The marijuana legalization experiments underway in Colorado, Oregon, Alaska, and Washington have attracted a lot of attention around the country as test sites for the effects of legalization and exploring pot’s potential as a source of tax revenue. The first numbers are in, and they point to a resounding success: the state of Colorado’s Department of Revenue announced that legal marijuana pulled in some $70 million in taxes last year- almost double the amount made from alcohol taxes ($42 million)! This has led to a massive budget surplus in the state- $257 million, the majority of which is going to the state’s public schools.
It’s been so successful that the state has declared a tax holiday on marijuana products. “Marijuana taxes have been incredibly productive over the past year, so this tax holiday is a much-deserved day off,” says Mason Tvert, director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This will be the one day out of the year when the state won’t generate significant revenue. Over the other 364 days, it will bring in tens of millions of dollars that will be reinvested in our state.”
Marijuana users tend to smoke habitually and are willing to spend far more on their vice of choice than alcohol or tobacco users- on average, $1800 a year. Tvert remarked that it was “crazy how much revenue our state used to flush down the drain by forcing marijuana sales into the underground market. It’s even crazier that so many states are still doing it. Tax revenue is just one of many good reasons to replace marijuana prohibition with a system of regulation.
The findings are a vindication for marijuana activists and convincing evidence that the benefits of legalizing the drug far outweigh the cons. Lifting the burden of dealing with minor drug offenses from both users and law enforcement would be a great boon for both groups, and would start alleviating some of the devastating effects of the failed “War On Drugs”, which disproportionately fall on African Americans- who are three times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites. Enforcing marijuana laws also costs our nation $3.6 billion dollars a year, for little to no results. It’s far past time we stopped wasting our time on busting pot-smoking teenagers and focus on the real problems affecting this country.
Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.