Herb rush: Ballot initiatives could set marijuana business ablaze | Crain's Baltimore

Herb rush: Ballot initiatives could set marijuana business ablaze

On Nov. 8, some ballots will have pot leaves on them.  

While the federal government still considers cannabis a schedule 1 drug under the Controlled Substance Act—putting it on the same level as heroine—nine states are poised to vote on allowing medical or adult recreational use this fall. Already, 25 states and the District of Columbia have legalized it to some degree. 

If these propositions prevail, nearly 75 million people would have access to legal marijuana, according to the most recent Census data—and that means big opportunity for business.  

Retail sales of marijuana in the United States are expected to rise to $25 billion in 2020, nearly quadrupling the total of $6.5 billion this year, according to a forecast from cannabis research firm GreenWave Advisors LLC. GreenWave’s estimate hinges on the expected success of legalized recreational cannabis initiatives.


Arizona's Proposition 203 made medical use legal in 2010 and this November, Proposition 205 would make adult recreational use legal. Specifics include the ability to carry up to an ounce, grow up to six plants and consume marijuana in a non-public place, according to the ballot measure available on the Arizona Secretary of State website. 

Arizona’s Joint Legislative Budget Committee released an official estimate of the measure’s impact and found that the taxes and licensing fees are projected to generate $53.4 million in fiscal year 2019 and $82.0 million in fiscal year 2020. 

A recent poll of likely Arizona general election voters, conducted on Oct. 15 by public affairs consultants Higher Ground, found that Proposition 205 is leading its opposition 49.8 percent to 45.3 percent. 


California has a storied history with cannabis that goes back two decades to  1996, when medical marijuana was legalized  with Proposition 215. It was the first state in the United States to legalize the drug.  

Of all the arguments for legalization of recreational marijuana in California, the one cited most by supporters amounts to 10 figures: $1 billion. That’s how much tax revenue the California Legislative Analyst’s Office projects that Proposition 64 could generate each year if voters give it a thumbs-up. 

This November, California residents will vote on Proposition 64, which would legalize recreational use of marijuana for those 21 years or older. Proposition 64 is predicted to pass with nearly two-thirds of state voters in favor of the measure—and this vote will shift the cannabis market growth into high gear. 


This November, Maine voters will decide whether or not to allow recreational use for those 21 years or older and the cultivation of up to six plants in the home.  

One of the initiative’s better-known backers is Rick Steves, who recently said the vote was simply “smart policy,” according to the Portland Press Herald.  

Maine's Office of Fiscal and Program Review estimates that the proposed measure, which includes a 10 percent sales tax on recreational marijuana, would increase state sales tax collections to $2.8 million in 2018.  


Massachusetts is one of five states voting on recreational use. The ballot question would allow those who are 21 years or older to possess up to an ounce of flower, keep up to 9 ounces at home and grow six plants. 

If voters decide to legalize marijuana, adult-use pot shops could open as soon as Jan. 1, 2018, in any municipality that doesn't explicitly ban them. That's a change from the current protocol for medical marijuana dispensaries, which need to obtain community support before they're able to apply for a license from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Some businesspeople say there's a sizable market in Massachusetts for legally-grown, commercial-grade cannabis. 

“I think that you’ll see a huge infusion of capital for those folks who are already engaged in the process of getting licensed in Massachusetts,” said Mark Doherty, eastern sales director for Urban-Gro, a Colorado-based company that sells lighting and cultivation technology to marijuana growers across the country. 


Nevada's ballot measure would allow those 21 years or older to possess, consume and cultivate some marijuana for recreational use, according to the initiative petition. 

Leslie Bocskor, founding chairman of the Nevada Cannabis Industry Association and president of the Electrum Partners advisory firm, has said that that medical marijuana businesses in the state are breaking even or already turning a profit. And legalizing and regulating cannabis should diminish the black market, "which is good for everybody," Bocskor said.

The implementation of Question 2 would also require the Nevada Department of Taxation to collect a 15 percent excise tax. The revenue would be distributed to state and local governments, including school districts, according to the fiscal note included in the statewide ballot. 


Two different measures to legalize the medical use of cannabis appear on the Arkansas ballot this November, but a recent poll by Talk Business & Politics and Hendrix College shows that the measures are unlikely to pass.

Arkansas Surgeon General Dr. Greg Bledsoe recently told local station KATV that he is in favor of helping patients, but the two medical marijuana proposals lack safety measures. Bledsoe said the responsible way to address medical marijuana is to isolate the beneficial compounds of marijuana and put them into pill form, according to KATV.com.  


If approved by voters, Florida's Amendment 2 will dramatically expand access to medical cannabis, which had already been approved for treatment of some conditionsIts passage will also result in state oversight of marijuana production and distribution, and the licensing of patients and caregivers. 

“Some people are anticipating that Amendment 2 will pass and have already scheduled their initial appointment,” said Dr. Lisa Avery, a Palm Harbor-based neurosurgeon and Amendment 2 supporter. She's preparing for big changes to her medical practice and hopes to hire additional staff members if the ballot measure passes. 


Medical marijuana was legalized in 2004, but in 2011 the legislature amended the initiative with a senate bill that banned advertisements, limited dispensaries to three users and required state review of doctors who prescribe marijuana to more than 25 patients a year, according to the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services website. The update to the program didn't go into effect until Aug. 31.  

The Montana Medical Marijuana Initiative would repeal those measures. 

North Dakota:  

North Dakota's initiative would legalize the use of medical marijuana to treat certain medical conditions such as cancer, AIDS, Hepatitis C, ALS and epilepsy.  There's some concern, however, about how the measure would be funded. The State Department of Health, which would run the program, estimates $7.4 million in expenditures but only $4.8 million in revenue from 2017 to 2019.


Read more of our coverage on the business of cannabis at these links:

October 28, 2016 - 4:08pm