Turning Criminals into Customers on the Long Road to Ending Cannabis Prohibition

by lizard

We rolled into Missoula on Friday after a two week road trip vacation to Colorado. It was nice to get back, though I wasn’t quite prepared for the quick disappearance of summer weather and the return of 13,000 students.

We spent most of our time in Colorado Springs, but I did carve out some time to take a quick trip to Denver to legally purchase some high-grade cannabis. Each municipality in Colorado gets to decide if they want to allow recreational cannabis. Colorado Springs has banned recreational retail stores. I talked to one guy at a tattoo/head-shop who said there is interest among city council, but they are waiting to see how Denver’s experiment goes. He also said there is a lot of pressure from the military to keep the ban in place. The military brings a lot of money to the area, so their argument carries a lot of weight.

When I got to Denver I found a store and walked in, a bit nervous. A young woman behind heavy glass took my ID, then buzzed me in. The space was small. The staff wore laniards with name tags and stood almost at attention, attentive and watchful as wide-eyed first timers like myself gaped at large glass jars filled with fragrant buds of Chernobyl Kush and Glass Slipper. The limit for out of state buyers is 7 grams. I ordered a few grams of a sativa strain and a few grams of an indica (for a description of the difference between sativa and indica strains, this High Times article is informative).

The guy helping me went to one of the available touch screen devices used to put in orders and quickly punched in my purchases. A woman at the back of the store, in a room separated from the main display room, filled the orders. I paid her in cash.

The money being generated right now with this new recreational cannabis industry is both an incentive and a barrier. In January, the banks said nope to dope, as reported by the always accurate New York Times, the paper of record that finally, at the end of July, made the editorial decision to publicly advocate for repealing prohibition.

Some banks, it should be noted, have no problem with profiting from illegal drugs, and why should they when the risk of being caught is just fines? And remember, we’re talking blood-drenched cartel money, not entrepreneurial Colorado start-up money.

Colorado is trying a temporary fix with legislation allowing co-ops:

The Colorado legislature on Wednesday voted to create the nation’s first state-run financial cooperative for marijuana sellers, with the aim of giving newly legalized cannabis retail outlets access to key banking services through the U.S. Federal Reserve.

The approval of the so-called “cannabis credit co-ops” came on the final day of the legislative session, as lawmakers seek to address problems marijuana retailers face in having to operate on a cash-only basis, such as burglary threats.

The proposal’s chief sponsor, Representative Jonathan Singer, said the cooperatives are needed because traditional banks and credit unions have been hesitant to serve the burgeoning marijuana industry as long as the drug remains outlawed by the U.S. government.

There is also an investment fund being put together from what started decades ago as a magazine:

When a pot smuggler named Tom Forcade approached Michael Kennedy in 1974 with his plan for a magazine devoted to helping Americans grow weed, Kennedy asked, what’s the point? “He said, ‘The point is, if the government cannot control the means of production of a commodity, then their prohibition is bound to fail,’ ” Kennedy recalls. “Well, 40 years later, we have ’em trembling, don’t we?”

The magazine, High Times, has survived as an icon of dope culture, and Kennedy, a criminal defense lawyer, has improbably ended up as its controlling owner. Now, with marijuana legal in some form in 22 states, the counterculture institution is aiming to raise $300 million for the High Times Growth Fund, which will make private equity investments in the marijuana business.

In Montana, lives are still being destroyed because of prohibition. But that won’t stop the Missoulian from having a little fun with a headline—2 Stoners Face Marijuana Charges After Corvallis Bust:

Two members of the Stoner family were charged with growing marijuana at their family home in Corvallis this week.

Rodney Ray Stoner, 57 and his son, Adam Lee Stoner, 24, appeared this week before Ravalli County Justice of the Peace Robin Clute on felony drug charges after Ravalli County sheriff’s deputies allegedly discovered a grow operation at the elder Stoner’s home.

The charging affidavit in the case said a former Baltimore law enforcement officer and a relative of the Stoners tipped off law enforcement to the alleged grow operation at 877 McWilliams Drive.

