Like it or not, marijuana will probably be legal in one form or another in most states soon. And people want it that way, especially young people. In a recent CNN/ORC survey, 55% of respondents said marijuana should be made legal. Compare that to 1987, when only 16% of Americans felt that way. Or 2002, when 34% said "legalize it." And two-thirds of those 18 to 34 said marijuana should be legal, with 64% of those 34 to 49 saying that. Half of 50- to-64-year-olds, probably with fond memories of Cheech and Chong, believe marijuana should be legal.
So right now, we have Colorado, which in January became the second state after Washington to make recreational pot legal. The Marijuana Policy Project says those two states plus 20 others and the District of Columbia now have laws on the books allowing marijuana use, medicinally or otherwise. And I have observed, unofficially, that more and more people are smoking pot on the sidewalk, in the city, in front of my house in Brooklyn.
And the money is big. According to the Colorado Department of Revenue, licensed dispensaries of the Rocky Mountain high have pulled in $14 million, about $2 million of which went to the state. CNN reports that over 18 months that will likely work out to $610 million, with $184 million in tax revenue. And think of the huge corollary revenue: I haven't checked, but I guarantee you burrito and pizza sales are also going way up in the Centennial State.
The buyers are out there. Are they waiting for Altria to go out there with a recognized trusted brand? The market is a tabula rasa, obviously, so who knows. When was the last time there was a huge potential industry and absolutely no brand to participate? The prohibition, and gambling, except even then there were liquor brands before the saloon doors slammed shut.
Market research firm Millward Brown recently queried over 700 consumers about whether they would be likely to buy marijuana from a "frequently used" brand with risk management plans in place (i.e., quality control.) Forty-nine percent said there would be no impact on their level of consideration at all. But 43% said the likelihood of their purchasing would increase to some extent, with 25% of them saying it would increase a lot.
When the firm asked them what concerns they had about legalization, a quarter said they were worried about recreational marijuana as a gateway to other, harder drugs. Other concerns were lack of standards to measure impairment; worries that pot is addictive, that it could adversely impact one's health, and that it makes you lazy and complacent, an argument my high school grades would support, although I never inhaled.
But all of this may actually be a red herring, at least in the short term. As reported in the March 2013 Seattle Times story, Dr. Mark Kleiman, consultant to Washington State on marijuana policy, explained that about 20% of dedicated marijuana users are responsible for 80% of marijuana purchases. And he said weed would not make the state rich. “The brute fact is that those activities depend on heavy use by a few, not moderate use by many," he said. "The only way to get a lot of revenue is to sell a lot of marijuana. The only way to sell a lot of marijuana is to sell to people who smoke a lot of marijuana. And that's not a good thing.” States, and potentially larger, known brands (those with the ability to do good quality control) may not want anything to do with that. At least for the moment.
But consider this, Kleiman also pointed out that 46% of all alcohol consumption involves binging. And friends don't let friends drive high. Better just to sit on the couch, order a pizza, stare at the “Dark Side of the Moon” poster and listen to your old vinyl of “Big Bambu.”