It is difficult to rule free people. Criminals can be imprisoned, humiliated, and discarded. Governments wield power by attacking enemies of the state. When there aren’t enough criminals, the government can make more. Once you have a nation of criminals, the government’s power is absolute.
No body of law created more criminals than the War on Drugs. Since its passage, the Land of the Free imprisons more of its citizens than any nation on Earth. A frightening number of the imprisoned are in jail for a benign substance with confirmed health benefits: marijuana. However, the age of civil rights has passed. Economically depressed Americans only listen to dollars, not sense. As such, this article focuses on the multi-billion dollar pot industry.
Legalization promises a revenue windfall for Georgia. Starting with California’s legalization of medical marijuana, its stigma has diminished to the point that two states legalized the plant for all uses. Popular culture focuses on its hallucinogenic properties, but there are myriad other highly profitable uses of the drug. In addition to smoking, hemp fiber is used in plastics, converted into fiber, and prepared for food.
Current policies enforcing prohibition are expensive. These costs stem from three areas: (1) police costs; (2) the courts; and (3) jail costs. In 2005, Jeffrey A. Miron, a Harvard economics professor, published an article estimating the state costs and tax benefits of legalization. To date, it is among the most reliable authorities on legalization’s budgetary implications. Miron estimated the total expenditures devoted to marijuana for the police, legal system, and corrections facilities. In 2000, Georgia’s police force spent 3.8% of its funds on marijuana offenses. For the same year, the courts spent 11% of their budget on marijuana cases. The prison system spent a bit less than 1% of its funds on marijuana cases, over $13 million. In all, the Miron report estimated that in the year 2000 Georgia spent no less than $150 million enforcing marijuana laws.
In addition to reducing government costs, legalization will generate revenue. The national pot market is a $10.5 billion industry, and without black market restrictions is worth about $7.5 billion. Roughly 5% of Georgians smoke marijuana. Miron estimated that legalization in Georgia stands to generate $19,300,000 in annual revenue.
These funds are critical. The Georgia Budget Policy Institute (GBPI) reports that Georgia is in an ongoing fiscal crisis. Weak 2012 revenue collections hurt Georgia’s ability to replenish its ‘rainy day’ fund. Also, the GBPI projects a $374 million shortfall for Medicaid and Peachcare, which provide health benefits for children, pregnant women, the disabled, and the elderly. Further, HOPE is in trouble; it might only cover ½ tuition by 2016.
Marijuana and its related industries are not a panacea, but they are a step in the right direction. Legalizaton in Georgia saves on costs and paves the way for a whole new industry to flourish. Georgia deserves to lead the South as the green industry leader. It makes sense socially. It makes sense financially.