Print Edition: November 14, 2012
A major milestone in American history occurred on election day last week, and it wasn’t Barack Obama getting a second term. It was Colorado first—and then Washington shortly after—passing state law that would see marijuana become taxed, and legally distributed by the government, for personal recreational use.
It’s hard to believe some states are becoming this liberal on their drug policy despite being part of a country that has, by some accounts, spent upwards of $35 billion on a never-ending war on drugs. But the passing of these two initiatives marks the difference between the federal and state governments. Each state is unique and can understandably progress faster than the much larger federal government. That’s why progressive measures have been moving forward, such as initiatives for same-sex marriage as well as medical marijuana usage.
But here I’m talking about a straight up regulated supply chain of marijuana to the average American.
It’s unfortunate that Oregon couldn’t join them, as they also had a similar measure on ballot. Their effort failed by the inverted percentage that it passed by in the two other states, roughly 45 per cent support and 55 per cent opposed.
Even as Oregon failed this time, it will likely not be their last try. This wasn’t Colorado’s first go around, as they tried earlier in 2006. And there’s also another state on the west coast that failed as well, in 2008; California was looking poised to become the first state to legalize, but it seems at the last minute their feet turned pretty cold. I would bet that both California and Oregon will be taking another attempt not too long from now, though.
But going two states out of four that have come forward on this isn’t bad.
In fact, alcohol prohibition ended in much the same way – it was also pushed by individual states.
Obviously, just as with alcohol, there will be laws on usage. For the most part they will be similar to alcohol. There will be an age limit and, at least in Washington, a DUI limit of .05 nanograms per millilitre of THC in the bloodstream. That last point is contentious as THC does stay in the bloodstream after the impairment factors have worn off. Roadside testing will also be a difficult process.
It’s honestly kind of interesting how these initiatives come forward. They are proposals brought forth by the people, not the government. It’s the same way our referendum to eliminate the HST came about – people in those states collected petitions and brought them to the state. To get this onto the ballot in Washington, at least 241,153 valid signatures were required. In Colorado there were eight different initiatives filed, each with slight variations, in hopes that one would be able to move forward to the signature-collection process. And an interesting fact on the ballot measure in Colorado, the first $40 million in tax revenue will actually go to the public school capital construction assistance fund.
Because everything does boil down to money, how much do the states expect to bring in? Well, in Washington, the tax rate will be set at 25 per cent and that could bring in over $2 billion over the next five years. For Colorado over that period, it’s a lower estimate at $300 million, but after five years it’s expected by bring in at least $1 billion annually.
In the end, this change in perspectives boils down to two things. Certainly the first is a new source of revenue as costs continue to grow while economies flounder. But the other is about civil rights. If this is what the people want, the government needs to listen. Marijuana is not a drug that harms communities. If it’s regulated, handled correctly, kept out of the hands of youth and revenues are kept from criminals, this is the right move for the United States. Hopefully Canada will join in some day as well.