Many states have long been in conflict with federal law when it comes to the criminalization of marijuana, and now three states are planning to push the envelope a little further if voters are willing to support the move.
Washington, Oregon and Colorado all have initiatives on their November ballots that will decriminalize marijuana use for adults aged 21 and over and polls show that the margins are tight for the measures in all three states.
Those polls also show that Washington may have the best chance of the three of passing its measure into law. Initiative 502 would make recreational marijuana use legal for adults, but it would also limit growing and selling to authorized farmers and retailers and establish a DUI mandate similar to that enforced for drinking and driving.
The big hook, though, is the 25% tax that I-502 proposes that some experts say could bring in as much as $2 billion over the next five years, 40% of which would go toward the general fund and local budgets to help support schools, infrastructure, libraries and other things that everyone agrees are woefully underfunded.
New Approach, a marijuana advocacy group in the state of Washington, has invested $1 million in advertising to get the initiative off the ground. The “new approach” is to pitch suburbanites on the benefits of having all that extra money, as opposed to the current situation wherein growers and sellers keep the bulk of the profit made from quasi-legal medicinal sales.
Critics are concerned more pot on the streets will mean easier access for kids and a higher probability of abuse by a larger segment of the population. For these people, no amount of tax money will be enough to mitigate the perceived threat to the public health. Ironically, this group is also joined by marijuana purveyors who tout the use of the drug while deriding wider legalization for fear of losing profits.
In the end, it may all come down to the money. Prohibition ended because taxation was too
lucrative to ignore no matter what the cost to public health, and that cost has arguably been very high. In many ways marijuana decriminalization seems tame in comparison, but the cash incentive could be just as great – or even greater.