With most Americans in favor of legalized marijuana – and a growing number of states legalizing the drug – how long does it take to get a recreational pot in the US?

Making marijuana legal was a grassroots effort. The support came from the ground up, and the laws in general have changed, not in the state assembly, in the voting booth. The most recent example was the approval of November 3rd votes to legalize marijuana in New Jersey, Montana, Arizona and South Dakota, and for medical purposes in Mississippi.

“[Voters] said they wanted to, as opposed to policy makers who make that decision, “Adam Levin, a key contributor to the Pew Charitable Trusts, told Medical Daily.

Putting the pot on the ballot is a conscious strategy born of necessity. “Our only way to foster this public sentiment and translate it into public order is to actually support the legislature and the legislature and to put this issue to a public vote,” said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of the marijuana laws (NORML).

There is an advantage to using the voting slip, said Mr Armentano. “Are there any benefits to using the electoral initiative process to get the legislation you want? In some cases, yes, there is, ”he said. In some states, individuals other than elected officials participated in the writing of the legislation. On the other hand, not all states allow electoral action, and some let lawmakers rewrite what becomes law. This mixed process has meant that recreational marijuana laws vary considerably from state to state.

Benefits of tax revenue

Tax revenues from marijuana sales were a major driver of legalization. In January last year, New York state governor Andrew Cuomo proposed legalizing marijuana and taxing it at 20%, which translates into a state profit of $ 300 million, Bloomberg reported. Cannabis is decriminalized in New York, but not yet legal.

Regarding tax dollars, “We see a lot of different things in different states, which are sometimes very specific to the state,” Ulrik Boesen told Medical Daily. Mr. Boesen is a Senior Policy Analyst at the Tax Foundation, an independent not-for-profit group.

“Colorado has put some money into education. New Jersey also continues some of their expected [tax] Police training revenue so it’s a little bit everywhere, ”he said.

Mr Boesen said he would prefer an excise tax on marijuana, a tax paid directly by the user of the product such as alcohol, tobacco and fuel. Often tax money goes into related programs.

“There are some costs that society has to bear when people consume these products and it is legitimate to reimburse those costs,” said Boesen. “… [The money] should take care not to get people into a car when they are drunk. It should not be used for unrelated spending programs such as building new schools or building roads or managing wildlife. ”

He also warned against making government services dependent on marijuana taxes. The marijuana market is volatile, and when it gets cheaper, tax revenues will fall. “You don’t want to be in a situation where a totally independent spending priority only has enough income if enough people buy marijuana,” he said.

In Alaska, half of marijuana tax revenue goes to reducing criminal recidivism. A quarter of the income goes into education. For example, according to Emily Walker, a tax auditor with the Alaskan Treasury Department, education funds support after-school programs to prevent drug abuse among teenagers and support high-risk students.

Alaska is by and large on par with other states. Marijuana taxes usually go to a combination of a general fund and specialized programs, often focused on relapse or education related to marijuana. The income is also used for infrastructure projects, nature conservation, general education and public health. Of the states that legalized this year, Montana will use a portion of its tax revenue for conservation.

“It will not address budget shortfalls caused by a pandemic. It won’t unlock all of that amazing revenue that you can use to cut income tax or whatever it is, but it’s significant revenue, ”Boesen said.

“When you talk about government budgets versus major tax streams like sales tax or income tax, [marijuana revenue] is smaller than that, ”said Mr. Levin. Even if it’s not a lot of money, it can still be tempting. “States are always looking for new revenue. You won’t crank your nose up at any new source of income, especially now, in the pandemic and recession. ”

Federal Legalization?

Currently, marijuana is illegal at the federal level. It’s on List 1 of the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substances Act, the most strictly restricted list.

However, this hasn’t stopped most states from recognizing marijuana use and enacting regulations.

Many compare the current landscape to Prohibition, the state-wide constitutional ban on alcohol from 1920 to 1933.

By the time the ban was lifted, 10 states had already started regulating alcohol despite federal law. “Today we have 36 states that regulate medical access [to marijuana] and 15 states that regulate adult access, in turn, much of the country, ”Armentano said.

If the federal government removed cannabis as a controlled substance, control of the drug would go to the state level, Armentano said. Federal legalization would not change any existing state regulations, and cannabis would remain illegal in states that don’t regulate it.

Federal legalization would have further, complicated implications for states, Boesen said.

As long as the drug is illegal, international trade is illegal. “So you have to cultivate, process, sell and consume the product within a state. Now when you have federal legalization you suddenly have interstate trade too, ”he said.

It’s too early to know what would happen, but that could change where raw marijuana comes from and how it’s processed and sold – thus changing the way state taxes are collected.

“There are too many wildcards to make an accurate prediction,” said Karmen Hansen, program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, which monitors cannabis regulations.

In addition to possible changes at the federal level, there is also the possibility that the pandemic and the current recession will change something.

“This is the first recession to have occurred since a state legalized marijuana,” Levin said. “So it is unclear how this will affect consumer behavior.”

Sabrina Emms is a science journalist. She began as an intern on a health and science podcast on Philadelphia public radio. Before that, she worked as a researcher studying the way bones are formed. When she is not in the lab and at her computer, she is in the moonlight as an assistant to a pig veterinarian and bagel baker.

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