City mayors in the two U.S. states with the oldest legal cannabis industries are leading the pushback against the Trump administration’s announcement of stricter enforcement of the drug, saying its regulated use is a boost to city coffers.
Cannabis is banned by federal law but it has become legal in one form or another in a number of states, most recently California.
Last week, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded an Obama-era set of guidelines known as the Cole and Ogden memos, which indicated the federal government would not interfere with state cannabis regulations as long as the drug was not marketed to minors, trafficked by cartels, sold across state lines, or cultivated on federal land.
Voters made Colorado and Washington the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 and Denver Mayor Michael Hancock and Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan were the lead authors of a Jan. 10 letter to Sessions from 10 U.S. mayors, including New York City’s Bill de Blasio.
Activists say the regulated use of the drug was good for city economies and an important weapon in the fight against an epidemic of opioid abuse in the United States.
“Reversing course now is a misguided legal overreach and an attack on cities where legal, safe, and high(ly) regulated recreational sale and use occurs,” wrote the mayors.
“With overdose deaths, primarily caused by opioids, at an all-time high throughout this country, the federal government should be a better partner to help combat this epidemic.”
Under the Cole and Ogden memos, legal cannabis markets flourished in places like Seattle, where pot shops outnumber locations of the city’s famous hometown Starbucks coffee chain, and Denver, where dispensaries out number Starbucks two to one.
Advocates for legal marijuana cite that kind of economic growth, which produces taxes for state coffers, along with evidence that access to legal cannabis reduces the risk of opioid death.
“Over the past years, over 150,000 jobs have been created in the legal cannabis market,” said Paul Armentano, Deputy Director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
“Regulated statewide marijuana markets have provided an economic boost to numerous cities and states – leading to increased tax revenues, tourism, and home values.”
Washington expects $730 million in combined revenue from sales in 2017 and 2018. Last year, Colorado tax revenue since the first dispensaries opened in 2014 topped $500 million.
On Jan. 1, California became the largest state to legalize recreational marijuana.