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Legalizing Drugs Would Boost US Budgets By $100 Billion, Harvard Researcher Concludes

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Ending the prohibition of marijuana and other currently illegal drugs and instead taxing and regulating their sales would supplement federal and state government budgets to the tune of up to $106.7 billion a year, according to a new analysis from a Harvard University researcher.

“At both the federal and state levels, government budgets would benefit enormously from drug legalization policies,” Jeffrey Miron, director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Economics at Harvard University, wrote in the report published on Monday by the libertarian Cato Institute.

“This report estimates that $47.9 billion is spent annually on drug prohibition enforcement, whereas $58.8 billion could potentially be raised in tax revenue.”

Miron, who also serves as director of economic studies at Cato, published a previous estimate of the economic impact of legalizing cannabis and other drugs in 2010, but actual revenues from states that have since legalized marijuana blew those projections out of the water.

“Washington collected nearly $70 million in marijuana tax revenues during the first year of legalization, almost exactly the estimate in the 2010 report once adjusted for inflation. In fiscal year 2016, however, Washington collected nearly triple that amount, and in fiscal year 2017 tax revenues reached nearly $320 million. Oregon collected only $20.6 million in fiscal year 2016, about half the 2010 estimate, but it collected $70.3 million in fiscal year 2017, well above the 2010 estimate. In Colorado, marijuana tax revenues have risen from $67.6 million in calendar year 2014 to $247.4 million in calendar year 2017. Even adjusting for inflation, those figures far outstrip the 2010 estimates as well as the updated estimates presented in this paper.”

In the new analysis, Miron speculates that the real numbers could be higher because of robust cannabis tourism in legalization state so far, or it could be because marijuana prices haven’t fallen as far as he initially projected would occur under legalization.

“Revenues may continue to increase over time as more stores open or if demand increases as a result of greater cultural acceptance of marijuana,” he wrote. “But revenues in existing legalization states may also moderate if other states or the federal government legalize marijuana. Another consideration is that a nontrivial share of tax revenue in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington has been generated from collection of one-time application and licensing fees… As recreational marijuana becomes a more established industry, states will likely see a decline in the number of new entrants and therefore a decline in licensing revenue.”

Aside from revenues, Miron also looks at potential criminal justice cost savings resulting from the end of drug prohibition, which he estimates are “likely to be modest in practice, even if the number of drug arrests falls substantially.”

“Early experience suggests that governments will reallocate rather than reduce those expenditures.”

See below for Miron’s state-by-state calculations on the impact of drug legalization, courtesy of Cato:

Table 1: State and local expenditures attributable to drug prohibition, billions of dollars, 2016

All drugs Heroin/cocaine Marijuana Synthetic Other
29.37 12.78 6.04 4.93 5.62

 

Table 2: State and local expenditures attributable to drug prohibition, millions of dollars, 2016

State All drugs Marijuana Heroin/cocaine Other
United States 29,374.9 6,036.9 12,779.2 10,555.4
Alabama 252.9 51.2 111.5 90.2
Alaska 111.8 17.4 54.0 40.4
Arizona 615.1 96.7 286.3 232.0
Arkansas 192.9 40.3 82.8 69.9
California 5,963.4 951.4 2,718.4 2,293.0
Colorado 422.3 64.2 200.1 157.9
Connecticut 314.9 74.1 142.3 98.5
Delaware 113.5 25.1 48.5 39.9
Florida 1,170.0 180.4 564.3 425.2
Georgia 1,339.2 424.0 457.9 457.8
Hawaii 172.6 33.9 72.8 65.8
Idaho 140.7 23.2 63.8 53.7
Illinois 713.1 125.4 334.9 252.7
Indiana 637.6 236.5 193.0 207.4
Iowa 204.8 59.0 77.1 68.5
Kansas 206.5 54.2 81.5 70.7
Kentucky 276.9 56.8 122.2 97.9
Louisiana 376.2 72.2 170.0 133.9
Maine 174.5 63.5 67.1 44.0
Maryland 514.9 77.5 248.7 188.6
Massachusetts 481.0 115.5 215.5 150.0
Michigan 860.3 200.9 356.2 302.7
Minnesota 443.5 130.7 164.1 148.4
Mississippi 278.7 86.3 96.9 95.6
Missouri 335.8 76.6 141.5 117.5
Montana 160.4 28.7 68.4 63.3
Nebraska 147.2 31.1 63.2 52.8
Nevada 223.3 34.6 106.6 82.1
New Hampshire 175.7 65.2 67.0 43.5
New Jersey 669.3 117.8 320.5 231.0
New Mexico 345.1 59.3 149.4 136.4
New York 1,889.6 308.8 915.1 665.4
North Carolina 891.2 263.3 319.0 309.3
North Dakota 310.7 153.7 62.6 94.0
Ohio 650.2 111.0 311.3 227.7
Oklahoma 589.5 209.5 182.1 198.2
Oregon 375.4 57.2 177.7 140.4
Pennsylvania 1,033.0 179.6 493.7 359.6
Rhode Island 203.6 76.1 77.4 50.2
South Carolina 244.7 47.4 108.9 88.4
South Dakota 158.8 67.5 40.9 50.2
Tennessee 342.7 53.9 165.1 123.7
Texas 1,711.5 291.3 798.2 621.9
Utah 767.3 151.9 300.1 315.3
Vermont 69.3 19.5 29.5 20.4
Virginia 602.1 81.2 296.1 224.7
Washington 545.8 82.4 259.3 204.0
West Virginia 270.1 94.5 85.4 90.3
Wisconsin 414.8 62.7 199.1 152.9
Wyoming 223.5 42.9 89.3 91.3
District of Columbia 47.2 8.5 22.0 16.7

