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mexico united states border

Limited U.S. Legalization Continues To Hurt Cartels In Mexico

Historically, the United States has served as the largest cannabis market on earth, and for many decades that market was completely illegal. These days, medical and/or adult-use cannabis dispensaries are located in a growing number of states, although cannabis still remains illegal at the federal level. The rising number of state-legal outlets in the U.S. is having a direct, negative impact on cartels in Mexico according to a new report from U.S. Congressional researchers.

Throughout prohibition in the U.S. cannabis smuggled into the country from Mexico largely supplied the unregulated U.S. market. Having lived my entire life on the West Coast of the U.S., and consuming cannabis for nearly 3 decades now, I can personally attest that ‘brickweed’ from Mexico was once very common around here. That is no longer the case.

The Rise Of Safe Access

Cartels in Mexico benefitted greatly from cannabis prohibition in the United States. The cannabis that they smuggled into the United States was awful and was presumably contaminated with all kinds of nasty stuff. Unfortunately, for many consumers and patients, it was all that was available. That started to change drastically in 1996 when California became the first state to legalize cannabis for medical use in the U.S.

Once California passed a medical cannabis measure, it opened the floodgates to other states following suit, almost all of which created safe, legal access to cannabis in some manner. Every dispensary and delivery service that opened up at the state level, especially in the Western United States, diverted money to state-licensed cannabis outlets that would have otherwise likely gone to cartel operations.

The shift in consumer purchasing habits further accelerated in 2014 when Colorado and Washington State launched adult-use cannabis sales. With state medical programs, patients had to be registered in order to frequent dispensaries. Now that consumers of legal age from all over the country (and the world for that matter) can make legal purchases of regulated products through licensed outlets there’s literally no good reason for people to ever purchase cartel cannabis ever again, hence the drop in cannabis revenue for cartels.

Proof Of Concept

Many valid reasons exist regarding why cannabis should be legalized, with a popular one being to defund cartels. Cartels have caused so much misery over so many years, and any dollar that can be prevented from going their way is always a good thing. Legalization in the United States is proving to be extremely successful on that front, as demonstrated by the latest Congressional report.

Cartels still smuggle cannabis into the U.S., and still set up illegal grows on public lands in the U.S. However, that business model is becoming less viable with every passing year as consumers continue to migrate towards legal options. Imagine when cannabis is legal nationwide in the United States. Obviously, once all consumers and patients in every state can go the legal route, there will be no room for cartel cannabis in the country, assuming that regulations are sensible and prices are at least somewhat competitive.

Just as legalization will continue to succeed in the United States, so too will it succeed elsewhere, and in the process, eliminate cartel cannabis worldwide. When cannabis is illegal, cartels will fill the void. After all, consumers and patients don’t refrain from consuming cannabis just because it is illegal. They will continue to seek out sources for cannabis, and cartels will always be willing to meet the demand. The more that the legal cannabis industry is allowed to operate the more it can directly address the cartel cannabis issue, and when that happens, everyone wins (except for the cartels).

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Canadian currency money

Researchers Identify Two Main Motivating Factors Behind Unregulated Cannabis Purchases

Legal cannabis is spreading across the planet, and with it, purchasing freedoms for some consumers. Yet, the unregulated market still exists even where cannabis can be purchased legally. Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario recently examined the factors that motivate a consumer or patient to purchase unregulated cannabis versus regulated cannabis in North America in an attempt to understand why the unregulated market still exists in Canada despite legalization, and to a lesser extent, the United States.

By human history standards, cannabis prohibition is a relatively new thing. After all, cannabis is not a new plant and humans have used it for medical and recreational purposes for centuries. It wasn’t until the last century that political forces prohibited it. Fortunately, three countries have now legalized cannabis for adult use – Uruguay, Canada, and Malta. Cannabis can be legally acquired in some form in Uruguay and Canada, and soon, Malta.

Out of the three countries, Canada has the most robust industry model. Cannabis consumers of legal age from anywhere around the planet can come to Canada and make a legal purchase through a storefront dispensary, through the mail, and/or through delivery services. Similar options have existed in the U.S. at the state level for many years. Researchers have kept a close eye on North America as the ‘cannabis experiment’ has continued to roll out, including researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

Motivating Factors

The average cannabis consumer is more sophisticated now than arguably any other time in human history, and that is largely due to the options available to them, particularly in Canada. Some consumers want to smoke cannabis flower, some want to vaporize it, and still, many others prefer smokeless forms of cannabis such as edibles and topicals.

Regulated industries boost the options for patients and consumers. I live in a legal jurisdiction, and the different types of cannabis products and consumption methods are exponentially greater now compared to when there was no regulated market With that being said, the unregulated market still exists where I live, albeit at a much lower level than before legalization.

