Thirty-three states and Washington, D.C. currently have some form of cannabis legislation on its books. Seventeen states, primarily located in the Midwest and Southeast, do not.
For these 17 states, the spread of legalization created an impact that can affect businesses, travelers and families. According to some, the current situation reflects similar instances in recent history.
Mark Worster, a nurse with an MS in cannabis science and therapeutics, recalled growing up in Massachusetts, where its blue laws barred Sunday alcohol sales. Undeterred by the law, Worster and scores of others seeking booze would instead head to New Hampshire to pick up on Sundays.
“The result was Massachusetts retailers lost out on that revenue and the state lost the tax revenue,” said Worster.
Ivan Green, a Colorado-based blogger and cannabis enthusiast, painted a similar picture to Worster’s Sunday alcohol excursions. “Sometimes, my friends from Kansas and Texas ask me to arrange medical cannabis as it’s still not available in their states.”
Green said the process is “quite simple.” In addition to helping people in need, Green enjoys the experience, as it allows him to see out-of-state friends each month.
Little to any current data explores the actual financial impact legal states received from out of state buyers. However, in Michigan, where sales were legalized in 2019, one dispensary along the border reported that much of their sales come from Ohio. In just three weeks of operations, Michigan sold $4.7 million in cannabis products.
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Legal Trouble When Crossing State Lines
Ian Kelly is VP of operations for Colorado CBD distributor brand Nuleaf Naturals. Working in Colorado and previously in Massachusetts’ medical cannabis space, Kelly noticed an uptick in interstate travel firsthand. The VP noted that each state involved is paying attention as well.
“At this point, neighboring states notice a marked increase in law enforcement costs,” Kelly said of the uptick. “At the same time, the state which legalized is eager to display results to the public, and is releasing tax revenue outcomes and projections.”
The result, according to Kelly, is neighboring states meeting to determine if it makes fiscal sense to pass some form of pro-cannabis legislation. He also said that lobbyists and organizational efforts tend to increase.
Meanwhile, business interest should tick up in the surrounding states as well, said Kelly. “Overall, a state legalizing cannabis or hemp is one of the “last straws” that can really stack the deck in favor of legalization in surrounding states.”
That said, states have held out on passing legislation. For example, in Texas, the Lone Star State is the lone holdout to legalize medical cannabis in the region. This includes Oklahoma and its market which has exceeded some expectations and is now projected to do $350 million in sales its first year.
Steven Mike Voser is a journalist and freelance writer. He believes cannabis tourism will benefit legalized states. The writer cited December 2019 New Frontier Data findings that forecast significant out-of-state demand in Midwestern legal states, as well as Nevada.
Both Voser and Timothy E. Sopinski, a criminal defense lawyer in Nebraska, agreed that traveling across state lines caused confusion and legal issues.
While possession of an ounce or less in Nebraska is likely to net you a $300 fine, concentrated cannabis remains a felony, said Sopinski.
“People are shocked when they go to Colorado, pick up some gummy bears or other edibles and find out it’s a felony if they are caught in Nebraska,” he said.
Sopinski said no educational programs have been put forth to inform the public.
While educational programs may lack, police efforts do not appear so.
“At borders, police officers are watching for neighboring state license plates and conducting more traffic stops in states without legal marijuana laws versus their neighboring states that may,” explained Michael Strazzella, a senior FDA attorney.
A Necessary Risk
Despite the legal risk, many continue to make the trip across state lines. They include families seeking relief for their loved ones who find no medical relief in federally legalized treatments.
Erin O’hearn produced the documentary “Weediatrics: A Covert Medical Mission.” The film details the lengths parents go for medical cannabis treatment, and the risks that come with it, which includes possible lengthy jail sentences and having their child taken by Child Protective Services (CPS).
“When a neighboring state legalizes cannabis, the risks of obtaining and traveling with it are very real,” noted O’hearn. “But even in states where medical marijuana is legal, parents treating their children with cannabis run the risk of running into severe issues with [CPS].”
With federal laws unlikely to move before the November election, the status quo should remain in effect for months, if not significantly longer.
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