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Cannabis ice cream? How legalizing marijuana is changing business

The founders of Ben & Jerry's have said they would consider a cannabis-infused ice cream. Who else is trying to take advantage of legalized marijuana?

David Zalubowski/AP/File
An ultraviolet growth light illuminates a marijuana plant in a grow room at the 3D Dispensary in Denver.

With recreational marijuana now legal in four states and Washington D.C., entrepreneurs are beginning to think about how to capitalize on this new market.

But cannabis ice cream?

Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, founders of the Vermont-based Ben & Jerry's ice cream company, said in an interview with HuffPost Live that while there are no current plans to explore marijuana-infused ice cream, its legalization does open the door for future exploration.

"Makes sense to me," co-founder Benjamin Cohen told HuffPost Live host Alyona Minkovski. "Combine your pleasures."

“If it were my decision, I'd be doing it, but fortunately we have wiser heads at the company that figure those things out,"  co-founder Jerry Greenfield said.

While marijuana is legal in some states, it is still not in most states. Under federal law, it is also still an illegal substance, although the law does allow its use for medicinal purposes, according to state law. State-to-state transport, where the substance may need to pass through an area where it is still illegal, is another legal gray area. Marijuana-laced edibles  – such has candies and brownies – have also raised concern in lieu of its lack of regulation, and therefore its potential for accidental or underage child consumption. In the first few months of the substance's legalization in Colorado, multiple reports of students and unsuspecting adults winding up in hospital rooms or in hallucinatory states arose, leading the state health department to suggest a ban on edibles. Industry opposition nixed the idea.

Ben & Jerry's is not the only company to consider the sale of marijuana-based products. Bethenny Frankel, who came to fame through the “Real Housewives of New York City” and created the “Skinnygirl” line of alcoholic beverages, plans to launch her own brand of marijuana. Called “Skinnygirl marijuana,” it will be an engineered strain of the plant designed “to not give you the munchies.”

“She read about how profitable the cannabis industry is and wants to get in on that,” an company insider told Us Weekly.

"Marley Natural, a Bob Marley-branded group of marijuana products, reports CNN, will also be available in areas where its legal in the US, and also in Uruguay and the Netherlands. The private equity firm Privateer Holdings worked with the Marley family in order to bring the line – featuring pot and hemp-infused lotions and creams – to the public in 2015.

The states that have legalized recreational marijuana include Colorado and Washington, and Alaska and Oregon will join them in 2016. It is also legal to consume in Washington D.C.– although not to buy or sell.  Thus far, sales in those states have been strong. 

In Colorado, residents may be eligible for a tax refund due to the economic stimulus provided by the sales. A 1992 state amendment called the Taxpayers’ Bill of Rights states that if the state collects more taxes than what is permitted by “a formula based on inflation and population growth,” they must return the excess revenue. In the case of marijuana, which is taxed at 30 percent, it exceeded the cap by $30 million, meaning the state will owe each resident about $7.63, reported The Christian Science Monitor

More than 3,500 jobs have been created in Colorado through the cannabis industry. The state also has about 18,000 state-certified pot industry workers, eligible for a variety of jobs including cultivation, “edibles creators,” and retail budtenders.

There is still concern about how the industry will shape the social environment around the substance. Critics worry that the industry will target younger Americans in search of profit, in a similar fashion to tobacco and alcohol companies. Gallup showed that polls are down in the last year for marijuana legalization, from 58 percent to 51 percent.

Legalizing marijuana, especially in the nation’s capital, will have serious implications, argues DeForest Rathbone, chairman of the National Institute of Citizen Anti-Drug Policy, a group that favors existing drug laws.

“This opens the door across the country,” said Rathbone, to the LA Times. “Congress is afraid of acting because everybody thinks marijuana is harmless these days. People are going to regret this.”

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