“Legalizing cannabis just makes sense. So why aren’t we doing it?” —Paul Armentano, co-author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink? (Chelsea Green, Fall 2009)
What could you do with an extra $14 billion? Members of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and other like-minded organizations will be asking government officials that very question on April 15 when they present a mock check to the U.S. Treasury.
“We represent the millions of otherwise law-abiding cannabis consumers who are ready, willing, vocal and able to contribute needed tax revenue to America’s struggling economy,” says Allen St. Pierre, NORML’s executive director. “All we ask in exchange for our $14 billion is that our government respects our decision to use marijuana privately and responsibly.”
But it’s not just NORML calling on lawmakers to tax and regulate marijuana. In today’s economic climate, the question is: Who isn’t?
Late last month, during President Barack Obama’s first-ever Internet town hall, questions pertaining to whether legalizing marijuana like alcohol could help boost the economy received more votes from the public than did any other topic.
The questions’ popularity — and the president’s half-hearted reply (”No,” he said and laughed.) — stimulated a torrent of mainstream media attention. In the past two weeks alone, commentators like David Sirota (The Nation), Kathleen Parker (Washington Post), Paul Jacob (TownHall.com), Clarence Page (Chicago Tribune) and Jack Cafferty (CNN) have expressed sympathy for regulating pot. Even Joe Klein at Time magazine weighed in on the issue, writing this month that “legalizing marijuana makes sense.”
It makes cents, too.
According to a 2005 analysis by Harvard University senior lecturer Jeffrey Miron — and endorsed by over 500 distinguished economists — replacing pot prohibition with a system of taxation and regulation similar to that used for alcohol would produce combined savings and tax revenues of between $10 billion and $14 billion per year.
A separate economic analysis conducted by George Mason University professor Jon Gettman in 2007 estimates that the total amount of tax revenue derived from cannabis could be far higher. According to Gettman, the retail value of the total U.S. marijuana market now stands at a whopping $113 billion per year.