Of payday loans and pot laws

I am not sure what it says about a state where it’s easier to distribute marijuana than it is to make a payday loan, but I guess we’re going to find out.

A bill to regulate the interest rate for companies that advance money on things like post-dated checks and other sorts of short-term loans just came out of the legislative Judiciary Committee and stands a good chance of being passed in some form by the Legislature.

Representatives of the payday loan industry (referred to in that way because many of loans issued are short-duration measures to help consumers cover bills until the next payday) have pointed out that the interest-rate cap proposed by our legislature does not allow their businesses to be profitable, given their issues with collection and default.

They’ve said in testimony to lawmakers that the legislation will most likely put the industry out of business in Colorado and cost about 1,650 jobs. But job losses from this legislation are only about 25 percent of the damage because former owners will be out the income, the people needing loans won’t get them and landlords, finance companies and others who are receiving payments are either not going to get them on time or maybe not at all. And speaking of landlords, there is another level of damage in all of this as the commercial spaces that these businesses were operating in will now turn up vacant.

There may be hope, however, that the new growth industry in Colorado — distributing marijuana —might take up some of the empty space. So far the Legislature has not been able to address any meaningful rulemaking to control the pot-shop-on-every-corner phenomenon that has cast a greenish haze over the state.

The irony of these two positions is that many of the same politicians who can’t seem to generate the barest structure for regulating what some recent studies have shown to be an even more dangerous drug than previously known, are fired with religious zeal to close down an industry that is used by an even larger segment of the population.

Another link between these two topics is the propagation of criminal activity as a result of the Legislature’s action on one and inaction on the other.

Anyone who thinks all of the marijuana being supplied to some dispensaries providing for medical marijuana is being legally grown within Colorado is sadly naïve.

The payday loan business meanwhile will not simply go away if legitimate business organizations are unable to make a profit. Instead, many peoploe will turn to the ancient, if not noble, neighborhood loan shark, who can ensure repayment through more direct action.

There is a peculiar duality in a Legislature that will regulate one industry out of business — pushing its customers toward illegal activity, while at the same time refusing to enact a structure to prevent a dangerous drug from being forced into everyday society.

For instance: Dent a can in a restaurant and it’s is a health code violation, based on recent reports in The Daily Sentinel about local restaurant inspections. But mix an unspecified amount of marijuana into brownies and sell them for people to consume? No problem.

Presently there is no agency that supervises quality, content, purity or dosing of medical marijuana. There is not even an agreed upon method of delivery for the so-called medicine, and it seems unlikely that many who voted for the referendum thought swapping hits off a Hookah pipe was a medical procedure.

I’m also unaware that the marijuana referendum changed Colorado’s statute against the sale of drug paraphernalia. What about a legal limit to operate a car? Can one use marijuana in the workplace? Does Colorado’s prohibition on smoking in public have any effect on people taking their marijuana medicine in a restaurant?

In short, our Legislature seems unwilling or unable to resolve these questions but can decide down to the decimal how another business should operate.

Some kind of medicine seems necessary for this Legislature; perhaps a dose of reality at the ballot box will break the delirium.

Rick Wagner offers more thoughts on politics at his blog, The War on Wrong, which can be reached through the blogs entry at GJSentinel.com.


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