Analyzing the Pros and Cons
There is no doubt that the cannabis industry is growing rapidly. Currently, 38 states have passed laws permitting using marijuana, 19 of which allow it for not only medicinal purposes but recreational use as well. Several states are either currently debating the legalization issue or are expected to do so soon.
The data on suggests that 22 percent of Americans between the ages of 18-25 have used marijuana, and this is, for the most part, prior to states permitting it for recreational purposes. I expect this number to double in the next few years. The implications for communities are significant as discussed below.
There are numerous unanswered questions about marijuana use, many of which I've previously blogged about -- both ethical and legal issues. In today’s blog I expand on those issues, bring them up to date, and look at the future with respect to legalization and education.
Cannabis Compared to Lotteries and Casino Gambling
I like to compare the issues surrounding the legalization of cannabis with other controversial practices that have been liberalized over the years. For example, many people were concerned about allowing states to have lotteries to raise money, but it is a common practice now.
There has always been some resistance to allowing states or private businesses to operate gambling casinos. Only two states allow if for these purposes including Nevada and Louisiana. However, 30 out of 50 states permit native tribe casinos. Admittedly, the reason for such liberal policies is to redress past grievances that native Americans have with respect to their treatment in America. Still, concerns exist whether to allow private businesses, or maybe existing casino entities, to operate Las Vegas-style casinos.
The legalization of cannabis raises similar concerns including the following.
- Public health and safety concerns including the possibility of increasing criminal activity.
- Impact on communities brought about by unsavory characters (i.e., Mafia).
- Need for additional public resources to adequately protect cannabis businesses and protect the communities.
- Possible addictive effects of using marijuana.
- Possibly a gateway drug to more harmful substances.
- Moral opposition.
- Usage helps to ease the pain and suffering of those with medical needs.
- Increases jobs in the community.
- Fosters economic growth.
- Brings in needed tax revenue.
- Helps solve the overcrowding of prisons by decriminalizing usage.
Even though marijuana usage is allowed in 38 states, it still violates the federal Controlled Substances Act. For all intents and purposes, the federal government does not enforce the law so long as it is legal under state law. Still, the fact is that the federal law is on the books and has restricted banks and financial institutions from providing banking services to cannabis businesses.
Banks do not want to be seen as violating federal law regardless of enforcement issues. Moreover, banks are afraid that if they permit cannabis businesses to open a bank account, given that the activity violates federal law, the proceeds from legitimate cannabis activities under state law might be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity and would be subject to anti-money laundering laws.
There are two bills currently circulating in Congress that would be game changers should they be adopted into law. One deals with the decriminalization and the other deals with finance and banking issues, both of which have created barriers to entry.
The More Act would remove cannabis from the Controlled Substances Act and levy a five-percent tax on sales of the product. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives on December 4, 2020 but has been put on hold in the Senate pending Finance Committee Review.
The Secure and Fair Enforcement Banking Act of 2021 (Safe Banking Act) passed the House on April 19, 2021 but hasn’t been taken up by the Senate. The adoption of the Act in the Senate would permit banks to become involved with the cannabis industry legally.
There are many jobs available in the cannabis industry and growth in the job market is assured. Jobs and estimated salaries include for example: Master Extractor ($80K to $250K); Master Grower ($50K to $120K); Marijuana Taster/Quality Control Inspector ($50K to $100K); Edibles Chef ($40K to $90K); Dispensary Manager ($40K to $75K); and more.
It appears that some Americans have been leaving their jobs and going into the booming legal marijuana industry. Despite high levels of unemployment and the economic recession of 2020 brought on by COVID, jobs in the cannabis industry grew by 32 percent in 2020.
The 2021 Leafly Jobs Report found that 321,000 full-time equivalent (FTE) jobs were supported by legal cannabis as of January 2021. That total includes both plant-touching and ancillary jobs—everyone from budtenders to bean-counters.
To put that in perspective, in the U.S. there are more legal cannabis workers than electrical engineers. There are more legal cannabis workers than EMTs and paramedics. There are more than twice as many legal cannabis workers as dentists.
What Does the Future Hold?
In addition to continued job growth and the likelihood of federal legalization, colleges and universities need to develop courses and programs to prepare students to enter the cannabis industry job market. Right now, dozens of colleges are providing a certificate program including.
- Healthcare and Medicine
- Agriculture and Horticulture
- Growing and Extraction
- Business including production, marketing, finance, and accounting
- Law and Policy.
Standalone courses are also being developed, although this will take time because of the need to get approval through university channels. I can also foresee that in the future, some colleges may offer a bachelor’s and/or master’s degree program in the cannabis industry. This is likely to first occur in agricultural communities and states that have legalized marijuana.
Legalization of marijuana is a sign of the times where once illegal activities have become legal in part due to cultural changes. Practices that were heretofore prohibited are now being looked at in a different light. The reason is, at least in part, the maturation of millennials and emergence of Generation Zers, both groups of which are more open and accepting of the use of marijuana.
Blog posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, The Ethics Sage, on November 18, 2021. Steve is the author of Beyond Happiness and Meaning: Transforming Your Life Through Ethical Behavior. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.