Sunday, March 01, 2009

Fixing The Economy In Oregon

Oregon is looking at a $311,000,000 budget shortfall this year, and that's after the economic stimulus money from the Feds. Things are bad enough that they are talking about asking teachers to go without pay for 10 days, among many other things. Seeing as taking money *away* from people doesn't really help the economy too much, it occurs to me that there is one thing we could do that would help. 

Legalize pot. 

It's simple, really. You throw a good-sized tax on the product. Given that it generated an estimated $35.8 billion dollars in 2005, as much as the number 2 and number 4 crops combined (corn and hay), there's clearly a demand. 

Think of the side benefits as well. If people who smoke pot are no longer criminals, you get a lot of people out of jails, and thus less of a burden on the budget. You also save the money and effort the legal system devotes to enforcing this particularly outdated law. 

60 Minutes had a segment this evening that discussed how Mexico is being taken over by the drug cartels. Pot is one of three drugs cited as part of the problem (the others are coke and meth, neither of which I am advocating legalization for as it would create more problems than it solves), so taking a third of that business out of the equation makes the problem that much better. Mexican drug cartels have been identified as the largest organized crime problem in the US, so we have a clear and present interest in making things better on this front. 

For those who say that the government shouldn't be pushing drugs, we already do. The biggest contributers to the various "anti-drug" organizations are, as you might expect, the tobacco and alcohol lobbies. By almost any measure, pot is a "better" recreational drug than both of these licit drugs. Not to mention the therapeutic benefits for people with loss of appetite, as well as other conditions like glaucoma. 

Pot, like many recreational drugs, was given a bad rap early in the 20th Century for many reasons, but primarily because powerful business interests in the US did not want hemp competing with tree pulp as a prime source for paper. Now it's the licit drug producers that want to avoid more competition. As with so many other things, there is money to be made, but who gets that money is the question. With so much opposition and effort to avoid more "sin" taxes (Oregon is currently considering raising the miniscule beer tax, which the industry is fighting tooth and nail despite it not having been raised in 40 years), bringing a new revenue stream on a product that many people already pay for (and has no tax paid on it at all) seems like a no-brainer. 

Who would fight this? People who don't like any recreational drug use, of course, although pot certainly has a much lower per capita social cost than alcohol, which kills a quarter million Americans a year (pot has never been shown to kill a single person through simple use). It also doesn't screw with your judgement centers, which is why there's no Mothers Against Stoned Drivers. 

Besides the alcohol and tobacco industry, the other big loser is the current producers, who don't have to pay taxes on their product and can demand a premium on the black market. However, bringing these people into legitimate businesses (Oregon produces a *lot* of the pot grown in the US) would generate a considerable amount of tax for the state, and they could offer them all amnesty for any pre-illegal production crimes. My guess is something on the order of $100 million a year could be generated in Oregon alone through full legalization. 

An estimated one in six Americans smoke pot on a regular basis. It isn't corrupting your children, it isn't making minorities rape white women, it isn't a bane of civilization. It's a recreational drug, like caffeine, processed sugar, alcohol, nicotine, and chocolate. In the Netherlands, it's sold in coffeehouses. In New Mexico and Oregon, it's legal for medical use. 

The time to legalize the drug is now when our economy is at the lowest point it's been in decades. We even have a president in office who might just not scream bloody murder and sic the DEA on the state. Let's stop mistaking illegality for immorality or danger. After all, there's money to be made.

For those of you with even vaguely open minds on this subject, I strongly recommend you consult the Consumer's Union Guide To Licit And Illicit Drugs, which you can find at any bookstore. I especially urge you to read the entire book if you have pre-teen or older children for obvious reasons. The simple truth is that pot is about as benign a drug as we have out there, and to ignore what's already the biggest cash crop in the country as a revenue source strikes me as particularly dunderheaded.


Matthew said...

I've never understood the appeal of this particular drug, but...

Pot legalization, or at least de-criminalization, would have so many positive effects it's hard to understand the opposition. Once you start looking into all the costs attendant with the "war on drugs," it boggles the mind.

As long as we're comparing to things like tobacco and alcohol, I'll add a third which is at least as destructive: unchecked greed, which is sold to us night and day by some of the same powerful entities. While we prohibit a mostly harmless plant, we haven't regulated that drug nearly enough.

We see the results all around us.

Ken said...

William F. Buckley and I agree!