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January 15, 2013

"Neighbor states on guard against pot from Colo., Wash."

SoBThe title of this post is the headline of this notable new USA Today article, which gets started this way:

States neighboring Colorado and Washington are wondering how much marijuana will spill across their borders after voters in those two states legalized its recreational use in November. They vow to arrest and prosecute marijuana possessors even if the product is purchased legally across state lines.

Possession of any amount of marijuana is a misdemeanor under federal law, and selling it in any amount is a federal felony. President Obama said last month that "we have bigger fish to fry" than going after pot smokers in Washington and Colorado. The Justice Department has not said how it will respond or whether it is concerned about increased cross-border trafficking from the two states.

One drug-control advocate predicts that trafficking will increase into and out of Washington and Colorado, and that could drive down the cost of marijuana regionally. "The retail marijuana stores will be in business to make as much of a profit as possible," says Tom Gorman, director of the Denver-based drug-policy group Rocky Mountain High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. "That means selling as much marijuana as they can to the largest number of people as they can. That will create a competitive market based on quality and the price of the product."

Law enforcement officials in neighboring states are watching as Colorado and Washington regulators decide how the product can be grown, processed and sold in their states. "Everyone is aware of the possibility that you could have an increase (in cross-border traffic), especially for some of our counties on the border of Colorado," says Lt. Josh Kellerman, a spokesman for the Kansas Highway Patrol. "People might not understand that while they bought it legally in Colorado, it is still illegal in our state."

Wyoming Attorney General Greg Phillips notes that the state's Supreme Court in 2011 ruled that marijuana bought for medical purposes in California still was illegal in Wyoming. "I think the same rule applies" for marijuana purchased in states that have legalized it, Phillips says.

I find these matters of special interest because, as the article highlights, there is no legal dispute that other states can criminalize and seriously punish what has been made legal in Colorado and Washington. But, as the article also highlights, there will likely be a significant market opportunity for legal marijuana businesses to set up shop near borders to draw customers from states in which the product is illegal. (In this context, I cannot help but think of all the fireworks stores I have passed just past the southern border of North Carolina on major highways headed toward Carolina beach communities.  Notably, the (in)famous South of the Border rest stop in South Carolina reflects this story perfectly, as it got its start just as a place to buy beer outside adjacent "dry" counties in North Carolina.)

Barring restraints put in place by Colorado and Washington, there will surely be some efforts (and some success) by marijuana businesses in attracting customers from other states.  Whether and how those states 9and the federal government) will respond to border business and cross-border customers, both formally and informally, will be very interesting to watch in the months and years ahead.

January 15, 2013 at 06:36 PM | Permalink

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Comments

You pass a lot of fireworks stands entering South Carolina heading towards Atlanta on I-85 as well. Nothing quite as infamous as South of the Border, but the Big Peach in Gaffney is much cooler :)

i'm not sure if fireworks are the best comparison to marijuana - quite simply, the odds of getting cited by the police for setting off fireworks in your home (um, better make that yard - setting off fireworks in your home is definitely likely to get police [and fire department] attention) are much higher than the odds of smoking marijuana in your house. In most places, marijuana is also de facto legal and much easier to obtain - especially if you are white - than fireworks.

Posted by: Erika | Jan 16, 2013 9:47:46 AM

Ahh...South of the Boarder. I bought many a Mexican Jumping Bean there when I was a kid. Did not know its origins, so thanks for that bit of trivia! I foresee many a drivers license check point in border areas, much like well-traveled routes between wet and dry counties.

Posted by: Ala JD | Jan 16, 2013 12:53:45 PM

D'oh! South of the Border!

Posted by: Ala JD | Jan 16, 2013 12:54:22 PM

The difference in the laws in different states can cause misunderstanding to many people. The legalization of marijuana to some states will cause great impact on the way of living. It will now be difficult to say to people to stop smoking pot because it is now legal in their state.

Posted by: Angela Thompson | Jan 17, 2013 3:39:28 AM

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