Marijuana laws are changing rapidly these days, so much so that even specialized news organizations solely dedicated to tracking cannabis policy sometimes have a hard time making sense of reforms.
Coverage this week by The Cannabist and Marijuana Business Daily provides a perfect example.
After California Gov. Jerry Brown (D) vetoed legislation that would have enacted new crimes prohibiting smoking or vaping tobacco and other substances on state coastal beaches and in state parks, the two news organizations reported the news with inaccurate headlines that could influence some readers to unknowingly break the law.
“California governor OKs marijuana use at beaches, state parks,” Marijuana Business Daily reported.
“Californians can smoke and vape weed in parks, on beaches, decides gov,” read The Cannabist’s headline of an Associated Press story.
While the reach of the legislation Brown vetoed did extend to cannabis as well as tobacco (“lighted or heated tobacco or plant product intended for inhalation, whether natural or synthetic, in any manner or in any form”), the fact is that public marijuana consumption is not currently permitted in California.
Brown’s veto of the proposed bills does not change that.
California marijuana policy experts say that the false headlines in Marijuana Business Daily and in The Cannabist, which is owned by The Denver Post, could have dangerous consequences.
“The harm is that people will smoke or ingest cannabis in state beaches and parks, thinking that the governor gave the go-ahead to such public ingestions by vetoing those proposed bills,” Omar Figueroa, an attorney who handles cannabis cases, told Marijuana Moment in an interview. “Mistake of law is no defense.”
Brown, who vetoed similar legislation last year, said in a statement that the proposals were too broad. “If people can’t smoke on a deserted beach, where can they? There must be some limit to the coercive power of government.”
As it stands, with his veto, people can still smoke or vaporize tobacco on those shorefronts, subject to individual beach policies and local codes. But as was the case before, and despite the inaccurate headlines in some outlets, they still can’t consume cannabis there.
That said, marijuana reform advocates were nonetheless relieved that Brown vetoed the bills.
“If smoking were banned on beaches statewide, we would likely see increased enforcement, which would result in more cannabis consumers, including medical patients, cited for public consumption,” Ellen Komp of California NORML told Marijuana Moment.
Dale Gieringer, also of California NORML, agreed that the legislation would’ve put marijuana consumers at greater risk. “By flagging all smoking (and vaporization) as illegal, it would have increased the likelihood of citation for [cannabis] users, who can otherwise avoid detection by discreetly acting like tobacco smokers,” he said, adding that the fines they could face would also have increased.
Alex Pasquariello, editor of The Cannabist, declined to comment for this story, citing the fact that the organization’s post consisted of an Associated Press story. He did not reply to a follow-up question specifically about the headline his organization chose for the story or its image caption reading, “Californians will be allowed to smoke weed on beaches, due to a veto by Governor Jerry Brown of a bill that would have banned the behavior.”
Chris Walsh, the vice president for editorial & strategic development at Marijuana Business Daily, also said that his organization’s story was largely comprised of Associated Press content. But he did acknowledge that his team erred in framing the story.
“Our editorial team has taken another look at it and we agree that the headline and brief need to be reframed and clarified,” he said. “The piece itself was mostly from the Associated Press, but we are looking into it now to get some additional information so we can clarify as needed. We realize now that the headline could be interpreted differently than intended and we will modify accordingly.
This story was updated to include reaction from Marijuana Business Daily and California NORML.
Marijuana Trade Group Demands Action Against Unlicensed Los Angeles Dispensaries
Unlicensed marijuana dispensaries abound in Los Angeles, and a major cannabis trade association is calling on the local prosecutor to step up enforcement efforts.
In a letter sent to City Attorney Mike Feuer, the United Cannabis Business Association (UCBA) says it is concerned that “illegal retail cannabis operations are continuing to flourish and proliferate” and that existing medical marijuana dispensaries “are struggling financially in the face of competition from illegal dispensaries.”
The group, which represents licensed medical cannabis dispensaries throughout the city, requested information about how the local government is handling the situation.
“The UCBA is looking for answers and actions from City Attorney Feuer to ensure safety for workers and residents across the city and to protect the city’s much needed revenue,” UCBA executive director Ruben Honig said in a press release this week. “We are greatly concerned that illegal cannabis dispensaries continue to operate and proliferate in Los Angeles and urge him to crack down on rampant illegal cannabis operations.”
Of course, cracking down on the hundreds of unlicensed dispensaries operating in the city is easier said than done. And the city attorney’s office has moved to enforce local marijuana ordinances in waves this year. In September, for example, the office announced that more than 500 people were charged for running 105 illicit dispensaries.
It’s not quite as simple as shutting down unlicensed marijuana shops, though. Cannabis laws are constantly evolving in Los Angeles, and keeping up with the latest regulatory policies has proved challenging for many previously licensed dispensaries.
The National Cannabis Industry Association (NCIA) said it agrees that the city attorney’s office should “enforce the law and the new regulatory structure,” but that enforcement “should be transparent, and should focus initially on the traditional criminal element more than on currently unlicensed businesses that have been operating for years without incident in compliance with the old system.”
