By, Conor Dunleavy

One of the biggest issues in the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election is the economy of the United States and the massive debt we’ve built up in the 21st century.  With the debt of the country now topping $18 trillion, it’s clear that although we can function as a world leader while in debt, the country cannot continue in this downward spiral.

Many Presidential candidates will put forward their own tax plans that will bring in some billions of dollars either from the top 1% of the country, or the middle class; but is this really the answer?  Sure taxing Americans directly from their income will increase government revenue, but I think it’s safe to say that if you asked anyone if they’d like their taxes to rise, they’d probably say no.  So what else can the country do to increase revenue.  What about Marijuana?

This piece isn’t about the actual issue of Marijuana and whether or not it should be legalized.  I don’t have an opinion on the legalization and think that states should continue to have votes for their respective laws, and wait on the federal government to make a decision of their own.  Instead of discussing the legal aspect, I’d rather focus on the economic benefit legalization would have on America.

Recreational Marijuana is currently legal in 4 states and Washington D.C.  Colorado is probably the most know for their legalization of recreational Marijuana, and that is why all stats regarding to the rest of the country will come from what has been going on in Colorado.

Woman at dispensary in Colorado Courtesy of money.cnn.com
Woman at dispensary in Colorado
Courtesy of money.cnn.com

The obvious reasoning for legalization across the country is the amount of money that can be made in taxing the drug at dispensaries.  Taking the power out of the hands of the drug dealer and putting it into the governments hand is a big transition, but one that would vastly increase tax revenue.  Colorado put a 28% tax rate on sales of recreational Marijuana.  Between the time that the state began taxing the drug on January 1st 2014 & the end of that year, $53 million in tax revenue was collected not including money made from Medical Marijuana.  Colorado has the 22nd largest population in the country coming in at a little above 5 million people.  If we took the same amount of money made in tax revenue in Colorado and applied it to the entire countries population which is around 309 million people, we’re looking at something in the realm of $3,255,933,000 ($3.25 billion dollars).

One of the not so obvious ways that legalization would increase economic growth is the jobs it would create.  According to the department of revenue, 16,000 people were licensed to work in the marijuana industry as of the end of 2014.  In a country where unemployment is still higher than desired, legalization would give unemployed people the opportunity to have a job where they would make a good living in a legal industry.  Not only would this reduce tax money that is spent on government programs that help the unemployed and underprivileged, but it would also add in a large group of people who would now be subject to government taxes.

Finally, legalization would decrease government spending on incarcerations of Marijuana related arrests.  According to the Washington Post, “Arrests in Colorado for the possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana have plummeted 95 percent since voters in that state legalized recreational use of the plant.”  That number is a remarkable not just because of how much it has decreased, but because of how many arrests there are in the United States based on Marijuana alone.  According to drugpolicy.org, the “Number of people arrested for a marijuana law violation in 2013: 693,482.  Number of those charged with marijuana law violations who were arrested for possession only: 609,423 (88 percent).”  That means if the statistics from Colorado held true across the country, the number of people charged with Marijuana law violations would be closer to 31,000.  With the average cost of an incarcerated inmate in the United States being around $30,000, the government would be spending closer to $914 million dollars on inmates in relation to Marijuana, rather than the approximately $18,569,728,233 spent on Marijuana related incarcerations now.  

All that being said, there are many other political and social reasons why legalization is much easier said than done, but the numbers definitely show the positive side to legalization.  Just some food for thought Congress.

Information & Statistics courtesy of:

Click to access Colorado_Marijuana_Legalization_One_Year_Status_Report.pdf

http://www.drugpolicy.org

http://www.money.cnn.com

http://www.washingtonpost.com