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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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DEA’s Hemp Rule On THC Content Misinterprets Congressional Intent, Senators Say

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A pair of senators representing Oregon sent a letter to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on Thursday to demand changes to the agency’s proposed hemp regulations.

This is the second congressional request DEA has received on the subject this week, with a group of nine House members similarly imploring a revision of a rule concerning hemp extractions on Tuesday.

DEA released an interim final rule (IFR) for the crop in August, and it said the regulations were simply meant to comply with the 2018 Farm Bill that legalized hemp and its derivatives. But stakeholders and advocates have expressed serious concerns about certain proposals, arguing that they could put processors at risk of violating federal law and hamper the industry’s growth.

Sens. Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) said in the new letter that despite DEA’s claim that its IFR is only about compliance, the proposal “does significantly more.”

“The IFR treats hemp as a Schedule I controlled substance at any point its THC content exceeds 0.3% THC,” they said. “However, when Congress passed the 2018 Farm Bill, we understood that intermediate stages of hemp processing can cause hemp extracts to temporarily exceed 0.3% THC, which is why we defined hemp based on its delta-9 THC level.”

“In effect, the IFR criminalizes the intermediate steps of hemp processing, which is wholly inconsistent with Congress’s clearly stated purpose and the text of the 2018 Farm Bill,” the letter states.

In other words, while Congress intended to legalize hemp extracts, businesses that produce the materials could find themselves inadvertently breaking the law and be subject to enforcement action if THC levels temporarily increase beyond 0.3 percent.

A public comment period on DEA’s proposed rules closed on Tuesday. It saw more than 3,300 submissions, many of which focused on issues with the “work in progress” hemp THC issue.

Another issue identified by more than 1,000 commenters concerns delta-8 THC. The most widely known cannabinoid is delta-9 THC, the main component responsible for creating an intoxicating effect, but delta-8 THC from hemp is also psychoactive and is an object of growing interest within the market.

Because DEA’s proposed regulations state that all “synthetically derived tetrahydrocannabinols remain schedule I controlled substances,” some feel that would directly impact the burgeoning cannabinoid, as its converted from CBD through the use of a catalyst—and that could be interpreted as a synthetic production process.

In any case, it’s not clear whether DEA deliberately crafted either of these rules with the intent of criminalizing certain hemp producers—but stakeholders and advocates aren’t taking any chances.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has faced separate criticism over its own proposed hemp rules, though it has been more proactive in addressing them. Following significant pushback from the industry over certain regulations it views as excessively restrictive, the agency reopened a public comment period, which also closed this month.

USDA is also planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the market.

Read the letter from Wyden and Merkley on DEA’s hemp proposal below:

Wyden and Merkley letter on… by Marijuana Moment

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USDA Releases, Then Rescinds, Hemp Loan Notice Following Congressional Action

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently released—and then promptly rescinded—a notice on providing federal loans for hemp processors.

After the crop was federally legalized under the 2018 Farm Bill, USDA announced that regulations were being developed to offer direct and guaranteed loans to the industry. The federal agency unveiled those guidelines in April and then issued a new notice this month notifying applicants about the policy change ahead of the planned expiration of the earlier 2014 hemp pilot program.

The next day, however, it posted an “obsoleting notice” invalidating the prior document.

The new guidance “was developed with the understanding that operators would no longer be authorized to produce hemp under the 2014 Farm Bill Pilot Program,” USDA said. However, because Congress approved a continuing resolution that extends the program until September 30, 2021, the loan policies are not currently applicable.

That pilot program extension came at the behest of numerous stakeholders, advocates and lawmakers who have been pushing USDA to make a series of changes to its proposed hemp regulations. As those rules are being reviewed and finalized, they said it was necessary to keep the 2014 program in place.

The president signed the continuing resolution late last month, so it’s not clear why the notice on loan policy changes was released weeks later, which then necessitated a follow-up recision. But in any case, it’s another example of the fluidity and challenges of rulemaking for the non-intoxicating cannabis crop following its legalization.

It stands to reason that the loan processes outlined in the now-invalid notice will likely be consistent with what’s ultimately released next year, assuming the pilot program does expire then.

The primary rule change concerns licensing requirements for borrowers. After the 2014 regulations are no longer in effect, hemp loan applicants must be licensed under a USDA-approved state or tribal hemp program, or under the agency’s basic regulations if the jurisdiction the business operates in has not submitted its own rules.

Borrowers who are not licensed to grow hemp will be considered in non-monetary default and any losses will not be covered. For direct and guaranteed loans, hemp businesses must have a contract with USDA’s Farm Service Agency laying out termination policies and their ability to repay the loans.

As of this month, USDA has approved a total of 69 state and tribal hemp regulatory proposals—mostly recently for Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, New Mexico, Oklahoma and South Dakota. Illinois and Oklahoma were among a group of states that USDA had asked to revise and resubmit their initial proposals in August.

While the agency released an interim final rule for a domestic hemp production program last year, industry stakeholders and lawmakers have expressed concerns about certain policies it views as excessively restrictive.

