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Local Farmer Jere Lowe on How Marijuana Should be Regulated

Marty Durlin

Local farmer Jere Lowe thinks he has a better framework for regulating recreational marijuana than anything the Colorado Legislature has come up with. In fact, he wrote his own alternative plan, and emailed it to state legislators and the governor last week.

From his 80-acre farm on Lamborn Mesa, Jere Lowe has watched the Governor’s task force, then the legislature’s joint committee, mangle what he feels is the original intent of the voter-endorsed legalization: to treat marijuana like alcohol. One of the disputes has centered around whether to model the recreational regulations on the state’s medical marijuana regulations, controlling the product through what is called “vertical integration.”

“Basically it says that all commercial dispensaries have to produce at least 70 percent of their own product,” says Loew, “and they can only get the other 30 percent from another dispensary. That creates a monopolized market. And really the only way to do it isn’t a vertical integration model, it’s a channel sales distribution model, where you go from the manufacturer to the distributor or reseller, to the end user, the consumer. That’s the way the black market works. And that’s the only way they’ll be able to compete with the black market. It’s just how the world works best in capitalism.”

The joint committee has temporarily settled on legislation that mandates a time period where only medical marijuana establishments can offer recreational marijuana.

“As of today I believe it stands at nine months,” Lowe says, “ that existing medical marijuana dispensaries would get the first shot at recreational dispensing, and they would continue under the vertical integration model for at least at nine months. Starting January first. And then it would be January of the following year before any other players could get in. That’s what’s on the table.”

Lowe says another problem with the current legislation is that the committee is proposing taxes that amount to as much as 35 percent. “They’re not realizing that…you’re just trying to legitimize a system that already exists,” he says. “You have to do it in a way that is as easy as going down to the liquor store and as affordable as going down to the liquor store and getting a six pack or a bottle of wine. If they make it as easy as it is to go obtain alcohol and as affordable as it is, the system can work and compete with the black market.”

In Lowe’s regulatory scheme, growing, distribution and retailing would be separate. Farmers would pay a fee to grow plants in 99-plant lots. They’d take their product to a clearing house to be sold and an excise tax would be imposed. There would be a sales tax at the retail level. The state would get its taxes and not spend much on regulation. Lowe sees the Legislature’s current attempts to follow the plant from seed to stem as intrusive and unnecessary.

“It’s just unneeded regulatory framework,” says Lowe. “That’s kinda the big deal they’re talking about in the capital right now with such high taxes. They need these high taxes to pay for the regulatory framework. Well, no – you need to have less regulatory framework in order to compete with the black market.”

The new Colorado law also legalizes hemp. But Lowe says compared to marijuana, hemp is not much of a cash crop. Even its biggest proponents see a profit of only $300 an acre.

“While the use of hemp as an alternative to so many other resources is an admirable goal,” Lowe explains, “as an agricultural producer I’ve done the math. And pretty much those producers that farm less than 100 irrigated acres can do better by growing just about anything else.  Hemp is not really a viable agricultural alternative in the same way that marijuana, the world’s most valuable agricultural commodity, is.”

Even if Colorado doesn’t get it right, Lowe feels the time has come for legalization and a regulatory framework that allows it to work. “A majority of Americans now support not just the decriminalization of marijuana but the outright legalization of marijuana,” he says. “That’s in all 50 states now. It’d be nice if we could be a model for the nation, considering due to Colorado’s geography and climate, we arguably produce some of the world’s highest quality cannabis.”

“You know marijuana’s not for everybody, and neither is alcohol and neither is percodan. You should at least have the choice as an adult to decide what works for you. And if you want to use it recreationally, getting in trouble for it with law enforcement should be off the table. And that’s what Colorado voted for.”

For more information on the plan he submitted, you can email Jere@effsupply.com.

Marty Durlin contributes freelance news features, including coverage of Delta County Commissioner's meetings and local governmental issues.
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