April 20 — 4/20 — for better or for worse, has become an unofficial holiday for marijuana aficionados and legalization activists. In the spirit of the day, we present a some statistics showing how legalizing the restricted herb could help grow our sticky economy.
An executive about-face
Recently, the Department of Justice has been getting tougher on medical marijuana growers and dispensaries, in spite of President Obama famously saying that federal forces would not interfere with people operating in compliance with state laws. Three years ago, President Obama said he didn’t feel legalizing marijuana was “a good strategy to grow our economy.”
However, there are many studies and statistics that point to the contrary. Economist Stephen Easton, for instance, calculated in 2010 that a legal marijuana industry could earn $45 billion to $100 billion annually.
In a piece about the Spanish town of Rasquera — which recently passed a referendum to grow a marijuana industry as a way of reducing its deficit — Scientific American compared legalizing marijuana to the repeal of prohibition:
“Legalization would put a damper on the violent crime that accompanies street sales while bringing needed revenue to government coffers, similar to what happened after Prohibition lifted.”
Growing support for legalization
A recent poll from the Associated Press-CNBC shows a growing acceptance of the idea of legalization. About a quarter of U.S. citizens think that marijuana legalization would add more jobs in their locality. About a third believe that legalization would improve the economy. Another quarter said they would be interested in investing in a legal marijuana business.
According to MadameNoire, the illegal marijuana trade earns about $36 billion a year in the U.S. If that industry were made legal, all of that revenue could be taxed.
Tax revenue is already pouring in to states that have medical marijuana laws. Colorado reported $5 million from taxing weed sales last year. The city of Oakland, Calif., earned about $1.4 million in pot taxes. Maine and Oregon are also reporting fatter tax coffers, thanks to their legal marijuana dealers.
Save government billions
Between the cost of enforcement and the loss of unharvested tax revenue, the federal government could save about $13.7 billion a year, according to a paper by Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron. The paper has garnered the endorsement of more than 300 top economists.
Medical marijuana dispensaries are on the rise in those states that allow them. As of July 2011, there were more dispensaries in the city of Denver than there were omnipresent Starbuck stores.
Marijuana dispensaries require staffs, as do pot farms and a dozen other cottage industries that legalization will foster. Harborside Health Center, a large marijuana dispensary in Oakland, Calif., alone employs 120 people.
Cost of incarceration
According to AlterNet, a 2007 study concluded that the cost of incarcerating people convicted of marijuana-related charges costs U.S. tax payers more than a billion annually. Not to mention the costs associated with prison overcrowding.
An obvious conclusion
And in the arguments against column, a study from Norway concludes that marijuana use in the workplace decreases the motivation of employees. — Who would have guessed?
Like alcohol, any legal intoxicant still needs to be regulated. Even if legalized, marijuana use in the workplace should probably be generally discouraged.