For residents in states where medical marijuana is legal, having a neighborhood "go to pot" might not be so bad. And as Illinois prepares to throw open its doors for businesses that sell legal weed, a marijuana activist is speaking out to clarify some misconceptions about cannabusiness.
Come September, so-called ganjapreneurs seeking to set up neighborhood businesses to cultivate, dispense or otherwise facilitate the use of medical marijuana in Illinois can start applying for the necessary licenses and approvals through the state's medical marijuana pilot program. But while entrepreneurs in other medical marijuana states -- like Arizona, Colorado, New York and Washington -- see the burgeoning industry as the next gold rush, critics have said that allowing cannabusinesses to set up shop in communities will lead to spikes in crime and vice.
“The biggest thing is not to be afraid of it," Charles Houghton, a Colorado-based lawyer and co-founder of the Marijuana Business Academy, told The Huffington Post. "There’s no beast behind the doors. There’s nothing nefarious about the industry."
Houghton -- who says he often shares the moniker "The Steve Jobs Of Weed" with Marijuana Business Academy Co-Founder KC Stark, with whom he has also served on municipal task forces for medical marijuana in Colorado -- said cannabusiness' bad rap is wholly undeserved.
"If a cannabusiness pops up next to yours, it’s not gonna be the end of the world," Houghton said. "Taking the mystique away is important. [Medical marijuana] is not going to hurt your children, it’s not going to have an impact on crime. These are clean, quiet, upstanding and regulated businesses run by some of the finest people you’ll ever meet.”
HuffPost previously reported that in Houghton's home state of Colorado, recent crime data suggests the legalization of medical and recreational marijuana has yet to turn the state's largest metro area into a crime-riddled hellscape. During the first half of 2014, local police data showed that violent crime in the city and county of Denver was down 3 percent from the same period in 2013.
What's more, a University of Texas at Dallas study published in March by the international, online peer-reviewed journal PLOS-ONE suggested legalized medical pot may reduce some violent crimes, including homicide.
States actually stand to gain significantly from medical and recreational marijuana legalization, thanks to the huge tax windfall generated by permits, fees and new businesses.
If Oregon residents vote to legalize recreational marijuana this fall, the state expects to reap as much as $40 million in yearly tax revenue from newly legal pot sales.
In the month of January alone, Colorado pulled in nearly $3.5 million in pot-related tax revenue (from recreational and medical sales combined), according to Forbes.
“One of the biggest surprises people have when the [medical marijuana] industry comes into their neighborhood is how benign they really are," Houghton said. "The dispensaries just fade into the woodwork. At first they’re a novelty, but after that it’s like a jewelry store: People go in, make a selection and they leave. For cultivation centers -- which are in a warehouse -- unless you know what’s going on in there, you wouldn’t know what’s going on in there. It’s very discreet. It has no impact on the neighborhood."
For critics still unconvinced by tax dollars and crime data, Houghton said he anticipates the negative perception of cannabusiness to soften over time.
“If every individual who has a concern about medical marijuana could talk to 10 patients, I think it would change the perception entirely.”