Motley marijuana laws are driving consumers — and revenue — across state lines | Analysis
Efforts to legalize recreational marijuana in Pa. have failed to gain traction, even as other states have moved
By Tom Peterson
SOUTH BELOIT, Ill. — Less than half a mile south of the Wisconsin border in Illinois, the Sunnyside Cannabis Dispensary bustles with activity. Cars with license plates from Wisconsin, Minnesota and other pot-banning states slide in and out of the shop’s expansive parking lot.
The bright and airy retail store is an easy hop off Interstate 90, which spans the nation’s entire northern tier. For many westbound customers, Sunnyside is the last chance to legally buy recreational, or “adult-use,” marijuana products until Montana, more than 900 miles away.
And heading south from this truck-stop town to the small Illinois city of Metropolis, dispensaries likewise hug the Prairie State’s boundaries with Indiana, Iowa and Kentucky, where pot sales are outlawed.
State lines delineate the vastly varying marijuana regulations across the Midwest. Illinois, Michigan and, since December, Missouri allow recreational marijuana, while neighboring states have some of the strictest laws in the nation.
The contrasting statutes create some law enforcement concerns in states where marijuana is outlawed — when residents legally use marijuana just across the border or bring it back home. But many elected officials in those states say the larger problem is the loss of potential revenue from an industry that could bring visitors, jobs and tax dollars.
Public support for the liberalization of marijuana laws in this region is growing, following national trends. Much of the debate is economic, as restrictive states see their residents paying marijuana sales and excise taxes to neighboring states.
In Illinois, which legalized adult-use marijuana in 2019, out-of-state residents account for 30% of recreational marijuana sales, according to state filings. Sales in the state have risen from just more than $400 million in fiscal 2020 to more than $1.5 billion in fiscal 2022.
Tax disbursements to local Illinois governments in fiscal 2022 reached $146.2 million, a 77% increase over 2021.
Illinois law mandates that a fourth of marijuana tax revenue be used to support communities that are “economically distressed, experience high rates of violence, and have been disproportionately impacted by drug criminalization.”
The significant revenue is a big pull for states that outlaw marijuana to consider changing their policies. But some opponents to legalized cannabis worry about what other effects marijuana sales could have on their communities.
Law Enforcement Challenges
On a misty Saturday morning in Niles, Michigan, nearly 20 cars waited for the 10 a.m. opening in bar-coded parking spots outside Green Stem Provisioning, which offers medical and adult-use products.
License plates were nearly evenly divided between Michigan and Indiana at the dispensary, which is 5 miles north of South Bend, Indiana.
Staffers at the family-run dispensary delivered a wide range of products, from “flower,” the traditional form of recreational pot, to edibles, tinctures and baking ingredients such as Sugar Rush, which offers bakers 100 milligrams of THC. Customers ranged in age from young adults in their 20s to those over 65, who receive a 10% discount.
While some out-of-state residents were reluctant to discuss their trip to Michigan for marijuana purchases, H.L., who arrived from Indiana, agreed to speak if not fully identified.
He said he’s been buying marijuana in Michigan for about eight months. Despite reports that Indiana police might be watching the border for those returning from Michigan, H.L. said, “I’ve had no trouble. No problems.”
A few blocks down 11th Street in Niles, Primitiv, a company founded by former NFL players Calvin Johnson and Rob Sims, served a steady line of customers at a drive-thru. Farther up the street, Southland Farms, which harvests its products in five grow rooms, opened its “Budtique” in July.
Niles, a city of about 12,000 residents, rejected marijuana sales in 2018, but its city council reversed course 11 months later. While some in the community raised fears of crime related to the new industry, Niles Police Chief Jim Millin said he “really hasn’t seen an increase.”
Many police encounters, he said, have involved users who don’t understand — or claim not to understand — the limits of the law, including where they can use marijuana or how much they can possess. In many cases, officers now write citations for infractions that earlier had required arrests.
Driving while using is barred by Michigan law, and drivers found under the influence face steep criminal penalties.
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