Source:  By Steve Israel, Middletown Times Herald-Record  / March 29, 2014

As Massachusetts prepares for medical marijuana dispensaries, an ongoing move to legalize the drug for recreational use seems sure to resurface as a public debate. Now the state will be forced to join many others in confronting the public health issues raised by the once-illicit drug, including how to keep it away from children.

Should marijuana-laced gummy worms candy be sold in states where recreational pot use is legal? They are in Colorado.

Should women in bikinis be allowed to parade down city streets wearing sandwich boards that say “Joints $5?” They do in Colorado.

And if marijuana is advertised like alcohol or tobacco, could a cute cartoon figure like Pete the Pothead become the new Joe Camel?

Marketing and the millions in taxes so far in Colorado are just a few of the questions and considerations that the first states in the country to legalize marijuana for recreational use – Colorado and Washington – are grappling with. And these are among the questions Massachusetts may soon have to answer, as the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana attains what NBC News recently called “an aura of inevitability.”

Twenty states, including Massachusetts, and the District of Columbia already have legalized medical or recreational marijuana. Several others – including Alaska (recreational), Florida (medicinal), New York (medicinal) and California (recreational) – are considering some form of legalization. Poll after poll reveal a march toward legalization, with a recent CNN national survey showing 55 percent of all Americans now favor it, compared to just 16 percent some 25 years ago.

The federal government, which still considers marijuana illegal, is essentially allowing it in states that have legalized it. Marijuana has become so mainstream, figures as diverse as former U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and advice columnist Ann Landers say what only reefer rabble rousers like Rasta Man Bob Marley once said: Legalize it.

And if polls, public figures and politicians don’t convince you that the green weed is headed toward legalization, consider this green game changer: The Almighty Dollar.

In January, the first month of legalization of recreational marijuana, sales in Colorado of both recreational and medicinal pot have delivered about $3.5 million in taxes to the state. As more shops open, the state estimates it could rake in $134 million in taxes for the fiscal year from sales of recreational and medicinal marijuana.

Marijuana stocks with names like Hemp Inc. and Medical Marijuana Inc. are “on fire” this year, according to a report in the U-T San Diego newspaper, which, like many publications, quotes an estimate from ArcView Market Research that says legal marijuana sales could total $2.3 billion in 2014.

“And it’s going to get bigger,” says Kevin Wolfe, president of Cowen Capital of Jersey City, N.J.

His company offers loans of $5,000 to $250,000 to start-up marijuana businesses that Wolfe likens to “Main Street, mom and pop businesses like day spas, car washes and barber shops” that may have trouble getting conventional loans from banks.

Add it all up and one of the world’s leading experts on the economy of marijuana, Harvard economics professor Jeffrey Miron, estimates that the legalization of medicinal and recreational marijuana across the country could mean $15 billion to $20 billion per year in tax revenue and law enforcement savings.

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