch Says Philippines Drug Testing of College Students Threatens Their Safety. The Philippines Commission on Higher Education has approved a plan for mandatory drug testing of college students, but Human Rights Watch warns that "mandatory drug testing of students puts them in the crosshairs of Duterte's abusive drug war, risking the creation of school-to-cemetery track for students testing positive for drugs." The rights group also scored the plan because it allows police to "carry out any drug-related operation within the school premises," allowing "police to extend their anti-drug operations to colleges and university campuses, putting students at grave risk." More than 8,000 people have been killed since President Duterte unleashed his brutal crackdown last year.

Chronicle AM: CA Judge Rules for Growers, CT Judge Rules for Patient, More... (8/11/17)

Federal judges stuck up for California marijuana growers and a Connecticut medical marijuana patient, another Seattle suburb goes NIMBY on safe injection sites, and more.

Connecticut fed judge: Medical marijuana user denied job for positive drug test can sue. (Wikimedia.org)
Marijuana Policy

California Federal Judge Blocks Prosecution of Marijuana Growers. A federal district court judge in San Francisco ruled on Tuesday that federal prosecutors cannot move forward with their prosecution of two Humboldt County pot growers because the pair was in compliance with state laws. Judge Richard Seeborg held that the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment blocked such prosecutions, and the case is closed unless or until that amendment expires.

Nevada Opens Up Marijuana Distribution Rights. The state Department of Taxation concluded Thursday that there weren't enough liquor distributors who wanted to transport marijuana to pot shops and decided to open the business up to other potential distributors. "The capacity of only liquor wholesalers to serve the market seems lacking," said Deonne Contine, executive director of the tax department, in remarks reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal. "I think the evidence is fairly clear today that this market needs to be opened up," she said.

Medical Marijuana

Connecticut Federal Judge Rules Employee Not Hired Because of Medical Marijuana Can Sue. A federal district court judge in New Haven ruled on Tuesday that a woman who was using medical marijuana in compliance with state law can sue an employer who rescinded her job offer after she tested positive for marijuana. The woman had previously disclosed her medical marijuana use and had quit her former job when, one day before she was supposed to begin her new job, the company notified her it was rescinding the offer. The ruling echoes one last month in Maine's Supreme Judicial Court, and may signal the beginning of judicial recognition of the employment rights of medical marijuana users.

Arkansas Hasn't Seen Any Grow or Dispensary Applications Yet. With the state halfway through its application period for medical marijuana grow and dispensary licenses, state officials said Friday that they had yet to receive any applications, but they weren't worried. "We are not concerned, as we understand the applications require detailed and specific information that will take time to complete," Department of Finance and Administration spokesman Scott Hardin told the Associated Press. "Applicants are likely performing their due diligence to provide quality applications." The deadline for applications is September 18.

Harm Reduction

Another Seattle Suburb Rejects Safe Injection Sites. The city council in south suburban Federal Way voted Tuesday night to ban safe injection sites in the city. The vote comes after a King County task force recommended opening two safe injection sites in the county, which includes Seattle. Another Seattle suburb, Bellevue, approved a similar NIMBY ban just days ago. One safe injection is set for Seattle; the other is supposed to open in one of the suburbs.

Chronicle AM: Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids, More... (8/10/17)

The president says he will formally declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, Latino legislators embrace marijuana legalization, Utah medical marijuana supporters can begin signature-gathering for their initiative, and more.

The president will declare a national emergency on the opioid crisis, he said Thursday. (Wikimedia/Gage Skidmore)
Marijuana Policy

Latino State Legislators Call for Marijuana Legalization. The National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators adopted a resolution Wednesday calling for marijuana legalization. The group, which represents Latino legislators across the country, cited legalization's impact on reducing the black market and providing tax revenues, as well as the racist origins of marijuana prohibition.

Texas Bill to Reduce Pot Penalties Gets Hearing. The House Criminal Jurisprudence Committee held a hearing Wednesday on House Bill 334, which would decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana. The bill was introduced last month by committee Chairman Joe Moody (D-El Paso) for the legislature's special session. The bill would decriminalize someone's first three pot possession offenses, but prosecutors could charge a misdemeanor for a fourth offense. No vote was taken.

Medical Marijuana

New York Proposes Regs to Expand State's Medical Marijuana Program. The state Health Department has released new proposed regulations that would ease access to the program. Among the proposals are reducing security requirements for registered groups, shortening the length of the course doctors must take to be able to recommend medical marijuana, and allowing two more types of marijuana products to be sold.