 

Table 3: Federal expenditures attributable to drug prohibition, billions of dollars, 2015 (in 2016 dollars)

All drugs Marijuana Cocaine Heroin Other
18.47 3.96 8.42 1.47 4.61

 

Table 4: State and federal tax revenues from drug legalization, billions of dollars, 2016

Total Marijuana Cocaine Heroin Other
Federal revenues 39.21 8.04 17.28 10.18 3.71
State revenues 19.60 4.02 8.64 5.09 1.86

 

Table 5: State tax revenues from drug legalization, distributed by population, millions of dollars, 2016

State Total Marijuana Cocaine Heroin Other
All states 19,603.33 4,020.00 8,640.00 5,090.00 1,856.67
Alabama 296.52 60.81 130.69 76.99 28.08
Alaska 45.07 9.24 19.86 11.70 4.27
Arizona 416.48 85.41 183.56 108.14 39.45
Arkansas 181.91 37.30 80.18 47.23 17.23
California 2,382.11 488.49 1,049.89 618.51 225.61
Colorado 332.86 68.26 146.71 86.43 31.53
Connecticut 218.99 44.91 96.52 56.86 20.74
Delaware 57.67 11.83 25.42 14.97 5.46
Florida 1,236.75 253.62 545.09 321.12 117.13
Georgia 623.07 127.77 274.61 161.78 59.01
Hawaii 87.06 17.85 38.37 22.61 8.25
Idaho 100.97 20.71 44.50 26.22 9.56
Illinois 784.33 160.84 345.69 203.65 74.29
Indiana 403.97 82.84 178.05 104.89 38.26
Iowa 190.72 39.11 84.06 49.52 18.06
Kansas 177.57 36.41 78.26 46.11 16.82
Kentucky 270.30 55.43 119.13 70.18 25.60
Louisiana 285.22 58.49 125.71 74.06 27.01
Maine 81.22 16.65 35.79 21.09 7.69
Maryland 366.23 75.10 161.41 95.09 34.69
Massachusetts 414.44 84.99 182.66 107.61 39.25
Michigan 605.87 124.24 267.03 157.31 57.38
Minnesota 334.92 68.68 147.61 86.96 31.72
Mississippi 182.62 37.45 80.49 47.42 17.30
Missouri 371.19 76.12 163.60 96.38 35.16
Montana 63.05 12.93 27.79 16.37 5.97
Nebraska 115.69 23.72 50.99 30.04 10.96
Nevada 176.17 36.13 77.64 45.74 16.69
New Hampshire 81.26 16.66 35.81 21.10 7.70
New Jersey 545.86 111.94 240.58 141.73 51.70
New Mexico 127.09 26.06 56.01 33.00 12.04
New York 1,206.34 247.38 531.68 313.23 114.25
North Carolina 613.04 125.71 270.19 159.18 58.06
North Dakota 46.23 9.48 20.38 12.00 4.38
Ohio 708.95 145.38 312.46 184.08 67.15
Oklahoma 238.70 48.95 105.21 61.98 22.61
Oregon 245.86 50.42 108.36 63.84 23.29
Pennsylvania 781.45 160.25 344.42 202.90 74.01
Rhode Island 64.49 13.22 28.42 16.74 6.11
South Carolina 299.02 61.32 131.79 77.64 28.32
South Dakota 52.41 10.75 23.10 13.61 4.96
Tennessee 402.89 82.62 177.57 104.61 38.16
Texas 1,675.66 343.62 738.53 435.08 158.70
Utah 182.70 37.46 80.52 47.44 17.30
Vermont 38.25 7.84 16.86 9.93 3.62
Virginia 511.17 104.82 225.29 132.73 48.41
Washington 437.42 89.70 192.79 113.58 41.43
West Virginia 112.47 23.06 49.57 29.20 10.65
Wisconsin 352.36 72.26 155.30 91.49 33.37
Wyoming 35.83 7.35 15.79 9.30 3.39
District of Columbia 40.95 8.40 18.05 10.63 3.88

