It just got a little harder to argue against the legalization of marijuana — former two-term New Mexico Governor Gary Johnson has announced he is now making pot-laced candies and medicinal oils.
“People are starting to recognize that there is a very real opportunity here to build a legitimate and professional industry,” Taylor West, deputy director of the Colorado-based National Cannabis Industry Association, told VICE News. “There’s been a real evolution in recent years.”
On Tuesday, Johnson announced he would become CEO of Nevada-based Cannabis Sativa. The founder of a successful construction company, Johnson served as New Mexico’s chief executive from 1995 to 2003 as a Republican. In 2011, he became a Libertarian and won the socially liberal but fiscally conservative party’s 2012 presidential nomination. On Reddit recently, he expressed interest in running for the White House again in 2016.
Johnson has long promoted legalizing marijuana, but his announcement represents an escalation in his advocacy — his salary is only $1 a year, but he’s got equity in the company, presumably meaning he expects profits to roll in.
“We think we have the crème de la crème of marijuana products," Johnson told the Associated Press.
'It's just very, very pleasant. I mean, very pleasant.'
A former tanning salon business that sold its sun beds last year to enter the weed industry, Cannabis Sativa will make marijuana oils to treat children with epilepsy, along with cannabis-infused lozenges for adult fun.
Evidently, Johnson likes the lozenges — perhaps because he suffers from celiac disease, a digestive disorder that many believe responds positively to cannabis.
"Couple of things hit you when you try the product,” he said. “One is, wow, why would anybody smoke marijuana given this is an alternative? And then secondly, it's just very, very pleasant. I mean, very pleasant."
Johnson’s announcement is further proof that history is on the side of legalization, West said. The marijuana industry is producing jobs, developing new medical and recreational uses for the “very, very pleasant” drug, and coming up with new delivery techniques. Arguably even more significant is money; a recent report by the ArcView Group, a San Francisco–based investment firm that specializes in the marijuana industry, said the legal weed market could reach $2.57 billion this year, pumping millions in tax revenues into state and local treasuries.
Of course, legitimacy comes with new challenges. As pot producers and sellers try to figure out how to expand in states where marijuana use is legal but federal laws still prohibit growing and selling, they remain leery of politicians and corporations who wish to become involved.
Perhaps for good reason. In Massachusetts, former Congressman William Delahunt raised eyebrows when he received initial approval for three licenses to open medical marijuana dispensaries in a supposedly rigorous selection process run by a public health commissioner who happened to have raised money for Delahunt's political campaigns. The state recently rejected his license applications.
Given the growth trajectory of the marijuana industry, it's not surprising people like Johnson and Delahunt are interested in entering it. But the public should keep a close eye on any politician who wants to sell weed, West warned.
“There is certainly a value in having someone who is familiar with navigating complex regulatory structures,” she said. “If that’s the reason a politician is a good fit, then okay. If the reason the politician is a good fit is because they are pulling strings or currying favor others don’t have access to, then that’s a problem.”
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