Legalization Next Door

How Legal Marijuana Impacts Neighboring States

A wooden sign saying Leaving Colorful Colorado Source: Shutterstock

Although a vast majority of Americans support legalizing marijuana in at least some fashion, a majority does not equal a whole. 8% of the United States still doesn’t want any form of legal cannabis, and another 31% think it should only be accessible for people with debilitating medical conditions. Because the country can’t agree and the federal government has yet to decriminalize cannabis, states remain divided. As a result, one state may choose to legalize marijuana while its neighbor remains starkly against it. However,  because people can travel from state to state unhindered, legalization tends to bleed over across states’ border lines. 

Economy

Cannabis sales have been booming. In 2019, sales within the United States reached $13.3 billion; in 2020, that number soared to $18.5 billion. As more states continue to legalize the product and access is expanded, total sales are projected to reach $28 billion in 2022.

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A trend called “marijuana tourism” is growing. People who can’t get legal bud in their own states will travel elsewhere to try out the product. And of course, because everyone has different interests and looks for different things while they travel, there are many different forms of cannabis tourism. 

Cannabis pairing, for instance, has been taking off. Fine dining is its own form of luxury activity, and now you can go to restaurants that artfully pair cannabis with select food and beverages. In some cases, you smoke and then eat; in others, the food you’re eating contains THC.  

Marijuana tourism is centered around food in other ways, too. The Sushi & Joint Rolling Class, for example, is fairly on-the-nose for what it offers. Or you can take classes teaching you how to cook with hemp. Or maybe you prefer to alternate between Kush and Candy. After that, you could stay overnight at a Bud and Breakfast.

A women touring a cannabis grow facility in Oregon

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People enjoy taking bus rides that show them around town, pointing out historical sites and explaining some of the magic of the city. Now, you can do that while stopping by different pot shops. In the Centennial State, the Original Colorado Cannabis Tour features stops at two dispensaries, and people are encouraged to partake in their purchases while on the bus.

Visitors go to a growing facility and attend a glass-blowing demonstration to see how pipes are made. 

That same company also offers the Puff, Pass, and Paint class – similar to outlets that offer art supplies, instruction, and wine, but with weed instead. 

There are walking tours, too. For instance, My 420 Tours takes people to see graffiti murals, the viewing of which is enhanced by the occasional sparked doobie. 

Laws and Limitations

Advocates of marijuana legalization say the move not only increases tax revenue and stimulates the economy, but also reduces crime and benefits the criminal justice system by lowering the amount of time and money spent prosecuting marijuana offenses. But some studies have found that marijuana being legalized in one state increases the number of cannabis-related arrests in neighboring states where the product is still banned.

The surprising twist in those findings is that the effect of increased arrests is limited to adults; juvenile marijuana arrests have not increased. That’s likely because dispensaries check to ensure the buyer is 21 or older, so the people purchasing marijuana and transporting it to a place where it’s illegal are, by a vast majority, adults. 

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Take those findings with a grain of salt, though, because other studies say just the opposite. Even a report funded by the federal government says legalization laws are not associated with an increase in what’s considered criminal activity in adjacent states or counties. The nonprofit Justice Research and Statistics Association published three major findings:

“Analyses of the available data suggests that: One: Legalizing the recreational use of marijuana resulted in fewer marijuana related arrests and court cases; Two: Legalizing marijuana did not have a noticeable impact on indicators in states that bordered those that legalized; and Three: There were no noticeable indications of an increase in arrests related to transportation or trafficking offenses in states along the northern or southern borders.”

In response, the Executive Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, Erik Altieri, stated,

“This federally funded report is further evidence that legalizing and regulating marijuana works largely as intended. It reduces arrests, and it does not lead to increased youth use or a rise in serious crime, and with these latest findings, it is clear that these policies are not adversely impacting bordering states. It is time to let science and facts dictate public policy and end prohibition nationwide.”

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A person being arrested for cannabis possession

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The difference in the two studies may be an argument over what the scientists considered a “significant” increase. It’s possible the numbers were within a margin of error or that the increase was nominal, so one report cited the increase it viewed, and one thought the increase wasn’t enough to mention or base policy on.  

Of course, if you do purchase some weed in a state that allows it, it’s illegal to bring it across state lines – even if the product is legal in both states. That violates federal trafficking laws, because the federal government regulates interstate commerce. Plus, many states’ legalization laws stipulate that the legally-purchased marijuana must remain within that government’s jurisdiction. In the end, though, that may just encourage people to come back repeatedly to states with legal marijuana. 

The Black Market

One thing that simply hasn’t gone away is the Black Market. Even in states that have legal marijuana, an illicit underground still holds strong, and at least one report expects illicit sales will make up 53% of all marijuana transactions by 2024. That’s due in large part to price and quality. Government-regulated cannabis is taxed extremely heavily, particularly in states like California, where the price of legal weed is nearly double that of the black market stuff. 

Further, people report the crop they can get from their neighborhood dealer is better than what they’d find in a dispensary. That rings especially true in Canada, it seems. 

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There are also purchase limits on the amount you can buy from a dispensary. People looking to purchase in bulk are more likely to turn to the black market than they are to stop by individual dispensaries and hit the purchase limit at each store until they get their desired amount. 

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