DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA: This week, lobbyists and entrepreneurs from the emerging legal cannabis sector descended on the D.C. area to pitch marijuana as “the next great American industry” to policymakers and investors alike. Treating canna-businesses like other entrepreneurial pursuits is largely what Colorado and Washington State have done with their recreational cannabis programs, achieving safe and legal access for users while creating generous sources of new tax revenue by empowering for-profit businesses to lead the industry.
While visiting advocates will tout the legal and financial accomplishments of these policies, not everything in the legal marijuana economy is rosy — racial bias in industry leadership and ecologically wasteful farming methods foretell the future pitfalls of selling pot for a profit.
Cannabis proponents and media outlets frequently reduce the question of legalization to a theoretical choice between the economic gains conferred by commercial cannabis versus maintaining an ineffective and costly prohibition. While this is a simple way to sell legalization, it omits meaningful consideration of other important social concerns and how they intersect with a legal cannabis trade. Classifying cannabis as a for-profit enterprise does not adequately protect social interests of economic opportunity, environmental sustainability and public health. Lawmakers now have a crucial opportunity during legal marijuana’s infancy to prevent foreseeable problems by creating legal space for nonprofit alternatives.