Researchers at the University of Waterloo in Ontario looked at consumer data from 2019 and 2020. The data was compiled as part of the annual International Cannabis Policy Study. Survey data asked consumers about their purchasing habits over the past 12 months, and when they indicated that they purchased cannabis from an unregulated source they were provided a list of reasons to select from regarding what motivated the unregulated purchase.

“‘Legal sources had higher prices’ was the number-one answer in Canada in both years (35.9% in 2019, 34.6% in 2020) as well as in the United States (27.3% in 2019, 26.7% in 2020). Convenience (both ‘legal sources were less convenient’ and ‘legal stores were too far away/there are none where I live’) was high on the list as well, with the percentage of respondents who named these as reasons ranging from 10.6% to 19.8%.” researchers stated in their press release.

Sensible Regulations To Help Boost Legal Sales

On average, the cost of legal cannabis will always be greater than unregulated cannabis. A legal cannabis company has to pay ongoing licensing and compliance fees, rent on their commercial facilities, and a number of other operational costs that do not exist in the unregulated market. All of those added layers contribute to the overall cost of legal cannabis.

Speaking anecdotally, I am willing to pay extra for legal cannabis being that it is tested and regulated. However, there is a point to how much more I am willing to pay, and I assume many consumers are the same as me in that regard. Paying 10% more is reasonable, however, if legal cannabis costs 2-4 times as much as unregulated cannabis, clearly many people will choose to go the unregulated route.

The second motivating factor identified by the researchers, convenience, is much easier to address from a public policy standpoint. Boosting the ways in which consumers and patients can legally acquire cannabis helps a considerable amount. Conversely, the fewer ways people can legally acquire cannabis the more it creates opportunities for unregulated sources to fill the void and meet the demand. Jurisdictions that choose to cling to prohibition or hinder safe access do so at their own peril.

Lawmakers around the world need to do everything that they can to strike the right balance between regulating cannabis, generating public revenue, and implementing sensible regulations that help keep the cost of legal cannabis down as much as reasonably possible. Everyone needs to temper their expectations when it comes to getting rid of the unregulated market. Just as there will always be a market for unregulated alcohol, so too will there always be an unregulated market for cannabis, at least to some degree.

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cannabis plant flower garden indoor

Australian Researchers Examine Motivation Behind Increased Support For Legalization

Support for adult-use cannabis legalization is stronger now at the global level than at any other time since the start of international cannabis prohibition. Now that Uruguay, Canada, and Malta have passed national cannabis legalization measures and the sky didn’t fall, that should only further add to the momentum for legalization in other countries.

Researchers in Australia recently examined survey data in an attempt to try to identify why support for cannabis legalization has risen in recent decades, specifically in the United States. The researchers leading the study were all affiliated with The University of Queensland, and they examined, “historical changes in legalization attitudes and the period-specific individual and external influences on these.”

“A systematic search was conducted for publications in PubMed, EMBASE, and PsycINFO up to October 2019. Six studies with a regionally or nationally representative adult US-based populations were included.” the researchers stated regarding their methodology.

“A secondary analysis was conducted using data from the National Survey of Drug Use and Health. Hierarchical age-period-cohort analysis assessed the trends in perceived harmfulness and availability of cannabis between 1996 and 2018. Ecological comparisons were made between these perceptions and support for cannabis legalization over time.” the researchers went on to state.

The researchers determined that support for adult-use cannabis legalization started to increase considerably in the 1990s, and that the increase continued in a linear fashion until 2019. That is reflected in the results of Gallup’s annual cannabis legalization poll, a graph of which can be seen below:

Gallup polling cannabis legalization 2021

Gallup’s polling is particularly useful because they have asked the same question every year since 1969. As you can clearly see, support for legalization was a dismal 25% in the mid-1990s, and it continued to rise nearly every year through 2020 when it leveled off at 68%.

“Most people developed more liberal views, with no evidence that changes within any one sociodemographic group was disproportionately responsible for the overall attitudinal change. Increases in the proportion of people who use cannabis, non-religious population and political liberalism may partially explain the increased support for legalization.” the researchers determined.

“The decline in perceived harmfulness of cannabis, as reflected in the media, may have contributed to the increased support for legalization.” the researchers stated.

“The US population has become more accepting of cannabis legalization. The attitudinal change is related to changes in the perceived risks and benefits of cannabis use, influenced by broader political and cultural changes over the study period.” the researchers concluded.

