Just watch. In a couple of years, states will begin legalizing marijuana and they’re going to tax it for the revenues.
– PracticalDad to Eldest and Middle, 2009
Unfortunately, I’m right. Granted, these aren’t the legislators of Colorado and Washington simply saying yep, we’re broke so let’s legalize and tax; this is the result of public referendums brought about by marijuana activists. Perhaps even as recently as five years ago, they might have been beaten back but we’re now in the throes of the first real public realizations that all of the promises made to various constituencies are costlier than expected and that the money isn’t there to support them. These votes are the opening of a new front in the ongoing and growing fight about austerity, what we can – and want to – afford with our public dollars.
This budgetary impact was actually part and parcel of the approach crafted by the legalization proponents, particularly in the state of Washington. The proposal was that there would be a 25% tax on marijuana with the money going to the state coffers, and I suspect that it was a major reason that it passed. The voters recognize that there are obligations, particularly for their own favorite projects, but the tax revenues won’t support them without significant cuts. Since no one likes to cut because it’s going to hit somebody somewhere, then the alternative is to find a new source of revenue and dope has the potential to be a big source.
But this isn’t going to succeed easily because of the opposition from the Federal government, which has sworn to oppose legalization in any state. And while it has partially to do with the welfare of the kids, a significant portion also comes down to money. We all know that money runs the government, both in terms of paying for the services rendered and the votes. There are multiple lobbies that oppose marijuana’s legalization for their own financial ends and have spent money as an investment to assure that it continues to remain illegal. First and foremost of these is the lobby for the for-profit private prisons, principally Corrections Corporation of America. How extensive is the use of private prisons? CCA was the first in 1983 and continues to be the principal player. With an incarcerated population of 2.3 million people, private industry is responsible now for 130,000 prisoners, or about 8% of that population. While it might not appear to be that large an amount and not worthy of concern, consider this: while the private prison population rose by 37% from 2002 to 2009, the amount of money spent lobbying rose by more than 150%. With the trend towards privatization continuing in the wake of the Reagan Revolution, incarceration is increasingly about revenue instead of rehabilitation and atonement.
Along with the private prisons, there are other aspects of the legal system with a vested interest in continuing the prohibition of marijuana. There are prison guard unions, especially in California, with an interest since anything that continues to provide a constant supply of inmates and the accompanying revenue stream accrue to their benefit; with budgets on the cusp of real shrinkage so that the profit margin per inmate declines, there’s an interest in increasing the volume of inmates in order to maximize the profit and payroll for the union members. There’s also an interest for the legal enforcement community since the affected budgets mean that there’s a greater need to obtain grants available for drug enforcement in order to meet the payroll and keep the money flowing.
In researching this article, I was surprised to see the strange bedfellows who went along with the legal community to oppose marijuana legalization. Both the pharmaceutical and recreational alcohol lobbies have ponied up money to oppose legalization; the former because of the concern about competition of pot with prescription medications and the latter because of simple competition with legalized recreational alcohol. In California, the beer distribution lobby actually donated to defeat California Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana in that state.
So the lines are being drawn as everybody takes a side to determine how the draining pot of resources is allocated to use. Private monies will be spent and those without private funds will increasingly take to the hallways and streets to demonstrate for their own viewpoint. As a parent, it will be my job to assess the viewpoints and then make the best decision on behalf of my kids. Personally, I know how I was raised and the values with which I was inculcated. The hard part will be take those views and assess in the cold, hard light of day to see if they still make sense.