Libertarian official schools entrepreneurs on cannabis legalization
By Billy Cox
Posted Feb 22, 2019, at 4:58 PM
Updated Feb 22, 2019 at 9:46 PM
Reason Foundation VP Adrian Moore says legislators have bungled legalization in other states
SARASOTA — Fresh from monitoring medical marijuana hearings in Tallahassee, where legislative opposition to smoking prescription cannabis is rapidly disintegrating, legalization advocate Adrian Moore told a conservative Argus Foundation audience Friday that Florida has to get smarter about moving forward.
Moore, vice president of the Libertarian Reason Foundation, said support for an “adult use” referendum on the 2020 ballot is growing, and that lawmakers should be wary of pushing back with the sorts of stifling regulations that have created surging black markets in legal states.
“These state governments were just doing an absolutely atrocious job with literally no idea of how things work,” he told an audience of 90 at the Sarasota Yacht Club. “I think most of you probably know that understanding how markets work is not a prerequisite for being a legislator.”
Having moved to Sarasota from northern California four years ago to escape high state taxes, Moore offered a cautionary tale to area business leaders whose understanding of emerging marijuana markets might well be as limited as that of Florida’s elected officials. He cited how Tallahassee’s refusal to yield to public opinion — lawmakers have erected numerous roadblocks to full implementation of Amendment 2 in 2016, despite 71 percent voter approval — has resulted in legal defeats at every turn.
With prospects for even broader access looming, Moore warned against over taxation, which fuels underground economies and defeats the purpose of legalization. He mentioned a New York Times article exposing California’s thriving marijuana black markets.
“I have lots of friends back in California who use marijuana. None of them buy it legally. None. Like, why should I pay 30 percent more to buy legal stuff? … The only people buying legal stuff are new people who are suckers,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd.
Moore, who holds a doctorate in economics as well as master’s degrees in economics and history, acknowledged the windfall-prospects lure of legal cannabis. But legislative greed, he said, can undermine the law’s best intentions.
“Once you get above 15 percent on any product, you start to get to severe market distortion,” he said. “By the time you get to 30 percent, you’re in disasterland.”
But legal marijuana’s pitfalls aren’t limited to tax policy.
Federal prohibition aside, Moore pointed to tensions between state and local governments over licensing restrictions, zoning restrictions and regional price disparities that can drive product demand across state lines, which can provoke federal blowback.
In California, for instance, four-fifths of the state’s municipalities have banned marijuana retailers simply because “they were given the option to,” which has resulted in producing “the sad, tattered remnants of blue laws.” Moore said he can think of only two “products” — strip clubs and alcohol dry zones — in which local governments have absolute jurisdiction over commercial availability. What it means, he said, is that “you don’t have a functional market in California.”
Moore also points to California’s onerous 330 pages of rules and regulations in state marijuana laws, much of which he argues are devoted to “harm reduction” scenarios, many of which are hypothetical and growth-inhibiting. He said regulations should fix real problems as they arise, not as they might be imagined.
Another “super-hot issue” facing states is the expungement of criminal records for nonviolent offenders whose marijuana crimes become obsolete when legalization laws are passed. Then there’s the issue of mandated “gifting” of licenses to entrepreneurs in traditionally disadvantaged communities, whether or not those owners are qualified to handle demand.
Moore’s presentation generated questions from understandably confused Sarasota employers raising issues ranging from zero tolerance to the prospects for adopting marijuana policies that mirror rules governing alcohol.
He reminded listeners that, with marijuana still classified as a dangerous Schedule 1 drug, no state has developed a model policy. Colorado, the first state to legalize personal-use cannabis in 2014, continues to tweak and refine its rules as issues arise.
“It seems that employers have control over their destiny, which is really what we’re going for,” Moore said. “It should be up to employers to figure out how it should be applied and how it shouldn’t, as long as it’s not discriminatory.”