As someone that has been lobbying to end cannabis prohibition for about two decades now, I have always stressed how the issue goes beyond political demographics and partisan squabbles. During the Measure 91 legalization campaign, I was adamant about going on conservative radio programs and fighting for every vote in every corner of Oregon, not just running up the vote tally along the I-5 corridor.
There are liberal and conservative reasons for legalizing cannabis, making it one of the few “controversial” political issues that garners broad public support. Compassion, personal responsibility, and entrepreneurship can be supported regardless of your voting preference. Neither mainstream political party has fully embraced legalization like they should, unfortunately, and as Zoe Zorka, writes in the conservative National Review, our economy could use a boost during our coronavirus pandemic:
Sunk Costs and Missed Opportunities
Even before the pandemic, marijuana represented a massive untapped revenue stream for governments. Drawing on the most recent available data from a 2018 Cato Institute study, Dwight Blake of AmericanMarijuana.org estimated that the fiscal windfall that would be achieved through drug legalization could amount to $53.23 billion dollars in annual budgetary gains for federal, state, and local governments. For perspective, that’s enough money to cover the cost of treatment for 37,354,386 coronavirus patients, or the purchase of 357,248,332 twelve-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer or 2,681,500,000 face masks.
A Twofold Benefit
Those gains would come from two primary sources: decreases in money spent enforcing drug prohibitions and increases in tax revenue. As state, federal, and local officials look for ways to cut law-enforcement costs, an almost $43 billion reduction in the amount spent annually enforcing marijuana prohibition would be a huge help. Releasing nonviolent offenders convicted of minor marijuana charges from jail would alleviate the burden on an already-overburdened criminal-justice system. And expunging such offenders’ records would allow them to reintegrate into the labor market more smoothly, giving them a fairer chance to break the cycle of recidivism.
The New Small Business on the Block
Marijuana legalization wouldn’t just create a new opportunity for “sin taxes.” It also has significant potential to stimulate local economies by promoting small-business ownership and creating jobs for the almost 20 percent of Americans who are expected to be unemployed or underemployed following the pandemic, according to Paul Shea, who owns an Indiana-based seller of legal CBD products and says his “business is booming.”
It has been a shame that our federal elected officials have been lagging behind the people on cannabis legalization these past few years. Now, during our nation’s greatest crisis since World War II, it is almost criminal. Small businesses like Kind Leaf are helping revitalize communities across our country that have legalized under state law, but they are doing so with one economic hand tied behind their back. With unfair federal tax provisions and banking regulations, Uncle Sam is depriving Americans of much needed jobs and revenue during our worst economic climate since the Great Depression.
If drug policy activism has taught me anything, it’s that we can’t count on politicians to save us. No matter who wins federal office in 2020, it will be on the people to rise up and force the next Congress and president to put an end to the failed and harmful policy of cannabis prohibition.