 

Table 6: Summary of expenditure savings and additional revenues from drug legalization, billions of dollars, 2016

All drugs Marijuana Heroin/cocaine Other
Expenditures State 29.4 6.0 12.8 10.6
  Federal 18.5 4.0 9.9 4.6
Total 47.9 10.0 22.7 15.2
Revenues State 19.6 4.0 13.7 1.9
  Federal 39.2 8.0 27.5 3.7
Total 58.8 12.0 41.2 5.6

 

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Tom Angell is the editor of Marijuana Moment. A 20-year veteran in the cannabis law reform movement, he covers the policy and politics of marijuana. Separately, he founded the nonprofit Marijuana Majority. Previously he reported for Marijuana.com and MassRoots, and handled media relations and campaigns for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition and Students for Sensible Drug Policy. (Organization citations are for identification only and do not constitute an endorsement or partnership.)

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GOP Senator Presses Treasury Secretary On Tax Credits For Marijuana Businesses

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A Republican senator recently pressed the head of the Treasury Department on whether marijuana businesses qualify for a federal tax benefit.

During a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was asked about the “opportunity zone” tax credit, which is meant to encourage investments in “distressed,” low-income communities through benefits such as deferrals on capital gains taxes.

Sen. James Lankford (R-OK), whose state’s voters approved a medical marijuana ballot measure in 2018, told Mnuchin that businesses that derive more than five percent of their profits from things like alcohol sales are ineligible for the tax credit, but there’s “not a definition dealing with cannabis businesses.”

“Are they within that five percent amount or are they not at all because there’s a federal prohibition on cannabis sales?” the senator asked.

“I’m going to have to get back to you on the specifics,” Mnuchin replied.

“That’d be helpful to get clarity because there are cannabis businesses across the country that, if they fall in opportunity zones, they’ll need clarification on that,” Lankford said. “When you and I have spoken about it before—it’s difficult to give a federal tax benefit to something that’s against federal law.”

 

Lankford, who opposes legalization and appeared in a TV ad against his state’s medical cannabis ballot measure, has raised this issue with the Treasury secretary during at least two prior hearings. When he questioned whether cannabis businesses qualify for the program last year, he clarified that he personally does not believe they should.

While Mnuchin’s department has yet to issue guidance on the issue, he said in response to the earlier questioning that his understanding is that “it is not the intent of the opportunity zones that if there is this conflict [between state and federal marijuana laws] that has not been cleared that, for now, we should not have those businesses in the opportunity zones.”

Mnuchin has also been vocal about the need for Congress to address the lack of financial resources available to state-legal marijuana businesses. Because so many of these companies are forced to operate on a largely cash-only basis, he said the Internal Revenue Service has had to build “cash rooms” to store their tax deposits.

“There is not a Treasury solution to this. There is not a regulator solution to this,” he said during one hearing. “If this is something that Congress wants to look at on a bipartisan basis, I’d encourage you to do this. This is something where there is a conflict between federal and state law that we and the regulators have no way of dealing with.”

Last week’s Finance Committee hearing was centered around President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2021 budget request, which separately includes a provision calling for the elimination of an appropriations rider that prohibits the Justice Department from using its fund to interfere in the implementation of medical cannabis laws as well as a continued block on Washington, D.C. spending its own local tax dollars to legalize marijuana sales.

American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients

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American Bar Association Wants Protections For Marijuana Banking And Lawyers Working With Cannabis Clients

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The American Bar Association (ABA) approved two marijuana-related resolutions during its midyear meeting on Monday.

The group’s House of Delegates voted in favor of proposals endorsing pending federal legislation to protect banks that service cannabis businesses and calling for a clarification of rules to ensure that lawyers will not be penalized for representing clients in cases concerning state-legal marijuana activity.

Under the banking resolution, ABA “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and ensure that it shall not constitute a federal crime for banking and financial institutions to provide services to businesses and individuals, including attorneys, who receive compensation from the sale of state-legalized cannabis or who provide services to cannabis-related legitimate business acting in accordance with state, territorial, and tribal laws.”

ABA added that “such legislation should clarify that the proceeds from a transaction involving activities of a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider shall not be considered proceeds from an unlawful activity solely because the transaction involves proceeds from a legitimate cannabis-related business or service provider, or because the transaction involves proceeds from legitimate cannabis-related activities.”

A bill that would accomplish this goal was approved by the House of Representatives last year, but it’s currently stalled in the Senate, where it awaits action in the Banking Committee. That panel’s chair, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-ID) is under pressure from industry stakeholders to advance the legislation, but he’s also heard from anti-legalization lawmakers who’ve thanked him for delaying the bill.

