Thursday, December 4, 2008

Should pot really be taxed?

I voted yes to legalize small amounts of marijuana in Massachusetts in November. California is now considering a similar measure, and this LA Times column sheds some light on the potential for revenue. It brings up some interesting points, such as:

You have to consider that legalizing it would have its own costs. Recent research shows marijuana to be more addictive than was thought. Because marijuana is illegal, and because its users often smoke tobacco or use other drugs, teasing out marijuana's health effects and associated costs is almost impossible. And more people would smoke it regularly if it were legal -- estimates say 60% to 70% of the population as opposed to 20% to 30% now -- and the social costs would rise. There's also doubt about figures from Harvard's Jeffrey Miron, who says that billions spent on enforcing marijuana laws could all be saved by legalization. Research finds that many marijuana arrests are collateral -- say, part of DUI checks or curfew arrests -- and many arrestees already have criminal records, meaning they might wind up behind bars for something else even if marijuana were legal. Legalization also wouldn't do away with pot-related crime entirely. There would likely be a black market, just as there is in other regulated substances, such as cigarettes and liquor. That means police and prosecution, which cost money. As to the tax benefit, that's partly a function of the price point for legalized pot. If everyone could legally grow and consume dope, then the crop probably wouldn't be worth $35 billion and the taxes wouldn't be anything to write home about.

These are all things I wondered about before election day, particularly the part of collateral arrests, as I saw that firsthand as a cops reporter.