Normalizing Recreational Marijuana: These Are Interesting Times.

Marijuana is a burgeoning industry and over the next couple months, we expect to see recreational marijuana legalized in Oregon, Alaska, and then probably Washington D.C.

We’ve written about Oregon’s new approach to legalization and how our country needs something similar. Both Oregon and Alaska will vote on recreational marijuana in November and we expect them both to pass. It is time for recreational marijuana to be a normal part of conversation. It’s the hot topic for investment and business, why not also in every day life? Rand Corporation recently posted an article about legalization, telling its readers that “marijuana is in the news and you should get used to it.” States are not only in the news because of legalization, but also for the methods they are employing to accomplish that task.

Colorado and Washington have presented their own slightly different routes to legalizing and regulating recreational marijuana. Oregon’s New Approach initiative has a different philosophy and plan than either Colorado or Washington regarding how to handle driving under the influence of intoxicants. Oregon’s initiative acknowledges the difference between having THC in one’s blood and being “affected to a noticeable degree.” In Washington, I-502 establishes that any driver whose blood contains five or more nanograms of THC per milliliter is guilty of DUID.

Alaska’s legalization initiative presents a tax structure very different from either Colorado or Washington. Alaska plans on taxing marijuana growers $50 per ounce, similar to the way alcohol is taxed based on volume. However the tax does not change based upon the strength of weed, unlike the alcohol tax which is different for hard liquor versus beer. Forbes points out that by creating a flat fee tax, growers will be incentivized to increase the potency of cannabis so as to reduce its volume.

As the legalization of recreational marijuana moves forward, policy makers will need to make all sorts of complicated decisions regarding marijuana regulations and tax structures. Rand Corp’s article serves as a good reminder to state leaders: “Recognize that the Colorado and Washington approach of ‘regulating marijuana like alcohol’ is only one alternative to marijuana prohibition. There is a lot of policy space between the extremes of prohibition and a commercialized industry.” Just as it has on so many issues, our federalized system will likely lead to continuing innovation and experimentation regarding marijuana regulation, with an eventual coalescing around the regulations that work best.

These are interesting times.