6/5/2012 5:36 PM ET|
Legal pot could save US billions
The variety of factors involved makes an accurate estimate nearly impossible, but the public is warming to the idea of legalizing marijuana.
Is there gold to be reaped in the green of marijuana and its legalization?
That's the question increasingly being batted around statehouses nationwide as governments stagger under budget crises and marijuana use becomes more tolerated, if not accepted.
The answer? Yes -- with an asterisk, or maybe three.
Marijuana has been called the largest cash crop in the United States. It's certainly the most popular illegal drug, the center of an estimated $15 billion to $30 billion "industry" in the U.S. Whether you like it or not, weed is everywhere: Four in 10 Americans say they've tried it, and 17 million say they've used it in the past month. That's about 5.5% of the nation's population (and some researchers speculate that an additional 3 million-plus use it but don't cop to that in surveys).
What's more, attitudes on pot are changing. A record, ahem, high of 50% of Americans now favor the drug's legalization, polling company Gallup says. Sixteen states and the District of Columbia now have laws allowing marijuana use for some medical purposes, and Connecticut may soon join them.
California has been in the vanguard, though. And there's arguably one reason why the debate has gone mainstream in the Golden State, and thus elsewhere: Legalization could spell money for state coffers during hard times.
Does all this ring a bell? It should.
"It's exactly the same -- precisely -- why the country had turned against Prohibition long earlier," says Daniel Okrent, the author of "Last Call: The Rise and Fall of Prohibition." (Prohibition, the 1919 constitutional amendment banning alcohol, lasted 14 years, until the bottom of the Great Depression.)
Though Prohibition may have begun as a moral issue, it ended as a business decision. When the stock market crashed in 1929 and ushered in the Depression, "income tax collection over the next four years fell as much as 30%," Okrent says. "And capital gains taxes disappeared entirely. The government had no money to operate on."
Pressure built to legalize beer and hard booze once again, in order to tax them.
The 21st Amendment was ratified in 1933, repealing the ban on booze. The first year after Prohibition was repealed, alcohol taxes made up a whopping 9% of federal revenue, Okrent says. Prohibition's end "was very much a tax issue," he says. "It's very similar to where we are today" with marijuana.
What the numbers say
So how much money could marijuana raise, if the nation legalized, regulated and taxed it?
It's not a simple question with a precise answer, because there's no precedent. Nowhere in the world can you legally produce, sell and use cannabis like any other product. Even in the Netherlands, famous for its "coffee shops" that are allowed to sell pot, it's actually illegal to supply the shops with marijuana, a contradiction the Dutch have never sorted out.
That said, Jeffrey Miron has tried to crunch the numbers. In a 2010 study, Miron, a senior lecturer in economics at Harvard and a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute, said legalizing marijuana nationwide would save about $8.7 billion a year in law-enforcement costs.
What are those costs? About 750,000 people are arrested nationwide for marijuana possession annually. Those arrests -- and expenses related to them -- could vanish. Ditto for jail time. So could the time spent on most court cases involving marijuana, Miron says.
"Marijuana comprises 60% of (drug) cartel income," adds Stephen Downing, a retired Los Angeles deputy chief of police and a board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of current and former criminal-justice professionals critical of the war on drugs. "So if it's regulated and controlled, there's going to be a severe cut in criminal income and, hopefully, a reduction in marijuana-related violence."
That would mean less police work, Downing says. And it doesn't end there.
"There are serious costs associated with being arrested, to the individual and their families," says Beau Kilmer, a co-director of Rand's Drug Policy Research Center and a co-author of an upcoming book, "Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know." A marijuana conviction can make it more difficult to get public housing, student aid and possibly a job, Kilmer says. Those costs -- very real, if harder to quantify -- would also vanish.
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Why should otherwise law-abiding citizens be punished and labeled as criminals when marijuana is better than alcohol for relaxation, pain relief and motivation to be a kind, caring person.
I am sure that I would qualify for a medical marijuana card, if there was such a thing here in FL (I'm 60 y o & have many disabling conditions including chronic pain and physical limitations).
Cash crop? For whom? The Mexican, Central and South American drug cartels. Millions of US Dollars are shipped out of the US to countries that have neither the means, nor the will to control what happens within their borders. Legalize, and I mean LEGALIZE pot and this untaxed burden will wither on the vine. From my point of view, we may as well legalize coke, crack and meth, too. I believe that is is human nature to escape from reality, be it with alchol, drugs, mushrooms, or whatever. Just think of the thousands of jobs that we all pay for at the DEA, the local authorities and taxes. Since the majority of "illegal" drug users seem to prefer pot, and we have the means to detect it when they do, just legalize it and enforce the laws. I have never seen a pot user start a fight, unless, of course to get to your Twinkie! Alcohol users, not so much!
I am actually thinking about moving to a state where medical marijuana is legal.
All you objectors.
Have you ever had cancer?
