Debate Over Effects of State Marijuana Legalization on Medical Cannabis Industry Heating Up

For many medical marijuana professionals, supporting the legalization of cannabis at the state level is a no-brainer.

Allowing adults to use marijuana for any ol’ reason and obtain it easily from storefront operations, the thinking goes, will create a much bigger customer base for existing businesses, a more powerful industry and scores of opportunities for entrepreneurs. It also represents the next logical step for the push to make marijuana more acceptable in society and could convince other states to follow suit.

But there’s a small yet increasingly vocal segment of the industry that believes legalization measures on the ballot in Colorado, Oregon and Washington could actually destroy or significantly damage MMJ businesses in those states. These professionals – a group that includes dispensary owners, growers and consultants – plan to vote against legalization and are actually hoping the measures will fail.

It’s not that they are opposed to the idea of marijuana legalization on the state level. Rather, they feel it will be detrimental to MMJ and, ultimately, to the whole marijuana cause at this time. The fear is that the federal government will respond very aggressively in states that legalize cannabis, as it will give officials more justification to come in and shut everything down.

This is a valid concern considering that the Obama administration has been cracking down on the medical marijuana industry for more than a year. If the government is already going after medical marijuana operations complying with state laws, it stands to reason that officials will become even more aggressive when businesses are selling marijuana to adults for recreational use.

Supporters of the state marijuana legalization measures say they don’t think the government will interfere, even though some top officials – including Attorney General Eric Holder – have indicated otherwise.

The issue of whether legalization will help or hurt the MMJ industry has become particularly heated in Colorado, which is arguably the epicenter of medical marijuana these days. Several debates on the issue have taken place recently, including this one in Colorado Springs.

A lot will of course depend on the presidential election. GOP candidate Mitt Romney has vowed to fight marijuana legalization. While Obama has been more vague on the issue, his crackdown on MMJ indicates that he would not stand idly by if a state legalizes general marijuana use and allows storefront operations to distribute it.

The National Marijuana Business Conference – to be held in Denver just after the election – will explore this issue further in a session titled “State Marijuana Legalization: How Could it Affect Your Business?” Brian Vicente, a marijuana lawyer who is a key force behind the Colorado legalization measure, will talk about why he thinks these initiatives will help the industry, while MMJ entrepreneur KC Stark will outline why he thinks they could hurt existing businesses.

Image credit: Photo by via flickr