U.S. News

Pot comes to Sin City: Recreational use is now law in Nevada as weed makes for strange bedfellows

Key Points
  • Public support for legal marijuana has hit record highs, and at least one close advisor to President Trump is pushing for full legalization.
  • The weed economy is booming, even as the federal government takes a hard line against pot.
  • Legal pot is also being touted as a weapon in the opioid epidemic.
Roger Stone speaks to the media at Trump Tower on December 6, 2016 in New York City.
Getty Images

The movement to legalize marijuana notched a new victory with Nevada becoming the latest state to make recreational weed legal as of Saturday.

At least half of U.S. states have legalized pot for either recreational or medical purposes.

With polls showing record high support for legal marijuana among Americans and pot becoming a booming economy in its own right, advocates are winning converts across the political and economic spectrum. Among them are people such as independent former Minnesota Gov. Jesse Ventura and Roger Stone, a top advisor to President Donald Trump.

Both men, who fervently back marijuana legalization, appeared in New York at the Cannabis World Congress and Business Exposition in June, just one of many rapidly proliferating forums to promote the business of weed. According to Cowen and Company, the cannabis industry is worth $7 billion, which could explode to $50 billion in the next decade.

Stone, a veteran Republican strategist for Presidents Richard Nixon, Ronald Reagan and Trump, said that despite political disagreements between some weed adocates, "I think we can find common cause around [the cannabis] issue."

According to some estimates like New Frontier Data, a business intelligence firm, the market for legal weed may create as many as 250,000 new jobs by 2020. Recently, Ventura touted the economic opportunities presented by the wave of legalization, and called on the federal government to throw its full weight behind legal weed — something Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, has opposed in the past.

"Let's look at it economically. Donald Trump wants to create jobs? Simple. Pull off the federal ban on cannabis," Ventura said at the congress, citing Colorado as an example of a booming pot economy that contributes jobs and revenue to state coffers.

In addition to Colorado, the others states that allow recreational use of marijuana are Washington and Oregon. It's also legal in the District of Columbia. In Nevada, which also has laws allowing prostitution and gambling, the pot legalization will still ban public consumption, so don't expect to light up at a casino.

Cannabis plants grow in the greenhouse at Vireo Health's medical marijuana cultivation facility, August 19, 2016 in Johnstown, New York.
Drew Angerer | Getty Images

A growing body of evidence suggests that legal weed is an economic boon for states — and potentially, the federal government. According to a 2016 analysis by the Tax Foundation, the potential revenue for the federal government could generate $500 million per year. At the state level, legal cannabis has become the fastest-growing industry in those states, according to research from Ted Shepard, an economics professor at Le Moyne College.

John Kagia, executive vice president for New Frontier Data, said that in 2016 alone the industry grew 236 percent, according to the Viridian Cannabis Stock Index — far outstripping the rallies of the Dow Jones industrial average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq.

He also found that the number of investments in the industry has been relatively flat, yet the amount of money being put into those investments has increased from quarterly investments of $100 million to $700 million.

Other speakers focused less on the economic benefits of the industry and more on the medical benefits. Some have touted medical marijuana as a helpful weapon in the battle against the opioid drug epidemic, which is now the leading cause of death of Americans under 50 and is costing at least $55 billion annually, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department.

Kagia said that medical marijuana states saw an 11 percent reduction in opioid addiction, and he estimates that by 2019, nearly $5 billion in prescriptions could be saved if all states used medical marijuana.

Growing public support despite pockets of political and cultural resistance suggests that "it's going to be really difficult to put this genie back in its bottle," Kagia said.