Business Monday: Time to slow down on marijuana, surgeon general says |

Business Monday: Time to slow down on marijuana, surgeon general says

U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, left, and Patrick Harker, CEO and president of the Federal Reserve bank of Philadelphia, talked about the impacts of health on the economy Sunday as part of the Aspen Ideas Festival.
Rick Carroll/The Aspen Times

One of the nation’s leading economists and its top doctor spent a better part of their Sunday morning conversation discussing the economic benefits of having a physically healthy community, before turning their attention to marijuana.

“I’m very, very concerned as surgeon general about how far and how fast we’re going on marijuana in this country,” U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams told those gathered in the McNulty Room of the Doerr-Hosier Center for the final day of the health component of the Aspen Ideas Festival.

Adams and Patrick Harker, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, agreed that the marijuana business is growing too rapidly in America, where 33 states have legalized medical marijuana, while 10 of them also allow adults to use the drug on a recreational basis.

Recreational marijuana use became legal in Colorado in January 2014. Aspen’s pot-shop count has hovered at anywhere from six to eight over the past few years.

“In our world it’s a serious issue, because states have legalized it,” Harker said. “But under federal law, banks cannot bank with those businesses and any ancillary businesses. So it’s not just the marijuana dispensaries or the places growing marijuana. It’s the warehouse owner. You cannot bank with that owner if their income, or a substantial portion, is coming from marijuana growth.

“So where’s that money going? It’s not going into federally chartered banks, and so it is raising issues about the financial stability. It’s a fast-growing business.”

Modern-day marijuana is significantly more potent than it once was, Adams said, noting just a decade ago pot on average had a 5% level of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in marijuana.

“You now have professionally grown strains that are 20, 30% THC,” Adams said, “and then they’re concentrating them into oil, into waxes. When they’re vaping, and their dabbing and their shattering — you’re getting 90, 95% TCH. That’s like the difference between you having a glass of wine and a pint of grain alcohol.”

The surgeon general also said there is “no such thing as medical marijuana,” though he conceded that some of cannabis’s ingredients have “medicinal properties and medical promise.”

He called for more research into marijuana, which as an recreational industry has generated $1 billion in sales tax collections since 2014 in Colorado.

Gov. Jared Polis, recently described by the Colorado Sun as the “nation’s most pot-friendly politician,” reacted to that figure, which was released earlier this month, with the statement: “This industry is helping grow our economy by creating jobs and generating valuable revenue that is going towards preventing youth consumption, protecting public health and safety and investing in public school construction.”

The topic of marijuana, Adams noted, has the multiple layers that include its impact on the economy and business, social justice and the legal system, the medical world and other facets.

“I think we have to have the courage to have a more nuanced conversation, particularly with so many folks out there coming out in favor of legalization with an election coming up,” he said. “And from a social justice point of view, I’m terribly concerned about injustice, the fact that black men are more than four times likely to be arrested as white men for marijuana usage. But you already have a liquor store and a smoke shop on every corner in every black community. I don’t know that adding a marijuana dispensary to that mix is going to fix all our social justice ills.”