Yes, yes – isn’t it wonderful? US states have one-by-one begun to loosen their iron grip on the issue surrounding the legality of marijuana, with 21 states either decriminalizing possession, allowing the sale of medicinal cannabis, or both. Two states have gone as far as legalizing it altogether.

That’s right, the now-liberal states of Colorado and Washington have given joy (or something like that) to countless space cadets. In some places enthusiasts can even saunter down to a cannabis vending machine to buy their weed. It’s as simple as, well, buying candy.

But how legal have the US government really made it? The best way to sum it up is that they’ve made it legal-ish.

For buyers, other than the implementation of a complementary courier service that delivers your weed right to your bong, it’s about as simple, easy and risk-free as they could hope for.

This experience, however, is not quite as wonderful for the vendors. Of course, they are making money (good money) by selling cannabis, but at the same time they are caught in a battle of disparity between state and federal legislation. And it makes the business end of the marijuana industry very difficult.

While state law might say “Sure, go ahead, sell some weed,” federal law says “Marijuana’s illegal; we better not find out that any banking institution has had anything to do with this.” And Federal law supersedes state law, every time. Which means that banks will not touch “marijuana money”. Vendors can’t take out loans to start a dispensary; they can’t even open an account on behalf of the business in which to deposit their dirty, dirty money.

So now, problems that were historically reserved for our esteemed fixers in the likes of Mexico, have found their way over the border into the US. Smaller problems like forcing all of your customers to pay cash because your shop can’t accept credit cards, all the way to bigger problems like “My mattress isn’t big enough to store a million dollars, where else can I hide it?”.

It might seem anecdotal, but when the nice people in suits and ties at the bank won’t take your money, it suddenly becomes very dangerous for the vendors who are having to keep large sums of cash in a safe at the back of the shop. Right next to the safe storing all the weed. In terms of being a target for crime, this makes them rather attractive, and there have already been several cases of abduction and extortion.

Despite calculations that a legalized marijuana industry could be worth as much as $100 billion to the US economy, the government has decided that even where it has been legalized to buy and sell, federal restrictions will not make easy to do so. To be a streamlined, scalable business model, there would need to be a federal law legalizing the sale of marijuana nationwide. And I’m not going to hold my breath on that.  

In the meantime just be grateful to your dispensary for their troubles.

James Allen