Think about it,It could happen to you.
If some of you objectors went through cancer and chemo you might think differently about the medical benefits of marijuana,
I was almost terminal and I know it saved me from a lot of meds,
I was taking 32 pills (Chemicals) a day,
Marijuana is a god grown medicine,
Why the hell shouldn't we have the benefits from it instead of poisining our bodies with pharmicutical chemicals ?
I am a 60's child and smoked, ate myself a pretty chunk of good weed. We were saying the same thing 50 years ago, and the answer is still the same. WE elect the people to make our laws for us. So if we want something to change, pay attention to whom you cast your vote. Just a side note here...don't think Romney is going to help. Can you spell "pocket veto"?
Legalize it already. And, please get me some more Doritos on your way to the pharmacy.
How is legalizing pot going to stop prescription drug and alcohol abuse?
I wish someone would explain that in a post.
Once again, Readers digest study done by labratories; facts not the fiction of propoganda and fictious statistics.
The American farmer needs a cash crop! not a continous hand out from the govt..
Stop growing in our suburbs and cities, our sewers are not designed to handle the fertilizers or other chemicals.
The DEPT. of AGRICULTURE needs to speak up.
LAW ENFORCEMENT; what would you rather have in our rural farm communities, Meth amphetamine labs or farmers? Who gives a damn if they farm pot on a farm, better than in our cities!
Bring back the small american farmer; The corporate farms are failing miserably; are food is more contaminated than ever.
Yes there is a huge tax base available as well saving tax dollars wasted on a failed drug war.
The disease of Alcholism and DRUNK DRIVERS, to lazy to get off the couch? At least they lack the drunken bravery to get behind the wheel.
Quit smoking Tobacco, smoke weed and give up tobacco addiction.
Hemp products; oil, clothing, paper products. Stop cutting down are forests already!!
Medical benefits; many, to many to list.
Less dangerous than Asprin. Yes, the truth is hard to accept.
Pot has never ever once been recalled or taken off the market.
THE WINNERS; the american public; safe usage for one, billions in taxes both made and not wasted and the small opr family american farmer. NO MORE METH LABS IN OUR RURAL AREAS!!!PLEASE! come on people.
THE BIG WINNERS? The American public, why? NO MORE NEED FOR BAIL OUT MONEY!( I like that one)
THE LOSERS; Pharmaceutical companies, big tobacco companies, wasteful govt. spending( at least for a while).
The list can go on and on. These are the really big large benefits that out wiegh the negative arguments. Yes, end prohibition, stop the sheer stupidity as well as the violence associated to a mild anelgisic natural sustance.
Marijuana is a very healthy food if taken as an edible, not smoked. There is a great $2.99 e-book on medical marijuana: MARIJUANA - Guide to Buying, Growing, Harvesting, and Making Medical Marijuana Oil and Delicious Candies to Treat Pain and Ailments by Mary Bendis, Second Edition. This book has great recipes for easy marijuana oil, delicious Cannabis Chocolates, and tasty Dragon Teeth Mints.
You can't compare ending Prohibition to legalizing pot. First, before Prohibition the booze flowed freely.
Drinking was part of many cultures. It was a beverage served with meals. Pot is something you have to go out of your way to get. Some people drink to quench their thirsts. You smoke pot to get high and nothing else.
I am for legalizing marijuana, but likely for different reasons than the rest here.
1. Legalizing pot may boost revenues for a while, until it becomes the same way lottery/gambling did. The revenues are taken as extra, at first...and then within the next few years, that money is 'expected'..doled out to certain causes/areas..and then not considered extra...which means the politicians delve into further spending and now you're left with the same budget holes a few years later when you had all this 'extra' tax revenue. It doesn't solve the root of the problem, that the politicans are going to overspend and run us into a hole no matter what we tax to make up for the difference (until the people stand up and oust them).
2. The only reason this isn't legal is because politicans only care about money/re-election funds and the ground is too shaky with pot...it simplydoesn't line their pockets immediately and their big campaign money lies with detractors. For the smokers out there,if you want to get pot legalized...become rich, create a Super PAC, and influence policy that way (the only way left with the current political state). Until then, you're just blowing smoke.
Just FYI, I'm not arguing for the legalization of pot on the grounds that 'people already use it' or 'look at how bad booze is'...if you think about those answers critically, they are a pretty lackluster argument. The reason marijuana should be legal is because we have the right to take back some of the inherent freedoms that have been taken from us through politicians treating us like kindergarteners when we pay their salary and we put them there (telling us what we can and can't play with even though it's hurting no one else, telling us what we can and can't grow in our own yard, etc.) This extends beyond just a debate over marijuana use...but it will only be solved when the people get pissed enough and make enough noise to supercede the boundaries of what that PAC money for elections can do. Think about it.
"I'm the one that has to die when it's time for me to die, so let me live my life, the way I want to." -Jimi Hendrix
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