Pot Lobby Divided

THE MARIJUANA INDUSTRY is again converging on Capitol Hill, and not just to celebrate the grand opening of the District’s first medical marijuana dispensary.   According to POLITICO, pot legalization efforts are facing lobbying opposition from an unlikely source: the medical marijuana industry.

Although it seems counterintuitive, medical marijuana’s opposition to full legalization makes perfect sense. Medical dispensaries currently dominate the billion-dollar (legal) pot market, and stand to lose money and gain competition if pot becomes legal. In the wake of recent victories for legalization advocates in Colorado and Washington state, the medical marijuana industry has sensed a threat and has stepped up lobbying efforts this spring.

How far apart are the two sides on legalization? From a philosophical standpoint, not far. But as Paul McCarrier, a lobbyist for medical marijuana notes, “the devil is in the details.” Many groups in the industry aren’t opposed to legalization as long as it’s implemented carefully and in such a way that their business model isn’t threatened. For example, Colorado’s 2012 ballot initiative contained provisions for the medical industry that allow existing dispensaries and growers to start or convert to recreational stores before anyone else is even allowed to apply for a license.  In fact, legalization groups are making an effort to convince dispensary owners that legalization won’t adversely affect their bottom line.

Since many cities and states have already decriminalized marijuana, and others are considering legalization measures in 2014 and 2016, it’s reasonable to assume momentum won’t be an issue for the legalization movement.  But it remains to be seen whether this momentum can be maintained without conflict.  For all one can tell, the pot lobby’s biggest enemy is itself.

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