Pubdate: Tue, 17 Feb 2009
Source: Daily Iowan, The (IA Edu)
Copyright: 2009 The Daily Iowan
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)


With Iowa's state government facing a budget shortfall of
approximately $600 million and an increasing number of people looking
for work, there is an exceedingly practical strategy for economic
recovery that very few people are discussing: the legalization,
regulation, and taxation of marijuana.

Most politicians have now become accustomed to advocating for the
development of green jobs, but almost none of them have yet been
willing to consider how a radical change in national and state drug
policy could help create some of the greenest jobs imaginable by
facilitating the creation of a new marijuana industry. While it is
true that such a major change in government policy toward marijuana
cultivation, distribution, and consumption would be (extremely) 
politically difficult to accomplish, it is time for serious people to
start considering how to best go about advocating for just such a
radical shift.

It is important to keep in mind that even though marijuana is
currently illegal, it is still widely available. Rather than
preventing people from smoking marijuana, the plant's prohibition
simply raises its black-market price. The riskier the police make it
for growers and distributors to meet the substantial  consumer demand
for pot, the more these underground entrepreneurs charge their
customers. However, because  of limited law-enforcement resources, the
government is only able to drive the price up just so much. And, 
given the substance's continuing popularity, the cost at this point
is just not prohibitively high. Thus, marijuana producers and
consumers continue about their  business, inconvenienced but hardly

The status quo deprives the government of much-need resources in
several ways.

First, there is the huge amount of money that local, state, and
federal authorities waste attempting to enforce their obviously
failed ban on marijuana. Focusing specifically on state and local
governments, resources currently allocated to fighting this eternal 
war against the marijuana market could be rerouted toward much more
important programs. For example, Iowa is struggling to find the
resources to pay for its programs to assist people who are victims of
domestic violence or sexual assaults. Certainly, helping some of  the
state's most vulnerable residents recover from such serious crimes
should take precedence over going after nonviolent drug users. And in
Iowa City, there can be little doubt whether scarce funds would be
better spent feeding and housing those who are suffering most from 
the economic downturn than on hunting down the people who sell weed
to college students.

Second, state and local governments could raise substantial new
revenues from taxing the sale of marijuana. Because marijuana
consumers are already accustomed to paying a large markup as a result
of the difficulties of black-market distribution, the tax rate on
the substance could be quite high. Currently, all of the money that
marijuana smokers pay for their drug of choice ends up in the hands
of people who obviously don't have any problem breaking the law. But
if  marijuana were legal and simply regulated and taxed as tobacco
and alcohol are now, that money would wind up  in the hands of
ordinary business people instead. Thus, in addition to the funds
raised through sales taxes, the government would get more money still
when those  involved with the marijuana market paid their income taxes.

Some may argue that the societal cost of legalizing marijuana
consumption would outweigh any benefits obtained from increased tax
revenues, but such arguments are almost always based on
misinformation. There simply aren't any good data to suggest that 
moderate marijuana consumption is really any worse for people than is
using currently legal substances such as  tobacco. In any case, a
portion of the funds raised from taxing marijuana sales could easily
be applied to  health-care programs in order to balance out any harm 
the drug's use may cause the general population.

Ultimately, people are going to continue smoking marijuana
regardless. Continuing on with current drug policy just doesn't make
any sense. So, why not take advantage of that fact and use it to ease
the government's budgetary woes and put a few more people to work?
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MAP posted-by: Larry Seguin