Everyone has his or her own opinion as to why the economy is in the shape it’s in. Whether you blame Bush and the Iraq war, greedy banks and their huge bonuses or OPEC for $4-a-gallon necessity, one thing everyone can agree on is the economy is in dire need of a ‘80s movie comeback montage. Bailouts and other large infusions of cash work in the short-term if only for morale, but all that money has to be paid back at some point.
Federal and local governments need a long-term solution to the economic crisis that doesn’t involve selling our childrens’ future to China. We need a solution that will not only create new revenue streams but whose byproducts will also benefit us in some way. We need a new and untapped enterprise that will revive the entrepreneurial spirit of the American people. We need to legalize the growth, distribution and sale of marijuana for recreational use.
Before we go any further, let me make it clear that I’m not some pothead on a soapbox. I don’t even smoke weed. I’m a drinker. It’s what I do best. That being said, step back for a second and put aside all your moral convictions against marijuana. The issues that legalization of marijuana carries with it are no different than the issues that came with the ending of prohibition of alcohol. The only difference is we now have a blue print handed down from the legalization of alcohol to use as a guideline on how to go about exploiting America’s original bumper crop.
As with moonshiners and rum runners during prohibition, the biggest problem with marijuana is the cost incurred by state and local governments in their battle against the illegal marijuana industry. Different branches of local, state and federal government spend billions of dollars each year trying to hinder the booming cannabis trade. The state of New York alone spends more than $1 billion annually in its plight to police the marijuana trade.
According to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), nationwide, there were 847,864 marijuana-related arrests in 2008 with more than 87 percent being for mere possession. That number multiplied by an average cost per arrest and trial of $10,400 comes to a donkey-choking $8.8 billion per year.
Now, I know in the age of $700 billion bailouts, $8.8 billion doesn’t seem like a big number. However, this cost is shouldered mainly by local law enforcement agencies. Agencies in the same cities where your little brother’s school has to cut out its music program because it can’t afford the $30,000 salary – the cost of three marijuana-related arrests and trials – of the music teacher.
NORML also estimates there are currently more than 60,000 inmates incarcerated for marijuana-related crimes, which like the 800,000 arrests, are mostly for possession. At $20,000 per year, per inmate, the cost of incarcerating these people costs state and local governments more than $3 billion per year. At the current yearly growth rate (12 percent), the number of inmates incarcerated for marijuana-related offenses and the cost of their incarceration will both double by 2015 – that’s 129,000 inmates at a cost of more than $6 billion per year.
In the grand scheme of things, a few billion dollars saved every year by fewer arrests and decreased prison populations hardly seem worth the effort. You’re right. When you take into account our national debt is measured in the trillions, it’s a drop in the bucket. Fortunately, fewer arrests and safer prisons are merely byproducts of legalizing marijuana. The real money is going to come from all of the businesses that spring up from the growing, harvesting, manufacturing and distributing of sweet Mary Jane herself.
In states such as California and Michigan, where the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes has been legalized, new businesses focused on the growing and distributing of medical marijuana are established on an almost daily basis. The economically crippled state of California estimates that in 2010 it will see an additional $1.9 billion in tax revenue from the medical marijuana industry.
Now broaden the medical marijuana model to include recreational use and you’ve got a cash cow industry generating hundreds of billions in not only tax revenue for local and state governments, but also revenue for businesses, both small and large. In addition to the hundreds of billions in federal and state sales tax generated, local licensing offices would see a boon of revenue from licensing, both individuals and companies, to grow, transport, sell or be involved in any business related to the cannabis industry.
Thousands of previously unemployed people would now have jobs filling newly created positions in the fledgling industry – jobs that would mean millions if not billions in income tax revenue. Even small companies not directly involved in growing cannabis -like companies that manufacture hydroponics kits for growing marijuana – would create thousands of jobs in order to fill the demands of both large-scale growers and the army of do-it-yourself home growers. Essentially, every type of operation related to the tobacco industry would need to exist in the parallel universe of the new marijuana industry since production and laws of the two are so similar.
The small family farms that were all but eradicated by the North American Free Trade Agreement during the Clinton administration would see an unprecedented revival. They would need new or modified equipment to grow the new crops, which would in turn mean struggling companies like John Deere would have to work double time to keep up with demand for new or modified equipment. This new equipment would most likely have to be financed by the farmers’ banks, which would have plenty of bailout money to lend at low interest rates.
Will we ever see a truly legitimate and legal marijuana industry in our lifetime? I’d like to think so. The stereotype of the drugged-out stoner has given way to the average Joe who likes to smoke a doobie every now and then, which has made being a pot smoker an acceptable label in any social circle. Now we just have to convince the 70-year-old senators and congressmen. So, before you “celebrate” on the 20th of this month, write your senator, congressman and your Governor a letter and let him or her know that you’ve seen the light, and a future with legalized weed would be “kind” indeed.Share this Post[?]