Retailers legally selling marijuana for the past month in Michigan say they have drawn customers from surrounding Midwestern states where the drug remains illegal and, as Illinois prepares to joins the recreational market on Wednesday, officials are renewing warnings to consumers against carrying such products over state lines.
The dynamic is familiar for states on the West and East coasts where the sale and use of marijuana has been broadly allowed since Colorado’s market opened in 2014, despite a federal ban that created a patchwork of legal and cultural snares. Nebraska and Oklahoma went so far as to file an unsuccessful lawsuit against Colorado, arguing that its marijuana law would have ill effects for surrounding states.
In the years since, the industry has wrestled with questions over companies’ obligation to pay federal income taxes or follow laws on employee safety. Other thorny issues confronted state regulators, who were forced to determine suitable pesticides for growing cannabis plants, and which ingredients were safe to include in products meant to be eaten or burned. That terrain is usually reserved for federal agencies.
The tensest point, though, remains the illegal market that has survived in states with legal cannabis markets. Some of that product comes from outside the legal systems tracked closely by states’ regulators, while other states have struggled to keep “diverted” legal marijuana from bleeding into the illegal market at home or in far-flung states.
Data also suggests that some customers will cross state lines in search of state-licensed marijuana retailers, despite warnings that it’s illegal to bring the product back home.
The start of legal sales in Michigan on Dec. 1 and in Illinois on Jan. 1 brings that same climate to the Midwest, where some neighbouring states allow limited marijuana use for medical purposes. But none has moved to permit recreational use.
States often differ in the regulation of contentious issues, including guns, speed limits and the drinking age. But Sam Kamin, a professor of marijuana law and policy at the University of Denver, said interstate accusations about the effect of marijuana sales on legal states’ neighbours are likely to linger unless federal law changes.
“Supply and demand tells us it’s going to be a constant thing,” Kamin said. “Regulations can only do so much and once product leaves a state, it ceases to be a regulatory problem and becomes a criminal one.”