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The Daily Wildcat

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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Legal marijuana bodes well for students, local govt.

Last week, Oregon’s new law legalizing recreational marijuana came into effect, -making it the fourth state to legalize, following Alaska, Washington and Colorado. Recreational marijuana is also legal in the District of Columbia. Thousands of Oregonian growers, dispensary owners and marijuana enthusiasts gathered at the Weed the People event to celebrate what many called a historic moment.

The main impetus for the event was a result of people seeing green—and I’m not talking about marijuana. As free doobies were passed around the event, so were business cards among the “ganjapreneurs” who gathered there to network. These eager capitalists are hoping to be ahead of the market when retail cannabis sales begin, likely next fall.

They have good reason to be hopeful. In Colorado, where the retail marijuana industry is beginning to take shape, recreational and medical marijuana sales totaled $700 million last year. The real economic impact is expected to be much higher as this figure excludes marijuana-related products, such as pipes or vaporizers, as well as any marijuana-related increase in tourism.

While profits have been dampened by restrictive federal tax laws, heavy state taxes and banking difficulties, the industry is expected to become more profitable as it grows. For some, retail recreational marijuana has already turned out to be a gold mine. On the first day they were permitted to sell marijuana to recreational users, the owners of Breckenridge Cannabis Club saw their sales increase 3,000 percent.

Business owners aren’t the only ones seeing green; in 2014, the Colorado government raked in $63 million from marijuana sales and an additional $13 million in licensing fees. Much of this money is being sent directly to public schools and drug prevention programs while the rest goes to the state’s general fund.

Colorado isn’t just making money from legal bud—it’s saving money too. Since voters chose legalization, marijuana-related arrests have plummeted 95 percent. With an estimated 37,000 less people passing through the criminal justice system, state law enforcement has saved millions of dollars and is able to focus more time and attention on violent crime. It should not be forgotten that 37,000 people were saved from the stigma and diminished economic prospects following an arrest, especially since drug arrests disproportionately affect minorities.

According to a report by the American Civil Liberties Union, blacks are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana than whites, despite similar rates of use. Beside marijuana-related arrests, crime in general slightly declined in the Denver area following the first year of legalization; although this may be coincidental, it dispels alarmist notions that kush-crazed criminals would cause chaos. And while many feared the effects of an increase in “drugged drivers” on the roads, traffic fatalities have gone down in the state.

While legalized recreational weed is relatively new to Colorado and other states with similar measures, so far the data has been overwhelmingly positive. Arizona voters will soon have the opportunity to add a new “c” to the state’s economic foundation of copper, cotton, citrus, cattle and climate: cannabis.

If passed, the 2016 Arizona Marijuana Legalization Initiative will allow the state to capitalize on the incoming “green rush” and the social benefits that come with it. The ballot initiative would allow those 21-and-older to privately possess and use limited quantities of marijuana and would create a regulated, taxable, legal, retail marijuana industry.

The initiative proposes that state funds raised by the industry be directed toward education and healthcare. With Arizona’s K-12 system consistently ranked near the bottom in national reports, it could really benefit from the extra cash. Just like in Colorado, savings would accompany the profits. In 2010, Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron estimated that Arizona spends $726 million annually on enforcing marijuana laws. Meanwhile, cuts and proposed cuts to the Arizona university system since 2008 total over $500 million.

The fact that Arizona prioritizes criminalizing otherwise law-abiding citizens and disproportionate numbers of minorities for a non-violent offense over educating students would be laughable if it didn’t have such serious consequences—especially since many studies show cannabis use to be far less harmful than alcohol, which is widely available. The huge costs spent on marijuana prohibition demonstrate the power of the state’s large military-industrial complex, which profits from prohibition through equipping law enforcement and border-patrol agencies, and building private prisons.

Despite the influence these corporations have on lawmakers, it is in our hands to determine the direction of the state on this issue. As members of a university community increasingly burdened by the state’s financial neglect, each of us have a special interest in dumping prohibition costs, regardless of whether you are interested in actually smoking weed yourself. Students are traditionally underrepresented at the polls, so it’s important that we make it out to advocate for ourselves on this issue.

Take the advice of the legendary Peter Tosh and legalize it!

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