Pubdate: Wed, 25 Jan 2012
Source: Richmond Times-Dispatch (VA)
Copyright: 2012 Media General Communications Holdings, LLC.
Author: Robert Sharpe


One of the most progressive marijuana resolutions in the nation was
recently introduced in the 2012 Virginia General Assembly. Sponsored
by Del. David Englin, D-Alexandria, HJ140 would establish a
subcommittee to study the revenue impact of legalizing and selling
marijuana through Virginia ABC stores. Virginia's state-run liquor
stores generated $121 million in profits last year. How much revenue
would legalizing marijuana generate? Who stands to lose and who stands
to gain? These are questions worth answering.

Crunching the numbers is easily done. Legalizing marijuana would
generate at least $208 million in net revenue annually. That's a
conservative estimate. It's based on 6.5 percent of Virginia adults
admitting to use during the past month in the most recent federal
survey. That amounts to 520,000 regular users out of an 8 million
population. Assumptions include negligible startup costs for existing
ABC stores, no advertising, no out-of-state sales, and users
generating an average $400 in revenue. Total revenue could be much
higher. Government surveys undercount illicit drug use; many people
won't admit to criminal behavior.

ABC store pricing could be set based on what the market will bear,
which is quite a lot for marijuana. Top-quality marijuana costs upward
of $350 an ounce. If legal, marijuana would be no more valuable than
any other agricultural commodity. Imagine paying $350 for a tomato.
Mexican drug cartels and indoor domestic growers could not compete
with Virginia farmers. Stores would need to price marijuana low enough
to undercut cartels and discourage home cultivation, but high enough
to generate revenue.

Legislators eager to maximize revenue cannot count on increased
marijuana use. There is no correlation between criminal penalties and
rates of use. Dutch rates of marijuana use are half U.S. rates,
despite legal marijuana in the Netherlands. Baby boomers who put the
marijuana pipe down years ago might pick it up again. Kids would find
it harder to obtain. Marijuana prohibition has created a
youth-oriented black market. Unlike Virginia ABC stores, illegal drug
dealers don't ID for age.

Drug dealers would be the big losers under legalization. Marijuana
prohibition effectively subsidizes organized crime. Taxing and
regulating marijuana would render the drug war obsolete. As long as
marijuana distribution is controlled by organized crime, consumers
will come into contact with sellers of hard drugs such as meth,
cocaine and heroin. This "gateway" is a direct result of marijuana
prohibition. Taxpayers would be the big winners.

Six percent of all Virginia arrests are for marijuana offenses. Police
time spent arresting marijuana offenders is police time not spent
arresting child molesters, rapists and murderers. Drug warriors are
quick to point out that the illegal marijuana trade is linked to
violence. Like the gateway effect, this violence is a result of
marijuana prohibition. Almost 50,000 people have been killed in
Mexico's drug wars over the past five years.

With alcohol prohibition repealed, liquor suppliers no longer waged
violent turf battles. While marijuana prohibition is equally deadly,
the plant itself is relatively harmless. Unlike alcohol, marijuana has
never been shown to cause an overdose death. A recent study published
in the Journal of the American Medical Association found no evidence
that marijuana harms lung function. If health outcomes instead of
outdated cultural norms determined drug laws, marijuana would be legal.

The first state marijuana laws were enacted in response to Mexican
migration during the early 1900s. At the time marijuana use was
limited to Hispanics along the Southwest border and New Orleans jazz
musicians. The plant's counterculture association was sealed in the
1960s. Efforts to save youth from the dreaded reefer have resulted in
millions caught up in the criminal justice system. Those busted after
the age of 18 are branded as criminals for life in Virginia. The war
on marijuana is a failed cultural inquisition, not a public health

Decades after government anti-marijuana propaganda first piqued
interest in an American public that had never heard of marijuana, much
less smoked it, marijuana is officially mainstream. One-third of
Virginia residents ages 18-25 used marijuana in the past year.
Marijuana prohibition is the epitome of government failure. Virginia
legislators need to hear from their constituents. Criminalizing
citizens who prefer marijuana to martinis is not an appropriate role
for government. If the people lead, politicians will follow.

Robert Sharpe is a board member of the Virginia chapter of the
National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML).
Contact him at  and find out more at
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