The Sky Hasn’t Fallen In Colorado

Alex Altman checks in on the state of the state post-legalization:

It seems inevitable that some problems will materialize. Supporters of Colorado’s marijuana industry fret about heavy taxes and high prices, the potential of dwindling supply, overregulation, and the specter of intervention from the federal government. A car accident involving a stoned driver, use by minors or pot tourists carrying their product across state lines could all tarnish the rollout. Then there is the biggest concern: a lack of access to banking services that has forced legal pot businesses to operate mostly in cash, both a legal and safety hazard. “We’re not going to get it 100% right the first time,” [implementation task force member Sam Kamin] cautions.

But a few days into Colorado’s big experiment, there are few, if any, major failures to point to.

Bruce Barcott peers into the future:

Marijuana today is a craft-scale industry. It may not stay that way very long. Bigger players are waiting in the wings.

 In the past year, Allen St. Pierre, executive director of NORML, the nation’s biggest marijuana-­advocacy group, has met half a dozen times with representatives of the beer, wine and liquor industries. They’ve talked about the coming legalization of marijuana and what it will mean for the sector of what St. Pierre calls “problematic adult commerce.” The NORML leader didn’t ask for those meetings. The booze people came to him.

It’s easy to assume that Big Tobacco and Big Alcohol are licking their chops at the emerging marijuana industry, waiting for their chance to scoop up a massive share of the market. In truth, it’s not that simple. Tobacco, St. Pierre tells me, has production and distribution channels that could easily absorb cannabis. “But they don’t have the Dionysian background,” he says. “The alcohol guys, they’re in the pleasure business. They know how that works.”

Beer companies are the most likely first movers. Beer sales have been slipping in recent decades, as more Americans move up to wine or cocktails. Their customer seeks an inexpensive, low-level buzz. Here’s one way to think about it: At the end of the week, the beer consumer has 20 bucks in his pocket. He can spend that all on beer, or maybe he buys a six-pack and a gram of pot. “I think they’ll be happy to sell you both,” says St. Pierre.

Alcohol companies also have excellent working relationships with state lawmakers and regulators. That’s no small thing. Legalization rides on the growing belief that marijuana should be treated like alcohol, not like heroin or cocaine. For the feds to go along with these pilot projects, they need assurance that state officials can turn pot into a product as tightly regulated as beer or wine.