Utah Initiative Backers Get Okay to Begin Signature Gathering. The Utah Patients Coalition has received permission from state officials to begin signature gathering for their medical marijuana initiative. The group will need 113,000 valid voter signatures before April 15, 2018.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Says He Will Declare National Emergency on Opioids. President Trump said on Thursday that the opioid epidemic is a national emergency and that he will act to officially declare it so. "The opioid crisis is an emergency and I'm saying officially right now it is an emergency," Trump said in remarks reported by Reuters. "We're going to draw it up and we're going to make it a national emergency. It is a serious problem, the likes of which we have never had." Trump's announcement comes a week after a White House commission on the opioid crisis urged him to declare a national emergency. The move could free up more resources to fight the overdose epidemic and give the government more flexibility to deal with the crisis.

Asset Forfeiture

Pair of Congressmen Urge Sessions to Reconsider on Asset Forfeiture. US Reps. John Conyers (D-MI) and Jim Sensenbrenner (R-WI) have sent a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions objecting to his plan to expand the Justice Department's civil asset forfeiture program. "I am deeply disappointed by the Justice Department's recent move to reverse its ban on adoptive seizures," said Conyers in a statement. "The prior policy, which was instituted in January of 2015, greatly curtailed this practice, which provides financial incentives for law enforcement to seize the property -- including the homes -- of individuals who may not even be guilty of a crime. I call on Senator Sessions to withdraw the new policy, which is contrary to the growing bipartisan effort to reform our civil forfeiture laws and practices. Indeed, the time has come for Congress to enact the DUE PROCESS Act, a bipartisan bill to significantly alter these laws and increase protections for innocent property owners."

Medical Marijuana Update

Interest in the medical marijuana industry is high in North Dakota, Hawaii gets its first (and second) dispensaries, New Jersey ponders expanding qualifying conditions, and more.

Hawaii

On Tuesday, the state got its first dispensary. Maui Grown Therapies opened for business on in Kahului. It's the first dispensary in the state to be permitted and open its doors. The store was only open for a couple of hours Tuesday, with the owners saying they were doing a "soft opening." A second dispensary, Aloha Green, was set to open in Oahu on Wednesday.

Indiana

On Monday, a Republican lawmaker said he plans to file a medical marijuana bill to fight opioid overdoses. State Rep. Jim Lucas (R-Seymour) says he plans to file a medical marijuana bill in a bid to combat opioid abuse. He said he was acting after hearing from constituents. "People telling me their personal stories, how they've been helped by this product, how far behind Indiana is on this issue," he told the Indianapolis Star. "That right there, we have a responsibility to at least investigate it and determine the facts, and if there is something positive out there, we have to pursue that."

New Jersey

Last Thursday, a panel advised expanding the list of qualifying conditions. The state's Medicinal Marijuana Review Panel said it was ready to approve 43 more qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana. Among them are chronic pain, migraines, anxiety, opiate-use disorder, arthritis, Alzheimer's disease, autism, and Tourette syndrome. But it's not a done deal yet -- there's a two month public comment period now, and the state health commissioner makes the final decision, after that.

North Dakota

Last Wednesday, state officials reported heavy interest in the medical marijuana industry. The Health Department's medical marijuana division  reported that it has received 97 nonbinding letters of intent from potential medical marijuana producers. The level of interest exceeded the division's expectations, and should mean that all areas of the state will have dispensaries, the division predicted. The Health Department is looking to name final selections by November, and is eyeing a late spring or early summer timeline for dispensary sales to begin.

Texas

On Monday, a state senator was hoping to see his medical marijuana bill move during the special session. State Sen. Jose Menendez (D-San Antonio) Senate Bill 79 last year, but it hoping it will be taken up during the legislature's special session, which still has 10 days left. Under current law, only people suffering from intractable epilepsy can use medical marijuana. This bill would expand the list of qualifying conditions to include PTSD, cancer, traumatic brain injury, and other "debilitating conditions."

[For extensive information about the medical marijuana debate, presented in a neutral format visit MedicalMarijuana.ProCon.org.]

Chronicle AM: Trump Wants More Drug War to Fight Opioids, New Pot Poll, More... (8/9/17)

A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at a record high, Trump calls for a return to tough drug war policies to fight opioids, Hawaii gets its first dispensary, and more.

