Roy Exum: Sunday’s Smoke Signals

Tuesday, April 22, 2014 - by Roy Exum
Roy Exum
Roy Exum

Easter Sunday, just passed, was on April 20 this year and at 4:20 in the afternoon – Colorado time – there appeared a huge harsh-smelling cloud of acrid smoke that billowed in the air fully across the state. Make no mistake about it, in what will become a huge holiday in more states in the quick coming years, legal marijuana is here to stay and on Sunday at 4:20, everybody was laughing while they puffed pot.

Back in the earliest days of hippies and the like, marijuana got the codename of “4/20” when, legend has it, a group of free spirits that called themselves “The Waldos” at San Rafael High School in California would meet at 4:20 p.m. beside a statue of Louis Pasteur on the school grounds to inhale a little “ganga,” or “Mary Jane,” as the herb was also called by those in the loop.

Now, some 40-odd years later, it is all but a cinch that within the next several years almost all America will abandon its ridiculous war against marijuana and follow in the brave path that has legalized both medicinal and recreational marijuana in Colorado. Are you kidding me? The 420 mile-marker on I-70 running through the state has now been stolen so many times it has been replaced by one that reads, “419.99.” That’s the truth!

But the figure that had everybody gabbing about at Sunday’s great smoke-in was $6.17 million, which is the amount of money the state collected in tax revenues off of marijuana in the first TWO months of 2014 that the stuff has been available and taxable. Got your attention? In the next fiscal year that will begin on July 1 in Colorado, the state has budgeted $98 million in taxes on pot alone.

The state of Washington has also legalized marijuana and 20 other states now allow medicinal marijuana. This has enabled ArcView Market Research, a company in California, to determine the legal marijuana market in the United States is worth $1.53 billion, a number that will jump to $10.2 billion within the next five years.

With $10.2 billion a year, we could start a new country! So don’t think politicians, who can smell money faster than a trained drug dog can sniff out a reefer, aren’t studying America’s newfound acceptance of a well-known drug long forbidden by the U.S. government. According to the authorities, marijuana is still a Level 1 narcotic but don’t tell those who live in Washington D.C. If you get caught with a small amount in the nation’s capital you’ll get a ticket that you can settle for less than a parking violation.

Back to Colorado, state officials designated $40 million in pot taxes for public schools in the first two months. The trade organization that oversees the growing, harvesting, packaging and selling of marijuana within the state says almost 10,000 jobs have been created due to the new “industry” and goodness knows what the tourism figures will be – they’ve even got bus tours.

In Washington State they are conservatively budgeting $190 million in pot taxes during the first four years while California is raking in $105 million a year in taxes on medical dispensaries. Arizona, where there are 80 such dispensaries and more popping up every day, will go from $35.4 million in 2013 to an estimated $142.19 million in weed dollars this year.

Portland, Maine, voted to legalize marijuana as a municipality in November and organizers there feel certain they can guarantee $30 million in new taxes with marijuana. Rhode Island is currently studying a bill in the legislature that would regulate weed like alcohol and, if it passes, the tax revenue would be anywhere from $21.5 million to $82 million annually. Maryland, where medicinal marijuana was just approved by the governor’s signature and a recreational bill is still in the House, is figuring an yearly uptick of, oh, just about $134.6 million give or take a few dollars.

For the record, Alaska looks like the next state to fully legalize weed, with Arizona and California quick to follow. In Delaware a majority of the state’s voters support legalization, just like 66 percent of those in Hawaii. In Massachusetts the legalization approval is 50-50 among the polls but Nevada has almost 60 percent who favor it if the schools were to get all the tax money.

New York, Oregon, and Florida have groups actively pushing for legalization but what is the biggest stumbling block is the White House. After President Obama likened pot to drinking alcohol, attorney general Eric Holder seemed very open to looking at federal laws that one state after another is now openly ignoring.

I don’t think there is any question about it – 4/20 day in Colorado on Sunday sent a very visible smoke signal that times have changed. And then there is one other money figure you need to know. According to Harvard University economist Jeffery Miron, marijuana prohibition in the United States costs state and federal governments $17.4 billion (with a “b”) every year.

Please, such a battle is hopeless and long lost. We need to get on the train or be left at the station.

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