Is the great experiment with legalizing the recreational use of marijuana having an effect nationally? We may find out on election day. In addition to selecting the next motley crew who will represent us in Washington, voters in five states will decide whether or not they want to join the ranks of Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska in allowing non-medical use of the drug. Proponents of legalization seem to feel that it’s important to gain a foothold in the northeast instead of just the west coast in order to build momentum for a national change in this direction. (AT&T News)
Having proven they can win in the West, advocates for recreational marijuana hope the Nov. 8 election brings their first significant electoral victories in the densely populated Northeast, where voters in Massachusetts and Maine will consider making pot legal for all adults.
Supporters believe “yes” votes in New England would add geographical diversity to the legalization map, encourage other East Coast states to move in the same direction and perhaps build momentum toward ending federal prohibitions on the drug…
Three other states — California, Arizona and Nevada — are also voting on recreational pot. If the California initiative passes, marijuana will be legal along the entire West Coast. Washington, Oregon, Colorado and Alaska have already voted to permit it. The District of Columbia also passed a legalization measure in 2014, but it has no regulatory framework for retail sales and possession remains illegal on federal property.
The polling on this question seems to be all over the place depending when and where you check. There’s obviously more support for legalization than there was only a decade ago, but it’s equally clear that the entire country “isn’t there yet,” assuming they ever will be. All of these legalization moves also fail to take into account the complicating fact that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act at the federal level. The fact that it’s working out in Colorado is a result of a sort of live and let live attitude on the part of the feds. It’s also somewhat cloudy (pardon the pun) for politicians. Activists haven’t even been able to get Barack Obama all the way onboard with the legalization concept and he used to be part of the Choom Gang.
But if they do manage to pass such laws in Maine, Massachusetts or elsewhere, what can they expect in terms of crime and revenue? There doesn’t seem to be any data showing a measurable increase in crime outside normal fluctuations. As far as revenue goes, Fortune reports that as of last year, pot was already a billion dollar business in Colorado and the state was getting a nice cut of that cash.
Colorado saw $996.2 million in legal sales of medical and recreational pot in 2015, according to the Denver Post‘s calculations of tax data reported this week (and throughout 2015) by the state’s Department of Revenue. In 2014, the state’s legal pot vendors sold roughly $699 million of the drug.
The Post also reports that the state, where legal recreational marijuana sales began two years ago and medical pot has been legal since 2000, collected more than $135 million in taxes and license fees related to legal cannabis sales last year, which is up nearly 78% from the $76 million in taxes and fees collected the previous year.
For a state the size of Colorado, $135M in new tax revenue is a significant bump to the budget. Maine has been struggling with costs themselves of late, and the Bay State is already famous for taxing their residents and businesses to death. I’m still on the fence about legalizing recreational pot, but I have to wonder if those considerations will sway the voters into giving it a try. It could potentially clear out their court case backlog as well.
I don’t want to shoot down the idea entirely. Having the states act as laboratories for such experiments before even talking about it at the federal level is a great way to handle this. And if it doesn’t work out they can always repeal the law later.