The researchers obviously have their views regarding why cannabis legalization has increased, however, I don’t necessarily agree with all of their conclusions. I definitely do not think that there was a ‘decline in the perceived harmfulness of cannabis reflected in the media.’

To back up that personal belief, I would point to the ongoing ‘coverage’ by media companies that are blatant reefer madness propaganda. Mainstream media outlets still regularly provide cannabis opponents access to their platforms and allow them to publish nonsense without any attempt to fact-check it from what I can tell. What has changed is the increased volume of peer-reviewed studies regarding cannabis, and the increased availability and awareness of the results of those studies, many of which directly refute long-standing anti-cannabis talking points.

I also don’t think that increasing support for cannabis legalization is the direct result of an increase in ‘political liberalism’ being that support for cannabis legalization has increased among voters from all major political parties. I personally believe that there are two major factors at play in the recorded increase in support for legalization, and this goes for polling data in the United States and everywhere else.

First, many people have always supported legalization and are only now willing to admit it since prohibition is crumbling and the stigma is reducing. Secondly, people that were on the fence about cannabis legalization quickly move to the ‘supporter’ category when they see that legalization is working wherever it is allowed.

Once legalization goes from a hypothetical to implementation, and it works, many cannabis prohibition talking points instantly die in the minds of many voters. The legalization supporter base expands to non-consumers that just want to see sensible public policy enacted. It also expands to people that want to see society reap the economic benefits of a regulated industry. That is likely why you see polling results continue to improve as legalization continues to spread, at least in my opinion.

australia, united states

united states congress

Will The US House Vote On Cannabis Reform Mean Anything?

The vote is important in keeping the issue in front of lawmakers in the US and other places, but will it mean any change this year, anywhere?

As of the second quarter of 2022, there is a great deal of talk about the need for full and final cannabis reform in both the US and of course much of Europe. However, last week’s House vote to legalize cannabis reform in the US is a straw man that is unlikely to lead to real change this year – anywhere.

In the US, the legislation must now pass the Senate, which is unlikely. Across the pond in Europe, specifically Germany, politicians are diddling with specifics while claiming they are too busy on more pressing issues to give this entire issue prioritization.

Why Is the Final Step So Hard?

For those in the industry as well as patients, there are large issues that have not been solved. The first of course is the fact that the UN has refused to remove cannabis from international drug scheduling as a Schedule I drug. This creates a convenient leaf to hide behind for those who are being pushed politically into reform they would otherwise continue to ignore.

See Germany right now, beyond the US.

However, this Catch-22 is already being challenged within Europe. Both Luxembourg and Malta as well as presumably Portugal, are moving ahead with their legalization plans. Holland now is on the verge of a nationally regulated recreational market. And indeed, the intent of the UN in not removing cannabis from the global Schedule I designation was not stagnation but rather to let individual countries deal with the issue themselves.

The bottom line is that tight control of the cannabis plant benefits only the pharmaceutical industry, which is trying to keep the drug as expensive as possible.

Even this strategy, however, is not working. In Germany right now, the entire industry is now hanging on recreational reform to increase sales as medical approvals have stalled.

Reform NOW!

Excuses being what they are, it is entirely likely that the German recreational market will not happen for several more years. This is because so far there has been little taste to actually decriminalize the plant, much less its cultivation until there is a plan for a recreational market in place.

This is unlike the US (for example) where state markets have been able to move the entire issue forward on a federal level – but only to a certain point.

Regardless, in two of the world’s largest federal markets right now, reform still hangs in the balance. And that is a status quo that is overdue for change.

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united states congress

Temper Expectations For United States Cannabis Legalization

For the second time this decade, the United States House of Representatives passed a cannabis legalization measure. The MORE Act would, in broad terms, legalize cannabis at the federal level in the United States. Cannabis has been prohibited at the federal level in the United States since 1937, although dozens of states and Washington D.C. have legalized cannabis for adult use since 1996.

The successful vote in the United States Congress’ lower chamber came largely along party lines (220-204) with 3 Republicans breaking with their party and voting for the measure, and 2 Democrats breaking with their party and voting against the measure. The successful vote was understandably hailed by cannabis reform organizations and lawmakers.

Earl Blumenauer

“As we mark fifty years of the devastating war on drugs it is past time for Congress to catch up with the public and majority of states who have legalized some form of cannabis, and pass legislation to decriminalize the adult-use of recreational cannabis.” stated Congressman Earl Blumenauer from Oregon in a press release. Earl Blumenauer has previously spoken at International Cannabis Business Conference events.

Blumenauer went on to say, “The MORE Act decriminalizes cannabis at the federal level and provides restorative justice for communities which have suffered from the disproportionate and deliberate enforcement of cannabis prohibitions. Today’s vote to pass the MORE Act in the U.S. House of Representatives is one step to ending the deplorable, misguided war on drugs. It is also a critical turning point.

