HTTP/1.0 200 OK Content-Type: text/html Legalize Marijuana In Pa. To
Pubdate: Thu, 07 Sep 2017
Source: Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Copyright: 2017 Philadelphia Newspapers Inc.
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Website: http://www.philly.com/dailynews/
Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/339
Author: Eugene DePasquale

AUDITOR GENERAL DEPASQUALE: LEGALIZE MARIJUANA IN PA. TO BOOST REVENUES

With Pennsylvania teetering on the edge of another budget cliff, it is
immensely clear to me that we must get creative in finding long-term
revenue solutions to prevent total financial collapse.

Last month, as a short-term fix to the state's cash-flow woes, I
cosigned a $750 million loan from Treasury's Short Term Investment
Pool. That loan cost the state $141,000 in interest.

What's more, Treasurer Joe Torsella is forecasting the state's general
fund balance will hit negative $1.6 billion by mid-September. This is
disturbing.

We cannot keep borrowing or raiding special funds just to keep state
government's "lights on." And while belt-tightening is certainly in
order, we need a dependable revenue stream to help ensure the
commonwealth can continue to serve its citizens.

That said, it is time for Pennsylvania to regulate and tax marijuana
to benefit from a booming industry expected nationally to be worth $20
billion and employ more than 280,000 people in the next decade.

I make this recommendation because it is a more sane policy to deal
with the critical financial issues facing the state. Other states are
already taking advantage of the opportunity for massive job creation
and significant savings from reduced arrests and criminal prosecutions
for possession of small amounts of marijuana. In addition, it would
generate hundreds of millions of dollars each year that could help
tackle Pennsylvania's long-term budget problems.

I very conservatively estimate potential revenues from regulating and
taxing marijuana in Pennsylvania to be about $200 million a year.
Others have put that figure much, much higher. Sen. Daylin Leach (D.,
Montgomery) has estimated annual revenue from legalization of
marijuana could be well in excess of $300 million.

Sure, the tax revenues would be significant, but so are the
middle-class jobs and thriving businesses that could be created
directly and indirectly by this emerging industry. The longer we wait,
the more we will miss out on new business development, good-paying
jobs for Pennsylvanians, and tax revenues to support services for residents.

But, there are more reasons for the regulation and taxation of
marijuana. Millions of dollars are spent each year on marijuana
prosecutions. And prosecution costs are just part of the story. There
is also the loss of income and other social, personal, and emotional
impacts on those arrested for simply possessing a small amount of
marijuana. That's ridiculous. The police and court systems have more
urgent issues to address.

What's more, with the growing, deadly opioid epidemic in Pennsylvania,
the regulation and taxation of marijuana might help prevent some
people from getting addicted to prescription painkillers and entering
the potentially deadly spiral of opioid addiction. For these
Pennsylvanians, marijuana could be a much safer way to treat severe
pain.

Nationwide, support for regulating and taxing marijuana continues to
rise. Eight states - Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine,
Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington - and the District of
Columbia have all legalized marijuana in recent years. Other states
are considering it, including our neighbors Delaware, New Jersey, and
Maryland.

The latest Quinnipiac poll released in August showed 61 percent of
Americans agree "the use of marijuana should be made legal in the
United States." That is up from 59 percent earlier this year and up 10
points in the last five years.

Let's take a look at the Colorado experience.

Last year, Colorado - with less than half the population of
Pennsylvania - brought in $129 million in tax revenue on $1 billion in
marijuana sales from the new industry that had already created an
estimated 18,000 jobs.

After regulating and taxing marijuana, the total number of marijuana
arrests in Colorado decreased by nearly half between 2012 and 2014,
from nearly 13,000 arrests to 7,000 arrests.

Pennsylvania has already benefited by some cities' decriminalizing
marijuana.

In Philadelphia, marijuana arrests dropped from 2,843 in 2014 to 969
in 2016. Based on a recent study, the Rand Corp. estimated the cost
for each marijuana arrest and prosecution is approximately $2,200.
Using those figures, that's a savings of more than $4.1 million in one
Pennsylvania city.

By comparison, in 2015, York, Dauphin, Chester, Delaware, Bucks, and
Montgomery Counties each had more arrests for small amounts of
marijuana than Philadelphia.

Obviously, regulating and taxing marijuana is not something to enter
into lightly. Should Pennsylvania join the growing number of states
benefiting financially and socially from this industry, there are many
important issues to consider, including details about age limits,
strict regulatory oversight, licensing, growing policies, sale and use
locations, and possession limits.

It is time for this commonwealth to seriously consider this
opportunity to generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new
revenue, create more jobs, and help prevent thousands of people from
financial and personal pain and ruin because they were caught with a
joint.
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