USDA closed an extended public comment period on its proposed hemp regulations earlier this month. Its initial round saw more than 4,600 submissions, but it said last month that it was reopening the feedback period in response to intense pushback from stakeholders on its original proposal.

The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) said last month that the new 30-day comment window is too short and asked USDA to push it back, and it also issued a series of recommended changes to the interim final rule on hemp, which it says threaten to “stifle” the industry and benefit big firms over smaller companies.

All told, it appears that USDA is taking seriously the feedback it’s received and may be willing to make certain accommodations on these particular policies. The department’s rule for hemp is set to take effect on October 31, 2021.

In July, two senators representing Oregon sent a letter to Perdue, expressing concern that hemp testing requirements that were temporarily lifted will be reinstated in the agency’s final rule. They made a series of requests for policy changes.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wrote to Perdue in August, asking that USDA delay issuing final regulations for the crop until 2022 and allow states to continue operating under the 2014 pilot program in the meantime.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) also called on USDA to delay the implementation of proposed hemp rules, citing concerns about certain restrictive policies the federal agency has put forward in the interim proposal.

The senators weren’t alone in requesting an extension of the 2014 pilot program that was ultimately enacted legislatively, as state agriculture departments and a major hemp industry group made a similar request to both Congress and USDA in August.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, hemp industry associations pushed for farmers to be able to access to certain COVID-19 relief loans—a request that Congress granted in the most recent round of coronavirus legislation.

While USDA previously said that hemp farmers are specifically ineligible for its Coronavirus Food Assistance Program, that decision was reversed last month. While the department initially said it would not even reevaluate the crop’s eligibility based on new evidence, it removed that language shortly after Marijuana Moment reported on the exclusion.

Meanwhile, USDA announced last week that it is planning to distribute a national survey to gain insights from thousands of hemp businesses that could inform its approach to regulating the industry.

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New York Will Legalize Marijuana ‘Soon’ To Aid Economic Recovery From COVID, Governor Cuomo Says

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently said that legalizing marijuana represents a key way the state can recover economically from the coronavirus pandemic.

During a virtual event last week to promote his new book on the state’s COVID-19 response, the governor was asked when New York will legalize cannabis for adult use.

“Soon, because now we need the money,” he said, according to a recording that was obtained by USA Today Network. “I’ve tried to get it done the last couple years.”

“There are a lot of reasons to get it done, but one of the benefits is it also brings in revenue, and all states—but especially this state—we need revenue and we’re going to be searching the cupboards for revenue,” he said in remarks that will be released in full in a podcast in the coming weeks by Sixth & I, which hosted the event. “And I think that is going to put marijuana over the top.”

Cuomo has included legalization in his last two budget proposals, but negotiations between his office and the legislature fell through both times, with sticking points such as how cannabis tax revenue will be allocated preventing a deal from being reached.

A top adviser of his said earlier this month that the plan is to try again to legalize cannabis in New York in early 2021.

“We’re working on this. We’re going to reintroduce this in our budget in January,” he said. “We think we can get it done by April 1.”

Cuomo was similarly asked about legalization as a means to offset the budget deficit caused by the pandemic in May.

While he said it’s the federal government’s “obligation as part of managing this national pandemic that they provide financial relief to state and local governments,” he added that “I support legalization of marijuana passage. I’ve worked very hard to pass it.”

“I believe we will, but we didn’t get it done this last session because it’s a complicated issue and it has to be done in a comprehensive way,” he said.

The governors of New Jersey, New Mexico and Pennsylvania have also made the case that implementing a regulated marijuana program can help their states financially recover from the health crisis.

Cuomo indicated in April that he thought the legislative session was “effectively over” for the year and raised doubts that lawmakers could pass cannabis reform vote remotely via video conferencing amid social distancing measures.

Assembly Majority Leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes (D) made similar comments when asked about the policy in April, though she seemed to signal that she laid partial blame for the failure to enact reform on the governor prioritizing other issues during the pandemic.

In June, a senator said the legislature should include cannabis legalization in a criminal justice reform package, making the case that the policy change is a necessary step especially amid debates over policing reform. That didn’t come to pass, however.

The New York State Association of Counties said in a report released last month that legalizing marijuana for adult use “will provide the state and counties with resources for public health education and technical assistance” to combat the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the state Senate has approved several modest marijuana reform bills in recent months.

The chamber passed a bill in July that broadens the pool of people eligible to have their low-level marijuana convictions automatically expunged. That was preceded by a Senate vote in favor of legislation to prevent tenants from being evicted solely because of their legal use of medical marijuana.

Thanks to a bill expanding cannabis decriminalization in the state that the governor signed last year, the New York State Unified Court System made an announcement last month outlining steps that people can take to clear their records for prior marijuana convictions.

Locally, a local law enacted in New York City this summer bans pre-employment drug testing for marijuana for most positions. It was finalized in July following regulators’ approval of certain exemptions.

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