Marijuana: A64 task force member says buying limits about diversion, not jacking up prices
Yesterday, in reporting about an Amendment 64 task force recommendation to consider purchase limits on cannabis for in-state residents, a marijuana attorney argued that such a move would result in pot prices going up in a big way.
But Christian Sederberg, the A64 task force member who helped push this advice forward, says getting people to pay more for less isn't the goal. And what is? Preventing weed from being illegally taken out of state.
As we've reported, the recommendations that emerged from Tuesday's task-force meeting included requiring child-proof packaging; nixing logos that might appeal to kids; mandating potency labeling; forbidding the addition to weed of addictive ingredients like nicotine; restricting shops from selling products beyond cannabis and items directly related to it (like pipes and papers); and disallowing advertising in venues accessible to children, including TV, radio and most newspapers.
But the one that stood out above the rest for Warren Edson, a marijuana-law specialist and veteran pot-reform activist, was the possibility of limiting how much marijuana in-state residents can buy at any given time, rather than allowing them to purchase the one ounce authorized by A64 for adults 21 and over. An amount wasn't specified, but the most common figure floated has been a quarter-ounce.
To Edson, such a mandate contradicted the concept of regulating marijuana like alcohol -- a central precept of Amendment 64. And when people posting on Facebook likened a quarter-ounce to a keg of beer, he was left slack-jawed. He sees such a comparison as "insane and disingenuous," noting , "There are 1,920 ounces in an average keg of beer, which is the equivalent of 160 cans of beer. Put 160 cans of beer on one side of a table and put a quarter-bag of weed on the other and you can see how crazy that is."
More to the point, Edson argued that purchase limits could turn Colorado into a U.S. version of Amsterdam, "where you can only buy one or two grams at a time, and they cost $10 to $25 a gram.
"There are some people in the industry who'd like to see prices go back up," he added. "Right now, our prices in Colorado are half as much as the rest of the country, practically, including Oregon and California. But if you cap purchases at a quarter, there would be no more bulk-purchase discounts or deals, and we'd be getting close to the kinds of prices you find in Amsterdam."
Sederberg, who's also an attorney, and represents the Amendment 64 campaign on the task force, doesn't question Edson's economic predictions, since he hasn't gotten a chance to study them. However, he says Edson is incorrect if he assumes that marijuana inflation was behind the recommendation. The real point was diversion prevention, he notes, adding that industry representatives on the task force actually opposed the concept.
The first task force meeting took place in mid-December.
Photo by Sam Levin
Last week, the A64 task force recommended allowing adults 21 and over with out-of-state drivers licenses to purchase marijuana in Colorado -- something that would presumably allow pot tourism. However, such visitors may face buying limits intended to prevent them from "smurfing" -- going from shop to shop, buying an ounce at a time. Sederberg told us the goal of this policy was to prevent people from buying significant quantities of pot here, then heading home to places where it's illegal.
"If I'm from out of state and I can buy an ounce at a time, I can go to sixteen stores to get a pound," he says. "But if I'm limited to only buying an eighth at a time, I'd have to go to 128 stores to buy an ounce" -- the sort of effort that even the most dedicated person might see as more trouble than it's worth. And if the limit was placed at a quarter ounce for out-of-staters, they'd still have to stop by 64 stores to reach a pound.
According to Sederberg, the thinking was similar when it came to possibly limiting purchase sizes for Colorado residents.
"Here's what happened," he begins. "The recommendation was that the one-ounce limit apply to stores, but nothing in it shall prohibit them from considering lower amounts for people who have in-state residency. The representative from the Attorney General's office had indicated it made sense to consider lower amounts, but when he was asked if he wanted to an offer an amendment about that, he said he would second an amendment. So I offered an amendment to make it very clear that we wouldn't put in a specific amount, but letting them" -- meaning members of the Colorado legislature, who'll be writing Amendment 64 implementation laws this session -- "consider it.
"It's not a recommendation that they do it," he goes on. "It's just a recommendation to keep all ideas on the table. Whether or not it's an effective idea or an ineffective idea is less important to me than a conversation of whether this is a credible idea, or if there are other ideas to move this forward."
Sederberg doesn't argue that a keg is the equivalent of a quarter-ounce of marijuana, even though (update) he brought up the topic in the following passage from a Monday Associated Press article:
Sederberg said marijuana legalization backers agreed to purchasing limits because he said most pot users won't find it onerous. Sederberg said average daily pot smokers use about half a gram a day, well below the 1 ounce possession limit.
Sederberg compared pot limits to kegs of beer. There's no limit on alcohol possession, but people seeking kegs of beer must sign their names and agree not to share beer with minors, Sederberg pointed out.
However, Sederberg goes on, "I am saying that if the Attorney General's office thinks this makes sense for diversion protection, then we should keep that discussion open."
He notes that "there are different types of diversion that can occur in any regulated market. If you think about it, 100 percent of alcohol diverted to people under 21 comes from our regulated system -- like when somebody taps a guy going into a liquor store on the shoulder and says, 'Can you buy me and my friends some alcohol?'"
Applying such a scenario to marijuana doesn't take a big leap, Sederberg maintains. "If I'm the older brother and I have to go to multiple stores to get the younger brother any amount over whatever a reasonable limit could be, that's a slight deterrent, but a deterrent nonetheless."
Again, Sederberg emphasizes that he's not endorsing a limit at this time, and he's interested in speaking with Edson about his concerns -- some of which are shared by members of the marijuana industry.
"They were not supportive of this is any way," Sederberg says. "The industry voted against it, and spoke against it during the comment period." Hence, inflating prices via buying limits "was not the motivation of the industry people who were present."
From his perspective, though, the option of limiting purchase sizes to less than an ounce is worth preserving for now. In his words, "it's a conversation worth having."
More from our Marijuana archive: "Marijuana tourism isn't main reason to let out-of-staters buy pot, says task force member."
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