Revamping America’s marijuana laws is a Tea Party cause made in heaven. With conservatives trying to get ahead of liberal public opinion and election season, legal weed is an issue compatible with even the most extreme right-wing principles. We just need to get over one nagging detail.
Conservatives are not comfortable with marijuana. Unlike emphysema and lung cancer from cigarettes, drunk driving and cirrhosis from alcohol, heart attacks from sloth and fast food diets, and the other costs of our bad habits that put us in early graves, we view marijuana as an unsavory indulgence. It reeks of hippies, irresponsibility, draft dodgers, even communism. It almost certainly leads to terrible consequences for anyone who uses it.
Do these terrible consequences include making piles of cash from legal marijuana?
Legal weed is more fiscally responsible than bankruptcy
States can’t go bankrupt. There is no law on the books that lets them do it, but there are federal laws that force states to spend on things they can’t afford like educating their illegal residents. What is the Republican plan for ruined states that can’t pay their obligations, are functionally bankrupt, and are still required to make good on their financial promises? Conservatives don’t like bailouts, we can’t stop states from spending, and we don’t like legal weed, either. Are we being stupid? Are destitute states foolish for not pursuing this option?
Legal marijuana means tax revenue not just from sales but from the other industries and jobs it supports. Think restaurants. Think coffee shops. Think tourism. Think not spending on law enforcement and spending the tax dollars on other problems. Estimates on how much could be made are all over the map, but the figures all fall in the millions (see The Tax Foundation, Taxing Marijuana: The Washington and Colorado Experience.)1.
Enforcing federal marijuana laws costs an estimated minimum $5.5 billion per year.2 We might want to think about using those billions for something like paying down the debt, even though the Office of National Drug Control Policy suggests there are undiscovered ways for the country to put its financial house in order:
While many levels of government and communities across the country are facing serious budget challenges, we must find innovative solutions to get us on a path to financial stability – it is clear that the social costs of legalizing marijuana would outweigh any possible tax that could be levied.3
I live in Illinois. I’m still waiting for those innovative solutions.
Can the Tea Party back marijuana laws that restrict individual liberty?
Chris Christie lumbered up on his stump this week and threatened to clamp down on states that have legalized marijuana if he ever gets the chance. How does he justify asserting federal control over state marijuana laws when he agreed to join other states challenging federal action on immigration? He can’t, but Christie is a RINO, not a Tea Partier.
States’ rights and individual liberty are Tea Party mainstays. They argue against restricting freedom. Marijuana’s risks don’t justify spending taxpayer dollars to lock people up, pay judges’ salaries, or waste police time hauling violators away. How can conservatives argue in favor of federal and state marijuana laws taking away our freedom and using our money to do it when a similar issue, gun control, is almost universally opposed by Republicans?
Rand Paul took a stand against overzealous enforcement and in favor of medical use. He proved that taking an unpopular stance on marijuana laws doesn’t spell doom for the Tea Party when he joined two Democratic senators in proposing we lighten up on the medical marijuana industry with the CARERS Act (Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act).
Paul is still with us. He just announced his candidacy for president.
Americans spend on marijuana. They spend a lot.
The White House claims we used 40% more marijuana between 2002 and 2010.4 Spending estimates are up, way up:
Expenditures on marijuana in the United States were flat from 2002 to 2007, somewhere between $20 billion and $45 billion, before increasing during the last few years of the decade, rising to somewhere between $30 billion and $60 billion in 2010.5
Like too many things government, we don’t know how much cash is really involved. These estimates were just released and are four years old. We do know that there is a lot of money in illegal weed. That means there is also a lot of money in legalization and some money to be had from decriminalization and medical use.
Legal marijuana means making money from crime
What’s wrong with turning a profit from an underground market? We already do it with gambling. Unlike strip mall gaming parlors, marijuana has attained some respectability in high places.
Legal marijuana is about making money from a crime defined by principle. It’s also about a government fearful of admitting it has made a mistake, spent more money than we can imagine on that mistake, and jailed people for no good reason. This is a cause Tea Party conservatives can get behind during a campaign season when we have precious little to hang our hats on and an elephant in the room named Hillary. Just this once, can’t we beat the Democratic Party to the punch?