I have spent time talking to parents of children with seizure disorders, veterans suffering from PTSD, small businesses, and the very communities who have been unfairly impacted by the war on drugs, and they all agree: the federal government must end the failed prohibition on marijuana.

Today’s passage of the MORE Act brings us one step closer to winning the fight.” Blumenauer concluded.

Organization’s Reactions

“With voter support for legal cannabis at an all-time high and more and more states moving away from prohibition, we commend the House for once again taking this step to modernize our federal marijuana policies,” stated NCIA Chief Executive Officer and co-founder Aaron Smith in a media press release sent to our outlet. Smith is a regular speaker at International Cannabis Business Conference events. “Now is the time for the Senate to act on sensible reform legislation so that we can finally end the failure of prohibition and foster a well regulated marketplace for cannabis.”

“This vote is a clear indicator that Congress is finally listening to the vast majority of voters who are sick and tired of our failed marijuana criminalization policies and the damage they continue to inflict in communities across the nation every day,” said NORML’s Political Director Morgan Fox in a press release sent to our outlet. “It is long overdue that we stop punishing adults for using a substance that is objectively safer than alcohol, and that we work to address the disparate negative impacts that prohibition has inflicted on our most vulnerable individuals and marginalized communities for nearly a century.

Toi Hutchinson, President and CEO of the Marijuana Policy Project stated in a press release, “The time has come for federal lawmakers to put aside partisan differences and recognize that state-level legalization policies are publicly popular, successful, and are in the best interests of our country. Now that the House has once again supported sensible and comprehensive cannabis policy reform, we strongly urge the Senate to move forward on this issue without delay.”

“The fact that the House has repeatedly passed the MORE Act is indicative of the cannabis policy movement’s evolution and the growing momentum toward comprehensive reform at the federal level. While this is historic in nature and warrants praise, it is necessary to also recognize that the fight is still far from over. To this day, people across the country are still experiencing the damaging effects of the war on cannabis, while others are profiting in the industry. Following today’s action in the House, it is now time for the U.S. Senate to follow suit and take up the MORE Act. We at the Marijuana Policy Project remain committed to ending cannabis prohibition for all and will continue to fight until that becomes our reality.”

Maritza Perez, Director of the Office of National Affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, released the following statement after the bill’s passage: “Thanks to the House’s leadership, today we are one step closer to seeking justice for the countless communities that have been devastated as a result of cruel and racially-targeted marijuana prohibition. And though it will not erase the pain millions of people have experienced; restore the economic, educational and career opportunities they have been robbed of; or give them back the time they have lost with their families, passage of the MORE Act does provide hope that a better future lies ahead – one where arrest records are wiped clean, new opportunities to take part in the legal marijuana industry exist, and desperately needed resources are redirected back into the communities that have been most harmed. Now, it’s up to the Senate to finish the job – it must begin to deliver on long overdue justice to end the status quo of racist and counterproductive enforcement. With more than two-thirds of Americans in favor of reform, it should be a swift and easy choice.”

“We want to thank House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and Reps. Barbara Lee, Earl Blumenauer, and Nydia Velazquez for their extraordinary work in shaping and advancing this bill. We also want to thank Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, and Majority Whip James E. Clyburn for ensuring the success of this bill.”

Keeping The Vote In Perspective

The celebration by cannabis reform organizations and lawmakers is understandable. After all, it’s only the second time in U.S. history that the House has passed an adult-use cannabis legalization measure. With that being said, cannabis advocates need to temper their expectations and look at what happened two years ago to gain insight into what may, or may not, happen next.

In 2020 the MORE Act was passed in the House just to run into a dead-end in the Senate. Being that the latest version of the MORE Act is very close to being the same as the 2020 version and that the makeup of the United States Senate is also largely the same with a few exceptions, it’s a safe bet to expect the same result for the MORE Act. It’s a very, very safe bet that current United States President Joe Biden will not be championing the legislation.

To be clear, if the MORE Act does not receive a fair shot at a vote in the U.S. Senate it would clearly be a slap in the face of democracy. The current roster in the United States Senate, as always, is the result of citizens voting for lawmakers with the expectation that they will carry out the will of the voters. Per Gallup’s most recent poll, a whopping 68% of U.S. voters support ending federal cannabis prohibition. With such a huge level of bipartisan support for legalization, it will be glaringly obvious if the Senate doesn’t pass the bill that the decision to do so would be based on reefer madness ideology, and not on the popular opinion among the Senators’ constituents.

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