Stoner, ha fucking ha ha. Too bad this family will now be financially decimated fighting felony charges. Facing serious time in prison, a plea bargain is likely. Maybe the Missoulian could do some work putting some numbers together regarding what it costs our state to prosecute, incarcerate and/or supervise (probation) people involved in non-violent marijuana production, sales and use (not to mention lost productivity of the people who have their lives destroyed). Just a thought.

Instead of being a criminal, in Colorado I was a customer who paid just over $120 dollars for 6 grams of cannabis. The taxes are steep, but that’s going to be the main incentive for municipalities still on the fence about whether or not to join the Colorado experiment. One of the staff members in the store I talked to said sales in just the month of June was around 24 million dollars (I believe he meant state-wide, not just one store). That’s impressive.

The tide has shifted. It never made sense to enforce cannabis prohibition, but now the economic landscape makes it almost unfeasible to continue paying for enforcement. Instead, we should be focusing more on the dangers of drugs like prescription pain pills and alcohol.

I doubt sanity will penetrate our state legislature any time soon, but maybe our newspapers can stop facilitating shady groups like Safe Community, Safe Kids. That link is to a great post from Montanafesto because apparently it takes unpaid bloggers to do the work reporters should be doing, but can’t when it doesn’t fall in line with the agenda of their corporate paymasters.

  1. evdebs

    Alaska votes on legalizing weed in November. It was the first state to legalize medical marijuana about 16 years ago. The turnout may get Democratic Senator Mark Begich reelected.

  2. larry kurtz

    John Walsh has exactly zero to lose by advancing cannabis toward legislation.

  3. Craig Moore

    Given the public nature of this post, I hope you DID NOT bring weed from Colorado to Montana. That would be consider federal drug trafficking and a felony.

    • lizard19

      unlike conservative legislator Alan Hale, I’m not defending committing crimes (in his case, driving drunk) as a “way of life”. I do wish small government, free-market conservatives in Montana would be a little more consistent when it comes to the business potential of cannabis. it’s just a matter of time.

      • Craig Moore

        Committing a federal felony has nothing to do with Montana attitudes. Really, Lizard, you have doubly screwed the pooch.

        • lizard19

          yes, attitudes matter. I did take a risk writing this post, and your erroneous assumption emphasizes that risk. people’s lives have been destroyed over a substance that is demonstrably less harmful than legal drugs like alcohol, which kills all the time and carries immense costs for families and communities.

          • Craig Moore

            Peoples lives have been destroyed over the CHOICES they make. Transporting a controlled substance over state lines is a CHOICE, that is a federal felony. Choices carry consequences. You as a father and a husband should know better than to risk so much for your own narcissistic pleasure, a mere ‘high.’ Might I suggest you grow the hell up before your pursuit of pleasure punishes those you love.

            • lizard19

              thank you for the misguided concern, it’s quite touching.

            • Steve W

              Craig, you are living in a fantasy world controlled by government inspired fear, which, by the way, you obviously love.

              You aren’t really conservative at all. You are a fraud!

              You want big government telling us what to do for no legitimate reason, just your emotional fear filled fantasy.


        • Geezus, Craig – where is the conservative champion of interstate commerce?

  4. Eric

    I say let’s wait and see what long term problems Colorado is having before passing further judgment on weed, such as what to do with the edible stuff, with children going to emergency rooms, a Wyoming kid jumping out a 6th floor window after eating a huge dose, or people making THC-rich hash oil and burning their houses down. And I think this is just the tip of the iceberg, and that as time passes we’ll see more results of wannabe stoners going around fried all day, getting fired from their jobs, causing pile-ups, etc, just like drunks do now, only increasing the numbers.

    • lizard19

      how long should we wait? there is already data showing less cannabis use among teens:

      Marijuana use among Colorado high school students appears to be declining, despite the state’s pioneering voter-approved experiment with legalization.