“Passage of the [Secure and Fair Enforcement] Banking Act or similar legislation will provide security for lawyers and firms acting to advise companies in the industry against having their accounts closed or deposits seized,” a report attached to the ABA resolution states. “This will also foster the rule of law by ensuring that those working in the state-legalized legitimate cannabis industry can seek counsel and help prevent money laundering and other crimes associated with off-the-books cash transactions.”

“Currently, the threat of criminal prosecution prevents most depository institutions from banking clients, including lawyers, who are in the stream of commerce of state-legalized marijuana. This Resolution is necessary to clarify that such provision of legal and other services in compliance with state law should not constitute unlawful activity pursuant to federal law.”

The second marijuana-related resolution ABA adopted on Monday asks Congress to allow attorneys to serve clients in cannabis cases without facing federal punishment.

Text of the measure states that the association “urges Congress to enact legislation to clarify and explicitly ensure that it does not constitute a violation of federal law for lawyers, acting in accord with state, territorial, and tribal ethical rules on lawyers’ professional conduct, to provide legal advice and services to clients regarding matters involving marijuana-related activities that are in compliance with state, territorial, and tribal law.”

Such a change would provide needed clarity for lawyers as more states legalize cannabis for adult use. ABA’s own rules of conduct have been a source of conflict for attorneys, as it stipulates that they “shall not counsel a client to engage, or assist a client, in conduct that the lawyer knows is criminal or fraudulent.” Federal law continues to regard marijuana as an illegal, strictly controlled substance.

An ABA report released last year made the case that there’s flexibility within that rule, however, as “it is unreasonable to prohibit a lawyer from providing advice and counsel to clients and to assist clients regarding activities permitted by relevant state or local law, including laws that allow the production, distribution, sale, and use of marijuana for medical or recreational purposes so long as the lawyer also advises the client that some such activities may violate existing federal law.”

A new report attached to the resolution states that “statutory guidance is needed that explicitly ensures that attorneys who adhere to their state ethics rules do not risk federal criminal prosecution simply for providing legal counsel to clients operating marijuana businesses in compliance with their state law.”

“This Resolution accomplishes this elegantly by harmonizing federal criminal liability with States’ ethical rules regarding the provision of advice and legal services relating to marijuana business. If a state has legalized some form of marijuana activity and explicitly permitted lawyers to provide advice and legal services relating to such state-authorized marijuana activity, such provision of advice and legal services shall not be unlawful under the Controlled Substances Act or any other federal law.”

Last year, ABA adopted another cannabis resolution—arguing that states should be allowed to set their own marijuana policies.

Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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Border Patrol Union Head Admits Legalizing Marijuana Forces Cartels Out Of The Market

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The head of the labor union that represents U.S. Border Patrol agents acknowledged on Friday that states that legalize marijuana are disrupting cartel activity.

While National Border Patrol Council President Brandon Judd was attempting to downplay the impact of legalization, he seemed to inadvertently make a case for the regulation all illicit drugs by arguing that cartels move away from smuggling cannabis and on to other substances when states legalize.

Judd made the remarks during an appearance on C-SPAN’s Washington Journal, where a caller said that “the states that have legalized marijuana have done more damage to the cartels than the [Drug Enforcement Administration] could ever think about doing.”

“As far as drugs go, all we do is we enforce the laws. We don’t determine what those laws are,” Judd, who is scheduled to meet with President Trump on Friday, replied. “If Congress determines that marijuana is going to be legal, then we’re not going to seize marijuana.”

“But what I will tell you is when he points out that certain states have legalized marijuana, all the cartels do is they just transition to another drug that creates more profit,” he said. “Even if you legalize marijuana, it doesn’t mean that drugs are going to stop. They’re just going to go and start smuggling the opioids, the fentanyl.”

One potential solution that Judd didn’t raise would be to legalize those other drugs to continue to remove the profit motive for cartels. Former presidential candidate Andrew Yang made a similar argument in December.

Federal data on Border Patrol drug seizures seems to substantiate the idea that cannabis legalization at the state level has reduced demand for the product from the illicit market. According to a 2018 report from the Cato Institute, these substantial declines are attributable to state-level cannabis reform efforts, which “has significantly undercut marijuana smuggling.”

Additionally, legalization seems to be helping to reduce federal marijuana trafficking prosecutions, with reports showing decreases of such cases year over year since states regulated markets have come online.

In his annual report last year, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts also noted reduced federal marijuana prosecutions—another indication that the market for illegally sourced marijuana is drying up as more adults consumers are able to buy the product in legal stores.

Top Mexican Senator Says Marijuana Legalization Bill Will Be Approved This Month

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