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New pot policy could help state coffers

Cannabis in a pill bottle

TEXT OF STORY

BOB MOON: The federal government is making peace with pot. Or, at least, medical marijuana dispensaries. The official word has come down from the Obama administration. Attorney General Eric Holder says the Justice Department won't prosecute marijuana clinics, which are operating legally in California and a dozen other states. This is a big change in terms of federal policy. But does it signal high times for the quasi-legit medicinal pot industry? Here's Marketplace's Jeff Tyler.


JEFF TYLER: Is the Obama Administration paving the way
for medical marijuana to become a legitimate business? Bruce Mirken thinks so. He's the spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, which is committed to ending pot prohibition.

Bruce Mirken: This change is going to help bring what had been a semi-underground business out of the shadows into a fully regulated, tax-paying part of our state.

Sales of medical marijuana are legal under California state law but illegal under federal law. Mirken says the threat of federal prosecution has kept part of the industry underground.

Mirken: Many of the medical marijuana dispensaries in California have been paying taxes. Many of them have wanted to but been afraid to.

Merchants were concerned about having tax payments confiscated by the federal Drug Enforcement Agency.

Mirken: They literally took tax money on legally dispensed medical marijuana that was destined for the state of California and seized it.

The Justice Department's new stance should stop the seizures. It may also give hope to people who support legalizing the sale of pot. Some advocates estimate marijuana could generate $1 billion a year in taxes. But that may be optimistic. Rosalie Pacula is co-director of Rand's Drug Policy Research Center.

ROSALIE Pacula: There's a lot of speculation about the size of that market, but I don't think we have very good data.

Without the threat of federal prosecution, medical marijuana clubs may finally open the books and give economists a better idea of just how much their industry is worth.

In Los Angeles, I'm Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

About the author

Jeff Tyler is a reporter for Marketplace’s Los Angeles bureau, where he reports on issues related to immigration and Latin America.

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