The only constant one can expect in life, is change. Changes in desires, changes in feelings, and changes in needs. This applies just as much to politics as it does to our everyday lives, and if there is one thing our generation is to be remembered for, I truly hope that it is the determination to break from conventional norms and chart paths towards prosperity that have not yet been paved for us. This statement applies to achieving peace in the Middle East, it applies to ending hunger in Africa, and it applies to creating a robust economy that isn’t saddled by shortsightedness and fear of change. In order to achieve longstanding economic prosperity, we will have to think of better ways to stimulate the economy than government spending projects that conveniently don’t have to be paid off until we are the ones making decisions. How can this be done? By creating new industry and allowing American entrepreneurialism to do the heavy lifting. Industry means production, production means labor, labor means jobs, and jobs mean growth. However, it is not possible to just “create industry” upon command. Rather, the only way industry can be created is if governments recognize the opportunity, listen to the will of the people, and craft a regulatory environment that ensures the industry’s feasibility. There is no more obvious lapse in this process than the way our government has treated the Cannabis industry.
To begin, take this quote from then-President Barack Obama:
“Young people: I understand this is important to you, but as you be thinking about climate change, the economy and jobs, war and peace, maybe way at the bottom you should be thinking about marijuana”.
At face value, this is an entirely legitimate and reasonable response to why Cannabis has not been legalized. While our generation tends to put this atop the list of things we’d like to get done, many others view this issue and put it on the back burner in order to pursue traditional policy goals. However, take note of two of the topics the former president mentioned: the economy and jobs. You see, even to a president who will go down as being one of the most relatable to “young people”, there is still a sizeable gap between the way we perceive this issue, and the way our elders do. What we need to do a better job of communicating, is that the legalization of Cannabis is just as much about jobs and the economy as it is about personal liberty and choice. That is why it is more important to us, because I believe that we’ve accounted for the myriad of benefits society stands to gain from legalizing Cannabis. In college, I studied economics, and what I always found to be so fascinating about economics is how it allowed me to see how interconnected our world is. Legalizing Cannabis is a very popular idea amongst millennials such as myself for many reasons, and today, we will discuss the positive externalities that may very well arise from its legalization.
Let’s begin with the ~fascinating~ topic of state tax revenue! Most people have a basic understanding that taxing Cannabis would yield a pretty penny in revenue for the local and state governments, but it will be important to take a deeper look into the topic because the more effectively we can make our points, the more effective we will be in driving change. In 2016, the state of Colorado, with a population of 5.45 million, reported that the Cannabis industry had brought in roughly $1.3 billion in revenues for the state, resulting in estimates of $150-200 million in tax revenues that went back to the state government. (Side note: In this piece, the topic of Federal level legalization will not be discussed, rather, we will use my home state of Florida as an example of what any given state has to gain from the legalization of Cannabis.) Anyway, let’s take the lower bound estimate of tax revenues and apply it to Florida just for curiosity’s sake: Population of FL/Population of Colorado → 20.27m/5.45m= 3.719. Scaled population x lower bound tax revenue estimate→ 3.719 x $150,000,000 = $557,889,908 in tax revenue alone. By using the same principles, we can multiply the $1.3 billion of revenue created by the Cannabis industry in Colorado by 3.719 to get the number $4.8347 billion, which is the revenue increase Florida would see if our Cannabis industry did as well as Colorado’s. Are the numbers above perfect? Absolutely not, these calculations are incredibly complex and there are a lot of things that mine didn’t account for like the possible lack of popularity regarding Cannabis in more conservative areas of Florida, different tax laws, etc. So instead of treating these numbers as figures derived from a scientific, peer reviewed study, treat them more like a ballpark estimate with a margin of error of $150 million. Fair? Fair.
So, what could Florida do with the money they would stand to gain from Cannabis legalization? Again, in order to answer this question, we can take a look at Colorado. When citizens voted to legalize Cannabis, they decided to dedicate the first $40 million dollars in excise tax revenue to school construction, especially in underdeveloped communities. Any excise tax revenue after that gets put into a general “slush fund” of sorts for public schools. In my last piece, I spoke a bit about the financial strain that currently faces our educational system, and by using Colorado as an example it becomes clear that Cannabis legalization would alleviate a great deal of that burden for each state. Additionally, the state of Colorado also utilizes a sales tax on Cannabis, which they use to finance the MTCF (Cannabis Tax Cash Fund). Each year, the MTCF helps pay for expansions in health care, health education, substance abuse prevention, treatment facilities, and law enforcement. I find it incredibly ironic that each of the causes I listed above are the same causes anti-legalization advocates say Cannabis legalization would do harm to. Don’t you? And just so you guys can be sure I’m not making this up, for more on the MCTF and what it does, click the link here: https://www.colorado.gov/pacific/sites/default/files/16-04%20Distribution%20of%20Marijuana%20Tax%20Revenue%20Updated_2.pdf.
