It’s 2019 and marijuana is now recreationally legal in Canada and across 10 states in the US.
And it appears allowing adults to legally purchase and consume cannabis is big business.
According to The State of Legal Marijuana Markets report, Canadians spent $A2.28 billion on legal weed in 2018, with the Colorado Department of Revenue saying the state’s regulated pot industry has generated more than $A8.5 billion in sales since legal recreational marijuana sales began in 2014.
Investment strategist Mark Bernberg said Australia was losing billions of dollars of potential tax revenue from legal marijuana, questioning why it’s not being addressed on the election campaign.
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“It’s a product very much like alcohol and gambling that’s recession proof because it’s a product of recreational consumption for adults,” he told nine.com.au.
The said taxes from regulated marijuana sales in Colorado, which include licenses and fees from dispensaries, exceeded $A380 million in 2018 — up nearly 8 per cent compared to the year prior.
To date, the state’s marijuana taxes since recreational sales started have generated more than $A1.3 billion in tax revenue.
“Colorado’s state government’s $1b in tax is not an insignificant number, with that money poured back into social support and upgrading schools, parks and public infrastructure,” he said.
Mr Bernberg said in addition to attracting new sources of tax revenue, the legalisation of weed would also reduce the amount of money spent fighting the war on drugs.
Currently NSW’s “intelligence-based” and taxpayer-funded drug dog operations cost an estimated minimum of $1100 per hour and target train stations, bowling clubs and school formals.
The Institute of Public Affairs Criminal Justice Project also estimates a cost of $110,000 to imprison someone for a single year in Australia, with cannabis related crimes accounting for a portion of people currently in the country’s jail system.
“There would be a significant benefit to the government and community with the surplus of funds previously spent arresting and imprisoning people using cannabis freed up to be spent elsewhere.”
“That money could go to helping people who actually have a substance abuse problem.”
JOBS, JOBS, JOBS
Legal marijuana has become the fastest-growing industry in America, with a report compiled by Whitney Economics claiming a 44 per cent increase in jobs in 2018, with 64,389 new positions created last year alone. The report estimates there are now 296,000 pot-related jobs in the country.
“It’s not just people working in cultivation and bud tenders – people that work in dispensaries – who benefit from legal weed,” Mr Bernberg said.
“A cannabis company is like any other business. There would be management positions, cultivators, biochemists, research teams, accounting teams and legal teams.
“There has been a huge demand for a skilled workforce to create high-level THC products indoors.”
EVEN WALL STREET IS COMING ON BOARD
The commercial world of legal marijuana is extending past retail workers and farmers, with Wall Street seeing an influx in cannabis related stocks.
“Pot stocks as they are affectionally known can dominate the market because they can have such hyperbolic growth periods,” Mr Bernberg said.
“They are very similar to crypto growth periods, except in this case they don’t come crashing down. They are only going to keep growing because it’s an industry that keeps growing.”
Publicly traded cannabis companies have reported strong sales since Canada and several US states legalised recreational marijuana.
The largest cannabis grower in the world by market cap, Canopy Growth, earned more than $A102m in gross recreational sales during its last quarter.
Corona owner Constellation Brands has a 35 per cent stake in the company, while Marlboro-owner Altria and Budweiser owner AB InBev are also working in the newly legal cannabis sector.
HSBC previously admitted not owning cannabis stocks hurt its performance in its Annual Management Report of Fund Performance.
POT TOURISM IS BOOMING
Cannabis tourism has grown 51 per cent since 2014 in Colorado alone, according to a report from the state’s department of revenue.
The report said state attracted some 6.5 million cannabis tourists, which attributed to some of the $A8.5 billion in sales since legal recreational marijuana sales begun in 2014 – the revenue doesn’t include other money spent across the city by tourists flocking for the weed trade.
“While you have the status quo with different rules on legality of cannabis use, you’re going to have a migration of people to where it’s legal,” he said.
“Now hotels popping up that promote consumption and in the mini bar next to bottles of booze, guests are offered THC gummy bears in childproof packets.”
WHAT ABOUT THE NEGATIVE HEALTH IMPACTS?
The Australian Medical Association said cannabis can be harmful and it supports evidence-based trials for the use of medical cannabis and believes use “should be seen primarily as a health issue and not as a matter for law enforcement”.
“The AMA acknowledges that cannabis use is harmful and can lead to adverse chronic health outcomes, including dependence, withdrawal symptoms, early onset psychosis, and the exacerbation of pre-existing psychotic symptoms,” a spokeswoman told nine.com.au.
“The most appropriate response to cannabis use should give priority to policies, programs and regulatory approaches that reduce the harms potentially associated with cannabis use, and particularly the health-related harms.”
In 2017, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine completed the world’s most comprehensive study into marijuana, examining more than 10,000 scientific abstracts dating back to 1999.
The extensive 395-page report unearthed more than 100 conclusions about the health effects of recreational and therapeutic cannabis use. The nature of the relationship between cannabis and psychiatric disorders has been hotly debated for decades, with the report confirming it does have risks.
“Cannabis use is likely to increase the risk of developing schizophrenia and other psychoses; the higher the use the greater the risk,” the report read. However, research found smoking weed did not appear to increase the likelihood of developing depression, anxiety or PTSD. It also addressed the risk of cancer from smoking.
“The evidence suggests that smoking cannabis does not increase the risk for certain cancers (i.e., lung, head, and neck) in adults,” it read.
And while it did admit smoking cannabis on a regular basis is associated with chronic cough and phlegm production, it explained consuming drug orally will likely reduce these symptoms.
The report also confirmed the many therapeutic effects of weed.
“In adults with chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, oral cannabinoids are effective antiemetics,” the report read.
“In adults with chronic pain, patients who were treated with cannabis or cannabinoids are more likely to experience a clinically significant reduction in pain symptoms.
“In adults with multiple sclerosis (MS)-related spasticity, short-term use of oral cannabinoids improves patient reported spasticity symptoms.”
Smoking weed was also proved to help athletic performance as it deepens concentration, increases tissue oxygenation, and decreases muscle spasms before, during and after exercise.
WHAT VIEW AUSTRALIA’S POLITICAL PARTIES HOLD
Australia is slowly taking steps to change its stance on weed, with Victoria becoming the first state to legalise marijuana for young children suffering from epilepsy, while NSW also allows use for patients suffering from serious illnesses such as cancer or multiple sclerosis.
Queensland’s laws are the most flexible in the country, which grant patients of any age or suffering from a range of illnesses access to medicinal cannabis products.
Tasmania allows medical cannabis in limited circumstances where conventional treatment has been unsuccessful, as does Western Australia, South Australia, the NT and the ACT.
The Greens are the only political party to be pushing to make cannabis recreationally legal, with Labor and the LNP only showing support for medical marijuana at a federal level.
However, a bill for the legalisation of cannabis in the ACT is currently before the territory’s legislative assembly, with support from both Greens and Labor.
The Liberal Democrats also support legalisation, with Senator Leyonhjelm’s main argument against the prohibition of cannabis being “adults should be free to make their own choices as long as they do not harm others”.