Convincing arguments on both sides of the pot legalization issue were presented last Thursday at the Chamber’s regular board meeting. The Chamber is anticipating that the issue of whether to legalize the substance will again rear its head during the impending legislative session and provided for the board, an opportunity to get educated on the issue in advance of taking a position.
Our panelists for last Thursday's board meeting at the GACC.
Dan Anglin, Chairman of the Cannabis Chamber of Commerce and CEO of Americanna, Frank Falconer, Owner/Director of Denver Consulting Group, Kevin Sabet, Director, Drug Policy Institute and Professor of Florida College of Medicine, Division of Addiction, Paul Romo, Addiction Psychiatrist, UNM department of Psychiatry and Lewis Koski, Deputy Senior Director of Enforcement, Colorado Department of Revenue participated in an hour-long discussion moderated by Chamber Chair-elect, Meg Meister.
Recent polls show more than half of Americans favor legalization and, according to a CNN Newswire story from last week, sales of the substance in Colorado could reach $1.3 billion by year end with an estimated total economic impact of $3 billion.
Anglin, whose company, Americanna, is the largest manufacturer of edibles in the world with about 150,000 servings per week going out into the regulated marketplace. At the time the legalization issue was working its way through the Colorado legislature, Anglin said he was a contract lobbyist working on behalf of healthcare and firearms policy and not involved in the marijuana industry. But after Colorado Amendment 64 was approved by voters, Anglin among the supporters, he said was very quickly intrigued and became involved with the process to figure out how to regulate it. “I knew the only way this industry was going to survive was to embrace strict regulation,” he said.
Anglin said that those in his industry with “privileged occupational licenses” to sell the product “have a lot to lose.” Anglin contended that his company is committed to producing a product for consumption by adults that is thoroughly tested, accurately dosed and safely packaged to prevent accidental use by children. “For us, it’s a business,” he said. “We’re trying to build a brand.”
Despite Anglin’s commitment and adherence to the strict regulatory environment as well as the impressive economic numbers emerging in Colorado, Dr. Sabet said legalization is a bad idea, not only for youth but for the “pre-age 30 brain.” According to Sabet, the negative outcomes from marijuana extend beyond the physical. “We might be hearing all these great numbers, billions of dollars…but no one is counting the costs,” he said. As it pertains to alcohol and tobacco, Sabet said that for every $1 dollar in revenue, there are $10 dollars in social costs. “Do we really want to repeat the same mistakes of big tobacco that we went through for the last 100 years?”
Sabet cautioned that businesses in Colorado and Washington, where recreational cannabis use is allowed, employers experience workplace expenses above the national average.
He added, though, that there is a false dichotomy that exists. He said people either believe they have to be for legalization or for criminalization/incarceration. Sabet suggests neither as an absolute and supports more of an “education/treatment approach.”
Both sides agreed the issue is complex. Koski, whose department oversees and enforces the regulatory environment, likened the evolving regulatory environment to “build(ing) the airplane while you’re in flight.” Koski said that despite differing opinions, once the will of the voters had been established and marijuana was legalized, the state went to work on building a task force that would establish its governing regulations. It was “no longer about whether we’ll legalize, but how to put together good policy,” he said. He added, “we can never let our guard down about how drug (marijuana) use affects youth."
Despite legalization, Sabet said there’s a thriving black market for the drug. It’s driven by those who want to avoid the more-expensive, regulated-market product or who are not yet old enough to purchase legally.
UNM’s Dr. Romo called marijuana legalization “a tricky area.” He touched on a number of potential issues with legalization and there is a common misperception that cannabis is completely safe. A top concern for Dr. Romo was the lack of information on the product’s intensity or potency. He said the medical community is seeing patterns emerge. “If a person is exposed to these concentrated cannabis products at an early age, if they’re using more frequently and if the doses are high, there’s a bigger association with psychosis…”
According to Sabet, cannabis used during Woodstock had a THC (tetrahydrocannabinol, the principal psychoactive constituent of cannabis) potency of 3-4%; the average potency of THC commonly seen today by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) is 13-14%.
As New Mexico again prepares to grapple with whether to legalize, Anglin had a word of advice, “(Don’t) try to reinvent the wheel. Colorado has done a good job and has been involved in the regulatory environment since 2009."
To read more about our board meeting debate, check out the Albuquerque Journal article here.