      According to preliminary data from the state’s biennial Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, in 2013 – the first full year the drug was legal for adults 21 and older – 20 percent of high school students admitted using pot in the preceding month and 37 percent said they had at some point in their lives.

      The survey’s 2011 edition found 22 percent of high school students used the drug in the past month and 39 percent had ever sampled it.

      and since legalization, highway fatalities are at near-historic lows:

      Since the new Colorado law took effect in January, the “drugged driver” panic has only intensified. I’ve already written about one dubious example, in which the Colorado Highway Patrol and some local and national media perpetuated a story that a driver was high on pot when he slammed into a couple of police cars parked on an interstate exit ramp. While the driver did have some pot in his system, his blood-alcohol level was off the charts and was far more likely the cause of the accident. In my colleague Marc Fisher’s recent dispatch from Colorado, law enforcement officials there and in bordering states warned that they’re seeing more drugged drivers. Congress recently held hearings on the matter, complete with dire predictions such as “We are going to have a lot more people stoned on the highway and there will be consequences,” from Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.). Some have called for a zero tolerance policy — if you’re driving with any trace of pot in your system, you’re guilty of a DWI. That would effectively ban anyone who smokes pot from driving for up to a couple of weeks after their last joint, including people who legitimately use the drug for medical reasons.

      It seems to me that the best way to gauge the effect legalization has had on the roadways is to look at what has happened on the roads since legalization took effect. Here’s a month-by-month comparison of highway fatalities in Colorado through the first seven months of this year and last year. For a more thorough comparison, I’ve also included the highest fatality figures for each month since 2002, the lowest for each month since 2002 and the average for each month since 2002.

      see chart at link

      As you can see, roadway fatalities this year are down from last year, and down from the 13-year average. Of the seven months so far this year, five months saw a lower fatality figure this year than last, two months saw a slightly higher figure this year, and in one month the two figures were equal.

      oh, and crime rates are also down:

      Even though many Denver city officials, including Mayor Michael Hancock, fought pot legalization tooth and nail saying it would cause increases in petty crimes and even sexual assault, just three months after Colorado voters helped pass the legalization of marijuana, Denver is enjoying a 14.6% decrease in crime from the same time last year.

      It’s all kinds of crime that has decreased, and not even all dispensaries were able to be up and running in Denver since January 1st due to regulatory hurdles and licensing issues still being sorted out. Property crime is down 14.6%. Violent crime is down 2.4%. It certainly doesn’t look like what opponents of Amendment 64 would have liked everyone to believe – that the streets would be full of violent hooligan, and legalizing weed would make the devil creep the streets of Denver.

      if you have any evidence of the breakdown of society due to ending cannabis prohibition, Eric, then by all means share with us links backing that up.

  5. There’s an underlying assumption that legalization is a gateway to use. But it is just the opposite.

  6. steve kelly

    Our neo-Puritan brethren might like even greater government controls over these 21st-Century pagans.

    But that would violate creed #1: Less government.

    Perhaps an exception is in order. It is of course, the “Devil’s work,” an extrordinary moral dilemma, but nothing a few hangings, drownings, or burnings at the stake might cure. Right gentlemen?

  7. Eric

    “if you have any evidence of the breakdown of society due to ending cannabis prohibition, Eric, then by all means share with us links backing that up.”

    I’m not talking ‘Reefer Madness’ here – just some news stories.

    It’s not like kids aren’t showing up at emergency rooms, they are.

    It’s not like professional CDL drivers aren’t testing positive for THC and getting fined & fired, they are.

    Check out these stats and opine please;


    • Steve W


      The study is flawed in that cannabinoids and their metabolic products stay in the body a very long time because they aren’t toxic and the body doesn’t process them out as waste products fast like it does toxic substances like alcohol, opiates, cocaine and amphetamines.

      So the toxicology test they use doesn’t really measure who was high or impaired, but rather who smoked cannabis in the last month or so.

      The study was run by a staunch prohibitionist and designed to produce the desired result. Garbage in garbage out.

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