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Marijuana: Facts Within the US System

weedWith the recent passing of historical state legislation in Washington and Colorado legalizing marijuana for personal consumption, it is safe to say that the drug has reached a level of proliferation never before seen in the United States. Massachusetts also just legalized marijuana for use in medical practices this past November, bringing the total number of states to pass medicinal marijuana laws up to eighteen (plus the District of Columbia). While the federal government still legislates the possession and consumption of any amount of marijuana as a punishable offense, it is clear that the debate over the sale, use and availability of the drug will only become more prevalent in today’s society.

There are many angles to the marijuana debate. Who should be able to grow it? How much of it should they be allowed to grow? Who can sell it? Who should be able to obtain it? How would legalizing help the economy, or would it be detrimental? What are the societal risks of legalizing compared to continued federal prohibition? How will President Obama react to states such as Washington and Colorado legalizing the substance under state law in direct conflict with federal law?  The answers to these questions are anything but clear as we continue to progress into 2013. Let’s try to clear through the haze (pun intended) by listing some relevant facts.

Fact: “According to a national poll conducted by Public Policy Polling (PPP) from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, a record high 58% of American voters said they think marijuana should be made legal, compared to only 39% who do not.

Over 60% of states support taxing marijuana according to an Associated Press/CNBC poll.

Other polls (such as a 2011 Gallup poll that ) show similar trends of public opinion trending away from the prohibition of marijuana. While, of course, even the results of multiple polls is not irrefutable proof that the country is in favor of legalizing, it does show a shifting public opinion from previous years that indicates serious debates about the issue are necessary.

Fact: “The government could save an estimated $13.7 billion on prohibition enforcement costs and tax revenue by legalizing marijuana.”

This figure comes not from some stoned philosophy major sitting in their basement in between bites of a corn dog, but from a legitimate study released this past April by over 300 economists including three Nobel laureates.

Another important figure is the amount of money that is made by those who deal in marijuana illicitly. A good estimate is that over $30 billion is produced in the illegal trade of marijuana in the US.

Fact: “Forbes reported in 2007 that the federal prohibition of marijuana costs taxpayers about $42 billion annually.

This statistic is a bit dated but since the federal prohibition of marijuana has remained constant, it can be safely assumed that the cost to taxpayers has remained similarly constant. This cost comes from the expenses that go with enforcing marijuana laws (including police expenses), jailing those arrested for marijuana related crimes, and so on.

Fact: In California, Time Magazine reports that legal marijuana growers (that distribute to dispensaries) have made a combined $14 billion annually from their crop. The New York Times reports that in Oakland alone, medical marijuana dispensaries have made the city $1.3 million in tax revenue (or 3% of the total tax revenue) in 2011.

In Colorado, The New York Times reports that the state has made $5 million in sales taxes from medical marijuana dispensaries in 2011.

The point here is obvious. States that sell marijuana and tax it are making money from it.

The facts laid out in this article paint a picture as such: The federal government continues to prohibit marijuana strictly as a black and white issue while an increasing amount of states are finding ways that marijuana can be controlled to benefit their local society and/or economy. Public opinion is more pro-marijuana than ever before in the history of the country. Economists agree that taxing legal marijuana would add revenue while decreasing costs associated with the prohibition of it. Being pro or anti-marijuana has nothing to do with these objective facts.

The most pressing question is how Obama will deal with the fact that states are actively undermining federal law by passing such legislation. Will he support a crack down with federal raids on state-legal dispensaries or will he stay relaxed and let the states decide what is best for themselves? The answer to this question will become evident as time moves on in 2013.

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