Move for less crime and more tax reveune
By Meredith McCain
By Eric Virden
85 million dollars--that’s how much the state of Colorado collected in marijuana taxes and licensing fees last year. Denver alone took in $29 million last year from these taxes and fees on pot. This revenue is generated from a variety of sales and excise taxes levied on the sale of legal marijuana in Colorado, including a 15% excise tax that funds school construction projects. Cities like Denver and Aurora are using this increased tax revenue to fund projects that develop community infrastructure and aid homeless populations.
Colorado isn’t alone. Recreational marijuana is also legal in Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington DC. The conservative Tax Foundation estimates that the sale of marijuana in these states (plus DC) could raise billions of dollars per year in tax revenue. So what do these states have figured out that the rest of the US doesn’t? Quite simply, the legalization of recreational marijuana offers numerous benefits economically and socially that far outweigh the drug’s potentially “harmful” effects.
In addition to the obvious economic benefits of legalizing weed, there is much to be said for the positive social impact that legalization can have. In 2010, according to a study from the ACLU, 52% of all drug arrests were for marijuana. Between 2001 and 2010, 88% of all marijuana arrests were simply for possession of the drug, not dealing. And the real problem here: these arrests disproportionately affect black communities. Even though blacks and whites use marijuana at roughly the same rate, blacks are 4 times more likely to be arrested for possession of pot. Systemic racism in the American prison system has been a growing topic of debate; if we want to start truly solving this problem, we need to start by legalizing marijuana nationwide.
This adds the obvious element of decreasing law enforcement costs and freeing up resources to help solve problems of violent crime. According to the ACLU, states use about $3.6 billion enforcing marijuana possession and distribution laws. If marijuana were legalized, this large sum of money--and the millions of hours that accompany these drug arrests--could be directed toward more productive and beneficial law enforcement endeavors.
While there have been claims that legalizing marijuana creates harmful public health effects, many of the studies that lead to these claims are dubious. It is nearly impossible to overdose from weed (you would have to smoke over 240 joints a day), and rates of addiction are lower than those of alcohol, tobacco, and stimulants, all of which are legal substances. There is no definite proof of marijuana serving as a “gateway drug”; in fact, it is much more likely for tobacco use to result in heavier drug usage. And while there are mixed results about the effect of marijuana on teens, it has only been legalized for people aged 21 and older. That’s not to say that teens wouldn’t be able to get their hands on weed, but studies have found that teen use of the drug remains relatively flat in states where it’s legalized. The 2015 Healthy Kids Colorado Survey found a flat rate of marijuana use among teens. The minor health concerns that marijuana does present are no more deleterious than those presented by alcohol or tobacco. As with these legalized substances, it should be a consumer decision whether or not to use marijuana, not a government decision.
The many benefits presented by the legalization of recreational marijuana, from increased tax revenue to decreased incarceration rates, have already been exemplified by 4 states and Washington DC. It’s about time the rest of the country takes a hint from these states and legalizes the sale and use of marijuana.
For quite some time now, the United States has been engaged in what has commonly been referred to as the, “War on Drugs.” However, as of late, more and more Americans are voicing their opposition to anti-drug laws, predominately those associated with marijuana. This, coupled with the belief of an increasing number of Americans that the “War on Drugs,” has failed, has led to the legalization of marijuana in several states. So, is it time to just give up the goat and begin the legalization process for marijuana nationwide? The answer, in short, is no. Despite the increase in popular support for the legalization of marijuana, the facts still remain that the drug causes significant harm to its users and has a harmful impact on society.
When it comes to marijuana, while individuals as of late have clamored for its legalization, it is they who are at the most risk for suffering from the substance’s negative consequences. Firstly, while not being as addictive as other banned substances, such as heroin and meth, marijuana does negatively impact the body. This impact is mainly found in long-term users of the substance and their cognitive abilities. Simply speaking, long-term users suffer a significant reduction in their cognitive abilities. This can lead to impaired thinking, a decline in IQ, and more. However, it isn’t just the long-term users who suffer. The adverse short-term effects of marijuana usage include short-term memory loss, increased heart rate and more. Secondly, marijuana’s status as a gateway drug serves to significantly worsen the impacts of legalizing the substance. In being a gateway drug, marijuana is considered a substance that often leads to the usage of other drugs, some which are currently legal and others of which are not. By legalizing marijuana, a larger portion of the population is placed at risk for the aforementioned consequences.
It is not only the individual who suffers from the legalization of marijuana, but so too does society as a whole. The societal impact focuses on two key issues: crime and public safety. Regarding the former, the country must be aware of the possibility that crime could significantly increase following a nationwide legalization effort. While it can’t be presumed to happen, this is a potential consequence that we as a nation may not be prepared to handle. It should be noted that a fair portion of the crimes that are committed today are done by individuals who are under the influence of drugs, such as alcohol, marijuana, and more. Regarding the latter, the country risks introducing a wave of new public safety concerns if marijuana is legalized. The primary fear here is usage of marijuana by drivers. If marijuana were to be legalized, what would the limit be? How high is, “too high,” to drive? Without properly answering these questions beforehand, the nation could be put a dangerous position where both the police and those they watch over would be put in a state of confusion. Even if these questions are answered, the problem still persists. Just like the damage caused by drunk driving, high driving can significantly alter the safety of the public at large.
We do have serious problems with drug sentencing policies that must be amended. And as a country, we should strive to address addiction problems through medical treatment as opposed to prison time. Quite simply, we need criminal justice reform. However, criminal justice reform cannot become code for marijuana legalization. With legalization, we do not solve problems, but rather create new ones. It is the fundamental goal of government to protect its citizens. Can the government protect the populace by allowing it access to harmful, dangerous drugs? The answer: NO.