But isn’t Cannabis a gateway drug? Won’t legalizing it only exasperate the existing opioid epidemic? Interestingly enough, if you look at every single state that legalized Cannabis for medical use, they actually saw opioid abuse levels drop by 23%, and hospitalization for opioid abuse drop by 13%. By the way, this study was cited by none other than Fox News. If Fox News, the most conservative, anti-legalization network out there is putting these numbers forward, you can probably take it as fact. And in my opinion, this is pretty intuitive for two reasons. Number 1: In high school I remember how a few of my friends were getting drug tested by their parents, as their parents wanted to make sure that they’re teenage kids weren’t getting into trouble, a totally reasonable thing for a parent to do. However, rather than “going clean”, I saw these kids turn to things like Xanax and synthetic Cannabis AKA “spice”, which conveniently doesn’t show up on drug tests. I’m sure you can think of a few of these instances as well. This rationale also applies to opioids as well, which are now much easier to attain than “spice” is. This leads us to point number 2: The growing evidence suggesting that our country’s current Heroin epidemic stems from the overprescription of opioids (https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/research-reports/heroin/how-heroin-linked-to-prescription-drug-abuse).
As you most likely know, opioids are incredibly addicting, and when a patient’s subscription runs out, they often times seek alternate methods to achieve the same desired affect, heroin is often times one of those methods. Now, if Cannabis was more widely accepted as suitable treatment option for things like chronic pain and anxiety, wouldn’t it stand to reason that fewer people would be exposed to opioids and hence fewer people would become addicted to them? Furthermore, wouldn’t it also stand to reason that this would in turn greatly alleviate the heroin epidemic we are currently experiencing? Theories like the ones above are great food for thought, but this is where the conversation gets interesting:
Take a look at the side by side comparison above, on the left we have a graphic showing the top and bottom 10 states in “Opioid prescriptions per capita”. On the right, we have a map of every state where Cannabis has been legalized for medical use and beyond. When I actually did the research on this, I was blown away to find that of the top ten states with the most opioid prescriptions, only ONE had legalized Cannabis for medical use. Conversely, when you look at the bottom 10, EIGHT had legalized it. Coincidence? Probably not. The bottom line is this: our generation is pretty liberal and experimental when it comes to the substances we put in our body, there isn’t much you can do to regulate that. If you take the most innocuous substance (Cannabis), and make it harder to attain than things like Vicodin and Oxycodone, you’re literally asking for an opioid epidemic. These assumptions are backed up by the facts that we just laid out above.
So we’ve covered tax revenues, how those revenues can be used for public goods like schooling and health care, and we’ve also spoken about how Cannabis legalization has actually been shown to lower the occurrence of opioid abuse. The last thing we should touch on is how it would dramatically shrink the black market. We’ve all heard the stories about Mexican drug cartels “flooding into our borders and poisoning our people”, and we can probably agree that Mexican drug cartels are not a business we should support. However, a massive amount of Cannabis that falls into the hands of people around the country comes, in one way or another, from these cartels. Legalizing Cannabis doesn’t only ensure the safety and regulation (not to mention quality) of your herb, but it also diverts 30% of drug cartel revenue back to the American workers and government. That comes out to roughly $1.4 billion, and once again, this number doesn’t come from me – it comes from The Mexican Competitiveness Institute, a Mexican think tank specializing in these sorts of calculations.
Many people advocate for the legalization of Cannabis, but I’ve often times it is difficult to explain “why”. When we fail to logically lay out why we believe Cannabis should be legalized, it has the effect of enforcing all the negative stereotypes that come along with being a millennial. This piece didn’t get into personal choice and liberty because that argument is not enough to really move the ball down the field in this respect. Real change can only be brought about when the facts are presented in a coherent and logical manner. After gathering the facts and presenting them in that way, the argument against Cannabis legalization approaches a point of indefensibility. If all 50 states were to legalize Cannabis, we would see an explosion in tax revenues, increased investment into things like schools and hospitals, less opioid prescriptions and therefore less opioid addiction. When all of this is laid out, it becomes clear that the legalization of Cannabis will have a number of spillover effects that will dramatically improve multiple areas of our lives, even if we don’t smoke it ourselves. So the next time you’re debating your 88 year grandmother on this topic (I’m speaking from experience), try to remember a few of the points we discussed in this piece.