5 Key Challenges of Legalizing Marijuana

Medical marijuana laws have been on the books for years in several states, but recent developments in Colorado and Washington State change how the drug is viewed legally. And though legalization of recreational marijuana is just months old in these states, the changes in legal designation are already influencing social perception related to the drug.

As other states consider relaxing criminal standards and legalizing recreational marijuana use, several challenges come to light, including these potential obstacles to pursuing the change.

Regulation and Enforcement

Colorado had existing medical marijuana regulatory structures in place before making their move to legalize recreational use. As a result, accommodating the new laws involved revising a pre-existing infrastructure, rather than starting from square one. States considering legalization without existing structures face higher hurdles implementing legal marijuana laws, including regulation and enforcement concerns.

Tax revenue, for example, is an essential feature of bringing marijuana production and distribution into the public domain, so accommodations must be made to process revenues and enforce tax laws tied to legal marijuana sales. Success relies on compliance from producers and sellers, requiring dedicated tax codes for a variety of situations. And production must be regulated, in order to control the market and capture tax benefits at every level of the marijuana supply chain.

Legalization is Unprecedented

Though laws are now on the books in some areas, legalized marijuana still operates in uncharted territory. There is little data supporting the efficacy of such laws, and no track record of references to call on for validation. As a result, the risk for unintended consequences remains high for legal marijuana laws, which have not yet proven their merits. Social attitudes toward the drug will ultimate change as legal pot continues to proliferate, potentially leading to a host of unintended social shifts. While outcomes might be positive, there is simply not enough information available to confidently project success.

Access for Minors

Though in its infancy, there is anecdotal evidence pointing to problems with minors and marijuana, as a result of Colorado’s legalization initiative. According to observers, the prevalence of marijuana in schools is on the rise. More alarmingly, however, is the trend of increasingly younger students bringing the drug to school, impacting middle school students in higher numbers than those seen before legalization. Though statistical confirmation is not presently available, the observed trend underscores a potential negative consequence of legalizing pot.

Black Market Remains

It is naïve to think a once illegally traded drug will automatically come completely above board due to legalization. As long as black market marijuana remains affordable, buyers and growers will continue to do business underground. In Colorado, for example, taxes and licensing push marijuana costs higher than black market rates, adding incentives for illicit trade.

Inconsistent Federal and State Laws

The ramifications of putting-forth incongruent state and federal pot laws are as yet unknown. Though the Federal Government has not made an effort to challenge state rights on the issue, marijuana use and possession remain illegal according to federal laws. As a result, banks will not process funds associated with the sale of marijuana in Colorado and Washington. Dispensaries there operate as all-cash businesses, which itself opens the door to tax fraud and unsavory conduct. In addition to the potential for fraud, operators handle and transport large amounts of cash, putting them at risk from opportunistic criminals seeking to cash-in on the unusual circumstances.

Legalization experiments in western states return a mixed-bag of results, based on data gleaned from relatively short-term observation. So while the effort has not been a clear failure, it is also too soon to qualify legalized marijuana as an unmitigated success. For other states moving toward legalization, continued analysis is required to address and overcome key challenges noted above.


Daphne Holmes contributed this guest post. She is a writer from http://www.arrestrecords.com and you can reach her at daphneholmes9@gmail.com.