“This is a perfect example of the problem with arbitrary license caps,” NCIA media relations director Morgan Fox wrote to Marijuana Moment in an email. “I’m not extremely familiar with the LA licensing scheme regarding existing businesses, but I’ve heard that it was very restrictive, very limited and resulted in the exclusion of many smaller and/or minority-owned companies.”
Marijuana Moment reached out to Feuer’s office for comment, but a representative was not immediately available.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.
Nearby Marijuana Shops Make Homes And Rentals More Valuable, Studies Show
When a shop selling marijuana opens (or closes), there’s a direct impact on housing and rental prices in the surrounding area, according to a pair of recent studies.
Housing prices for new homes increase by 7.7 percent on average if they’re located within a quarter mile of a new dispensary.
A study published in the journal Contemporary Economic Policy evaluated how the price of new homes in Denver, Colorado, changes when a cannabis dispensary opens up nearby. Researchers compared the prices of homes before and after a dispensary opened within .25 miles, .25-.5 miles and .5-.75 miles.
When new dispensaries opened within .25 miles, housing prices jumped 7.7 percent on average. There was still a 4.7 percent increase for homes located within .5 miles, but the effect “disappears entirely” for houses that are further than .5 miles from a new dispensary. The researchers also found that the effect was slightly more pronounced if the dispensary was the first to the area.
“Our results suggest that despite potential costs, legalization is capitalized as a net benefit in housing prices,” the researchers wrote.
Interestingly, new dispensaries seem to have about the same impact on housing prices as new grocery stores, the study found. But the “mechanisms through which grocery stores affect housing prices are more obvious than dispensaries.”
“If public sentiment surrounding marijuana is positive, homebuyers may also prefer to select into neighborhoods with more dispensaries for convenience. Ultimately however, our data do not allow us to directly determine the underlying mechanisms driving this result, so these potential explanations should be considered speculative.”
Losing a marijuana coffeeshop causes a three percent decrease in Airbnb rental prices.
Amsterdam’s famous cannabis coffeeshops are known tourist attractions, but what happens when one shuts down? For his master’s dissertation, doctoral student Igor Goncalves Koehne de Castro identified at least one collateral effect: Rental costs on Airbnb drop by about three percent on average if the closure was within 250 meters of the lodging.
If the coffeeshop was further than 250 meters, rental prices didn’t change significantly.
There were plenty of examples for de Castro to study, which spanned from 2014 to 2017, because several coffeeshops have closed in response to new laws in recent years, including one in Amsterdam that prohibits the shops from operating within 250 meters of a school.
After controlling for other possible factors, de Castro developed a series of models based on Airbnb data on rental prices over time and their proximity to recently closed coffeeshops. The study revealed that these shops “present a positive impact” on rental prices for lodgings close to the shops—presumably because people who rent through Airbnb are “tourists” who are “sensitive to distances.”
“The findings of this study suggest that, for the city of Amsterdam, the de facto legalization of cannabis actually has a positive externality,” de Castro wrote. “This result puts new evidence to the debate of drug laws and policies, a matter that still lacks data and research.”
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
Major Alcohol Association Briefs Congress On Marijuana Legalization
One of the nation’s leading alcohol industry associations held a briefing on Capitol Hill on Friday to tell lawmakers and congressional staffers about its position on marijuana legalization.
The Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America (WSWA) became the first major alcohol association to call for the end of federal cannabis prohibition in July. At last week’s briefing, the group reaffirmed that stance, emphasizing that the federal government should allow states to legalize marijuana without interference.
A representative from the group also suggested that the cannabis market could take lessons from the current regulatory approach to alcohol, including when it comes to distribution and quality control testing, one person who attended the event told Marijuana Moment. There was also a conversation about developing technologies to detect active impairment from marijuana on the roads.
In a one-sheet overview distributed at the briefing, WSWA wrote that the industry’s regulatory structure “should ensure product safety, discourage underage access, create an effective tax collection regime and encourage innovation and choice for consumers, while at the same time eliminating diversion of cannabis to other states.”
WSWA then outlines a series of recommendations—from implementing impaired driving standards to testing product formulas.
Read WSWA’s full list of marijuana policy recommendations below:
For the most part, the recommendations align with existing regulatory models in legal states. Where the alcohol and marijuana industries might have disagreements, though, is with WSWA’s opposition to vertical integration, under which one company manages more than one area of production and distribution that could otherwise be delegated to other businesses.
The alcohol industry generally operates under a three-tier system in the U.S., through which separate operators handle production, wholesaling and retail sales. Some have suggested that the alcohol industry wants the cannabis market to adopt its approach so that existing businesses like beer, wind and liquor distributors can profit from legal marijuana as well. But Dawson Hobbs, WSWA senior vice president of government relations, denied as much when the association made its initial announcement earlier this year.
“No, what we’re talking about is just creating a pathway for states to have federal recognition of legalization by enacting appropriate regulation that creates a safe and reliable marketplace,” Hobbs said at the time.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.