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Legal marijuana advocates see big benefits for economy

They point to job creation and tax revenue from weed sales

Photo (c) Rex Wholster - Fotolia
In the days of prohibition of marijuana for any use, those who partook of the weed claimed that the government was missing a big source of revenue.

Just tax legal marijuana the way they do cigarettes and the money would come pouring in, they said.

Now that recreational marijuana use has been legal for a couple of years in Colorado and Washington, marijuana advocates are saying "I told you so.", a news website emphasizing coverage of the financial side of cannabis, points to economic statistics showing legalized marijuana in Colorado created about 18,000 jobs in 2015 while generating about $2.39 billion in economic activity for that state.

It cites another publication, Marijuana Business Daily, as estimating that cannabis-related firms employed as many as 150,000 full- and part-time workers last year. The economic impact will only get bigger, it says, as the four states that legalized recreational marijuana last November begin to implement the new laws.

Making inroads on Wall Street

In fact, legal marijuana is making inroads on Wall Street with at least five publicly traded companies., which trades over-the-counter (OTC), launched a new website last week specializing in medical marijuana. It's also expanding into hemp oil, which is legal in both the U.S. and China.

GW Pharmaceutical, which trades on NASDAQ, focuses on developing and bringing to market prescription medicines made from cannabis extracts. The company currently markets Sativex, a spray used for the treatment of spasticity due to multiple sclerosis.

Cara Therapeutics Inc., which trades on NASDAQ, is a biotech company that develops pain medication. These products alleviate pain by selectively targeting kappa opioid receptors.

Zynerba Pharmaceuticals, also trading on NASDAQ, produces transdermal synthetic cannabinoid treatments for patients with high unmet medical needs.

Insys Therapeutics, trading on NASDAQ, develops and markets pharmaceutical cannabinoids and works to address what it says is the clinical shortcomings of existing commercial products.

Feds still skeptical

While the legal marijuana genie appears to be out of the bottle, it remains to be seen what position a Trump administration Justice Department will take. The Obama administration was opposed to the legalization votes that took place during its tenure but did little to interfere with Colorado and Washington's implementation.

There are also continuing health concerns. Dr. Stefan Kertesz, an associate professor with the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Medicine, has been studying the effects of long-term marijuana use. A year ago, he reported long-term marijuana use appeared to be significantly associated with worse verbal memory in middle age.

That's probably not good news for Baby Boomers, many of whom smoked pot during their college days and apparently have taken it up again now that it's legal in places.

In December, researchers reported Boomers were using marijuana more than any other generation, including Millennials. Between 2006 and 2013, they found a 71% increase in marijuana use among adults 50 years old and older. The rate drops considerably for adults 65 and older, who make up the leading edge of the Baby Boom generation.  

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