2013-02-07 / Editorial

Legislators should legalize marijuana

A bill will be introduced in the General Assembly this week that would regulate and tax marijuana like alcohol is taxed at the federal level.

No matter how you look at it, the war on drugs has failed. The prohibition on marijuana is costing our society billions of dollars annually. One report, compiled from estimates of more than 300 economists, is that our nation spends more than $14 billion per year in direct costs to the prohibition of marijuana. These tax dollars are wasted on drug enforcement, prosecution and incarceration. Our prisons are filled beyond capacity, yet we do not have enough money to afford adequate healthcare in this country.

The amount of money the state would save by not having to enforce laws banning marijuana is mind boggling.

Society is also losing because of the lives that are wasted by enforcement of the prohibition. Sending people to prison for possession of small amounts of marijuana is counterproductive.

According to a 2007 study, enforcing the marijuana ban is costing taxpayers $42 billion annually, including lost tax revenues.

Colorado and Washington have already approved the recreational use or marijuana. Other states have allowed the medical use of marijuana.

Taxing marijuana can be profitable for the state. There are three ways marijuana can be taxed – tax the growers, tax the distributors and then tax the retail sales. Alcohol and tobacco, although legal, are far more harmful than marijuana. Tobacco-related illnesses cost society billions of dollars. A prohibition against alcohol was tried in this country and it failed. The same could be said about the prohibition of marijuana.

Marijuana is considered a safe drug. It’s not even considered to be a gateway drug any longer. The use of marijuana is widespread throughout all ages of our population.

Legalizing marijuana would make our streets safer. It would reduce the crime rate. There would be no need for cartels to smuggle the drug into the United States. Drug dealers would lose their business if marijuana became legal.

It’s estimated that the state of Washington will gain about $500 million a year in taxes. Of course, that number would be smaller in Rhode Island. But it still would be a substantial amount.

Legal marijuana would create a whole new business – worth as much as $100 million nationally by some estimates. It would put people to work by creating new jobs.

More voters than ever believe that marijuana should be legalized. Last year the Gallup poll reported that more than 50 percent of Americans supported the legalization of pot.

Last year our state lawmakers voted to decriminalize marijuana. We should take that action a step further and legalize marijuana. It’s a solution to a number of costly problems in our state and nation.

If enough states follow suit and legalize marijuana, the federal government will be forced to do the same.

— Jeff McDonough

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