Election 2012: The Potential of Pot

Marijuana may be a profitable opportunity for convenience retailers; third in a series

Published in CSP Daily News

By  Melissa Vonder Haar, Tobacco Editor

COLORADO, OREGON & WASHINGTON -- November 6 won’t be the first time citizens vote on the legalization of marijuana (California attempted to do so in 2010.), but with measures polling well in Colorado, Oregon and Washington State, Nov. 6 may well be the first time voters approve marijuana legalization.

But what does marijuana legalization have to do with convenience store operators? Depending on how the subsequent laws are enacted, quite a bit.

Colorado’s Amendment 64, Oregon’s Measure 80 and Washington’s Initiative 502 would all allow for the government to regulate marijuana sales at retail to individuals over the age of 21. And as one operator pointed out to CSP Daily News, c-stores could be a natural place for such sales, as c-store operators are as well-versed in carding regulations as anyone, thanks to strong tobacco and alcohol sales.

Adding legalized marijuana to store portfolios could be a potential game-changer, especially with tobacco sales on the decline. For example, in October of 2012, the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids reported just 16% of adults in Colorado smoke, 15.1% in Oregon and 15.2% in Washington. Compare that to the most recent polls, which found 53% of likely voters in Colorado support legalization of marijuana, 36% in Oregon and 54% in Washington. Even if only half those voters would purchase legalized marijuana, it would be a massive boost to local retailers.

Of course, as exciting as these developments could be for retailers, marijuana sales in c-stores are quite probably a long way from becoming a reality. Even if all three states vote to legalize marijuana, the Federal government will continue to fight it.

In an Oct. 21 appearance on “60 Minutes,” U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole said his office’s position on marijuana would be "the same as it's always been" regardless of what happens in Colorado, Oregon and Washington.

"We're going to take a look at whether or not there are dangers to the community from the sale of marijuana, and we're going to go after those dangers," Cole said.

Still, Nov. 6 could represent a symbolic, if not actual, turning point. If more states follow Colorado, Oregon and Washington’s leads, it could only be a matter of time before marijuana joints are sold alongside cigarette packs on the back bar.