The current stance on marijuana continues to ebb closer and closer to being publicly accepted on a similar level as alcohol. Eight states have already enacted legislation that either legalizes or decriminalizes marijuana for recreational use (including our nation’s capital, Washington D.C.), and more than twenty states have laws allowing for medicinal marijuana. The views are changing, the knowledge on this plant is increasing, and the benefits appear to outweigh the negative stigma that has been associated with marijuana for centuries.
Why is this a problem? Alcohol prohibition did not succeed in the 1920s, and is widely seen as a failed approach to solving alcohol issues and used as an example of what not to do. This led to increased gang activity and a thriving underground black market for alcohol. Violent crimes, murder, bribery, etc. all increased during the Prohibition period. One would think we would have learned from that, but we are currently living in a state of prohibition on marijuana.
Studies have shown that this drug is one of the safest substances widely used recreationally. It is not physically addictive (on the same level as caffeine) and it does not damage the body the way many currently available substances can damage the body, such as alcohol, a widely used and accepted drug. It is time to stop living in the false world where marijuana is a banned substance and accept the facts for what they are.
The Solution: Marijuana should be legalized in the state of Florida for recreational use. We can follow states that have already enacted these laws as guidance, so that Florida can be on the cutting edge, but not the bleeding edge. We can generate hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue (Colorado generated more than $200 million thanks to marijuana sales, and increased tourism, in 2016 and it has a quarter of Florida’s population), potentially exceeding a billion dollars when tourists who visit Florida (113 million in 2016) are considered. This suggested measure focuses on three important points:
Additional income to the state, without increasing taxes on the populace, is always a welcome aspect into any governing body. The additional income can be spent on education (many schools are dilapidated and need serious overhauls, pay for educators is lagging well behind the national average, and supplies and resources are scarce and outdated), infrastructure (the roadways need expansion as Hillsborough County is growing at a rate that is outpacing the highway system, and the sewer system in Tampa is outdated and cannot keep up with heavy rains), or just lowering taxes for the citizens of the state in general, or helping in current crises as they come up, similar to the citrus greening issues we are seeing across the state.
Less tax money will be spent on incarcerating non-violent offenders. Many individuals who are in the penal system are there because a small amount of marijuana was in their car at a traffic stop, or something along those lines. While they are not confined for long, they are still a large rolling number that goes into the system constantly, costing about $20,000 per year per inmate. It is estimated that approximately 22 percent of the prison population are non-violent drug offenders. If we can lessen the number of people who enter the prison system, we reduce the state’s fiscal burden to house, feed, clothe, and provide health-care for these individuals, thus saving taxpayer money.
With police not having to deal with minor amounts of marijuana on the streets, they are available to provide the services they are intended to do: serve and protect.
Quick Takeaway: When marijuana is legalized for recreational use, crime goes down, tax expenses go down, and state income goes up. It is win-win-win.