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Economics is Impetus in Pot Legalization in States

Entrepreneurs, investors, farmers, retailers, criminal justice reformers and state treasuries all stand to gain from at least three significant recreational cannabis legalization trends that will emerge out of ballot initiatives by the end of the 2016 election cycle.

Trend One: Above all, stakeholders in the anti-prohibition movement should be overjoyed to see states east of the Rocky Mountains, like Massachusetts and Maine, finally join the total legalization movement launched out West, (with a most respectful tip of the hat to the successful Ballot Initiative 71 campaign victory last year in the District of Columbia that still unfortunately must navigate an obstructionist Congress). Legalization in Massachusetts will trigger a chain reaction in the Northeast.

Trend Two: Some of the euphoria ahead of next year’s anticipated voter-driven efforts should be focused on ending marijuana prohibition in the bread basket which is led by agriculture-rich Missouri, another of the states with a solid grassroots campaign.

Trend Three: Certainly not to be overlooked will be a third breakthrough, the so-called “Red States” in the Lower 48, starting with Arizona (and again Missouri) as they challenge the conservative establishment next year.

The recreational voter initiative in California next year will get most of the mainstream media attention. The story isn’t that the Golden State is finally going to tap into the Green Rush; the story really is what took them so long.

After all, this is a state that legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and four decades ago disrupted the shake-filled, seeds-and-stems, dirt weed market from south of the border by producing dense, sticky green nuggets glistening with potent tetrahydrocannabinol in the forests of Northern California’s “Emerald Triangle.”

So California will find itself riding the third wave of voter-driven recreational mandates, late by its cutting-edge standards. Therein lies a new, somewhat unanticipated, but very significant timing hurdle to overcome: this decade’s weather report.

The Western drought legitimately will become a powerful wedge issue for anti-legalization forces and their newly recruited allies from other agriculture and fishing industries, who will argue they need the water more than pot growers do. Water-sucking almonds aside, harvesting food over marijuana and protecting fisheries will be a tough argument to win, though not an impossible feat to pull off.

The pro-legalization side will have to make a stronger case that a legal, regulated marijuana industry will do more to conserve and protect resources that the illegal underground growers, who now callously siphon off millions of gallons of water. Along with California, cannabis reformers should prepare for this same campaign in equally parched Arizona and Nevada.

Anti-prohibition activists will also need to drive home the point that legalized weed creates new tax revenue for states, along with the additional savings that emptying the jails of non-violent drug offenders will provide. It would also help to point out that legalization will curb some of the illegal border-crossings from Mexico and neutralize some of the violent drug cartels.

Two other states that might have been expected to vote to legalize earlier are also likely to come onboard next year. First, Hawaii, which like California was branded decades ago as a state where potent marijuana was chronic, will finally harness the power of its cash crop. The other state that is likely to end prohibition is Nevada, where a guilt-free, sin-tax lifestyle is measured by state-regulated gambling and prostitution.

Other states that simply need the revenue, like Ohio, are also flirting with a full legalization initiative in 2016 (but first the Buckeye State must defeat the threat from a proposed corporate-sponsored initiative this year that would create a marijuana monopoly, curbing free enterprise and excluding family farmers and small businesses).

There is also a reverse trend of the “the dominoes won’t soon fall here” in play that will maintain the status quo in the Deep South. Those states simply refuse to give serious consideration to legalizing recreational cannabis, despite their long growing seasons, fertile soil and a history of harboring a rebellious underground culture of unregulated moonshine and stock car racing.

So expect much of Dixie to allow the black market to grow and distribute the goods to marijuana consumers, instead of cashing in on the windfall. Odds are that states like Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana will be among the last to just say yes.