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The Marijuana Experiment

Updated: Aug 13, 2023

Editor’s Note: Today’s post comes from contributing editor Dr. Stefano Tijerina, a lecturer in management and the Chris Kobrack Research Fellow in Canadian Business History at the University’s of Maine’s Business School.

It is difficult—and perhaps impossible—to judge whether or not marijuana use is good or bad. Much research is yet needed before we can draw any definitive conclusions. Ask the daily or the occasional consumer, and you will get one set of answers. Ask a person who has had a bad experience, and you might get a negative take. And ask the anti-marijuana moral champion, and you will possibly hear “the gateway to other drugs” story. In fact, there is no concrete answer; the judgment is personal and deep inside the brain and soul of each individual.

Yet, the law continues to punish and ruin the lives of thousands of American citizens who do not have the luxury to live in states where medical or recreational marijuana is legal or partially legal. One thing is clear, though, the marijuana map is changing with each election cycle, and, like every federal policy, the weight of the majority will force the minority of states to change when the right time comes. That time might be now—under the Biden administration—but it is not yet clear. Especially so, after the recent firing of five White House staffers for “past marijuana use.”

Marijuana Legalization Map

Map of marijuana legalization status by state (from disa.com). Read here for more information about the state-by-state status of marijuana.

The United States, like many other countries around the world including Canada and Uruguay, seems to be transitioning towards a federally legal world of marijuana. But the American process is slow, because individual states still have leverage and power over the federal government. South Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Kansas, Wyoming, and Idaho— where marijuana is fully illegal—may be holding the nation back, but they are now clearly in the minority. Perhaps the millions of dollars of tax revenue each of these states leaves on the table will eventually force their leaders and their communities to the negotiating table. Perhaps the first big victory will be the federal decriminalization of marijuana.

Certainly, there will be pressure from the changing realities of our trilateral trade partnership now known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Canada has federally legalized marijuana (2018), and Mexican lawmakers, too, recently approved a bill to legalize recreational marijuana (March 2021). In order for the trilateral partnership to function effectively and to compete against other global trade blocs, the social, economic, political, and environmental policies of the three partner nations must be aligned and compatible. This, I would argue, includes marijuana policy. The United States must change its course if it wants to navigate the global market effectively, particularly since Mexico and Canada’s first-mover public-private partnership strategies could allow their private industries to dictate the rules of the game for years to come.

Mexico may soon become the largest marijuana market in the world, but the trilateral market could potentially become the dominant force in a fast-paced and changing consumer market that will be dominated by Millennials and Generation Z. Canadian and Mexican policy makers are looking at the future—not at the past—when designing economic development policies that may determine the trajectory of their national economies. And determine the trajectory of the regional USMCA market.

Unfortunately, American states and their political leaders who block the federal government from moving forward with federal marijuana legalization are too preoccupied with short-term local political gains and not long-term national economic gains. Too many American policy makers seem to live in the past, tailoring policies for the desires of a Boomer constituency while sidelining future generations from important political and economic decisions.

The future economy may be less dependent on extractive industries, harmful substances, and productions processes that damage the Earth’s ecosystems and may be more concerned with social justice and income equality. The future may be a market where marijuana is no longer seen as taboo and is free of the twentieth-century social constructs driven by older generations. The future may be a market where marijuana is treated as any other commodity, intricately interconnected to the regional and global economic system.

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