#WINNING in the polls.
Marijuana Policy

Quinnipiac Poll Has Record 61% for Legalization. A new Quinnipiac poll has support for marijuana legalization at 61%, the highest figure ever reported by Quinnipiac and up two points since February. Support was above 50% for all demographic groups except Republicans (37%) and people over 65 (42%). The poll also found that fully three-quarters (75%) of respondents thought the federal government should not enforce federal marijuana laws in states where it is legal. Support for medical marijuana was even higher a near-unanimous 94%.

Medical Marijuana

Hawaii Gets First Dispensary. Maui Grown Therapies opened for business on Tuesday in Kahului. It's the first dispensary in the state to be permitted and open its doors. The store was only open for a couple of hours Tuesday, with the owners saying they were doing a "soft opening." A second dispensary, Aloha Green, was set to open in Oahu on Wednesday.

Heroin and Prescription Opioids

Trump Wants More Drug War, But No State of Emergency for Opioid Crisis. President Trump said Tuesday that a stronger law enforcement is necessary to fight the opioid crisis and criticized the Obama administration for prosecuting fewer drug offenders. He also critically highlighted shorter average sentences for drug offenders under Obama and advocated for abstinence-based drug treatment. But he did not act on a recommendation from his opioid panel headed by New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) that he declare a national state of emergency.

Harm Reduction

Seattle Suburb Votes to Ban Safe Injection Sites. The Bellevue City Council voted Monday night to ban safe injection sites even though none had been proposed for the city, the second-largest in Kings County after Seattle. Members said the vote was driven by fears the site could hurt development of a homeless center now being planned. But it is also a sign of broader objections to such facilities in the area and comes after the Metropolitan King County Council voted in July not to spend money setting up sites unless a locale's elected officials first approved it. Safe injection supporters said that vote effectively kills any sites outside the city of Seattle.

International

Tillerson Offers to Help Duterte Fight Drugs -- If Philippines Leader Changes Tactics. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday and told him the US would provide anti-drug assistance if he would rein in his brutal tactics. Tillerson obliquely noted harsh criticisms of the Philippines' bloody drug war by human rights groups and others and suggested the US could help find more suitable tactics. Duterte was noncommittal.

Why Are Pot Shops Mainly in Poor Neighborhoods?

Recreational marijuana retail sales outlets are disproportionately located in poor neighborhoods. That's what the industry journal Marijuana Business Daily found when it recently analyzed the their distribution in two of the first major cities to host legal pot shops.

Herbs4You marijuana shop, Denver. (Wikimedia)
In Seattle, the Daily found that 40% of pot shops were in zip codes where the average income was in the bottom 25th percentile. In Denver, the trend was even more pronounced, with nearly 45% of the stores located in the poorest neighborhoods.

Those zip codes account for 26% of the population in Seattle and 27% in Denver, so it's not that retailers are simply going where the people are. And there's no evidence it's some nefarious plot to target poor residents for stupefaction.

So what's behind the trend? According to the Daily, part of the answer is the initial reluctance by property owners to get involved with a business still federally illegal. And landlords with properties in middle- or upper-class neighborhoods could appeal to more upscale tenants outside the marijuana business, leaving tenant-hungry property owners in poorer areas more amendable to filling vacancies even with more potential risky businesses.

"That's where the retail space was available," cannabis entrepreneur and Dank dispensary owner Greg Gamet told the Daily. "Landlords had a hard time renting properties in these areas previously… they're more apt to rent these when there's no renters."

And poorer areas were cheaper and easier to do business in. Where times are tough, the flame of NIMBYism flickers less brightly. Low-income neighborhoods generally didn't protest the arrival of pot shops, which meant jobs and economic development, and they didn't place as many regulatory hurdles as more well-off areas.

Low-income neighborhoods also mean lower rents. And lower rents meant higher profit margins compared to pot shops in tonier parts of town, a critical factor in consolidating one's position in the early days of the highly competitive legal weed business.

But the phenomenon of pot stores being overrepresented in poor neighborhoods may prove ephemeral, in part because of the very economic success of the shopkeepers and in part because the stigma around marijuana is eroding and the revenue flows are enticing, even for hard-eyed businessmen with valuable real estate assets.

"Moving forward," the Daily predicts, "major cities in markets that legalized recreational marijuana after Colorado and Washington state -- like Boston and Portland, Oregon -- are less likely to see clusters of retail marijuana stores in low-income neighborhoods."

For better or worse.

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