The Audacity of Dope
Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps has made marijuana a popular topic. He was photographed smoking from a bong, lost corporate sponsorships, and was suspended from the sport as a result. But celebrities aren't the only ones thinking about dope.
Some legislators in California have pot on their minds, too. That's because the government of the biggest economy in the United States is facing a massive budget deficit whose pain would be alleviated by decriminalizing marijuana.
California's current deficit stands at a whopping $15 billion and is expected to reach $42 billion next year. And the state run by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has virtually run out of cash. It recently delayed $3.5 billion of payments to taxpayers and counties.
While nearly all U.S. states currently face budget shortfalls, California's deficit is more than one-third of its general fund. That's largely due to its dependence on income taxes, which slide during a recession. And the state can't easily borrow due to the government bond-market freeze. Moody's even warned it may downgrade the state's rating.
There's no easy fix to the problem, as any solution likely requires cutting benefits and social services—tough political choices for Schwarzenegger. But the state does have an abundant natural resource it may be able to draw on for help.
Marijuana is California's largest cash crop. It's valued at $14 billion annually, or nearly twice the value of the state's grape and vegetable crops combined, according to government statistics. Indeed, a recent report pegged marijuana as two-thirds of the economy of Mendocino County, a ganja hotbed north of San Francisco. That's not surprising—it costs $400 to grow a pound of pot that can sell for $6,000 on the street.
But the state doesn't receive any revenue from its cash cow. Instead, it spends billions of dollars enforcing laws pegged at shutting down the industry and inhibiting marijuana's adherents. Of course, there's a reason for that. Marijuana's social costs may include addiction and rehabilitation treatment and lost productivity. Yet these are minute compared with the extensive social costs of alcohol or tobacco.
Of course, just legalizing pot wouldn't automatically harvest revenues for the state. An organized system of regulating sales and collecting taxes would need implementing. And it's possible that general drug use could rise, though the debate that pot is a gateway drug to harder substances is inconclusive.
There's also the question of whether or not taxing marijuana would simply create a black market that would again skimp the state on taxes. The best corollaries here are cigarettes and alcohol. Rises in "sin taxes" on them have decreased consumption—a positive—but don't seem to have destabilized the legal market. Decriminalization could lead to some job losses in law enforcement, though the countervailing argument would see these forces put to work stopping harder crime.
So what are the numbers? A national legalization effort would save nearly $13 billion annually in enforcement costs and bring in $7 billion in yearly tax revenues, according to a study by Harvard University economist Jeffrey Miron. Since California represents 13 percent of the U.S. economy, those numbers suggest the state could save $1.7 billion in enforcement costs and nab up to $1 billion in revenues. That doesn't include any indirect revenues as, for example, rural farming communities grow or marijuana tourism, which has been lucrative for the Netherlands, takes off.
Put it all together, and California could potentially wipe some $3 billion off its budget deficit by letting its people puff and pay. That still leaves it with a gaping $39 billion hole to fill, so the state's problems go far beyond what a new cash crop can fix. But anything to help soothe the state's chronic fiscal pain—even if unpalatable to some—is worth considering.
Its funny how the article only looks at what it could possibly take in by legalizing it. Why doesnt it alos estimate the cost to added medical problems, the losses associated to worker productivity, added enforcement for DUI, etc etc. I hate a one sided article/debate.
Hell my area doesn't convict DWI's for alcohol or abused prescription medication. Marijuana? Please. Just our crash and injury rate would double.
Originally Posted by BigDawg
Hey it mentioned my county :D and we do arrest, prosecute, and convict people for DUI
We all know they could cut more money in the budget my eliminating all the freebies given to the illegals in California, then again that is against everything that the Liberal left stands for.
OH my the left Coast rides again. Can you imagine the gov selling dope. They could grow it, roll it, and tax the piss out of it and it would be the new tobacco tax that funded projects for so long but was the media's pet demon for the last decade and now more and more places are not smoker chic.