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Marijuana Decriminalized In RI : Four Months Later

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Marijuana legalization has been a hot topic of debate throughout America in recent years, and it’s really been heating up as of late.  The recent statement by NYC comptroller John Liu that he’d like it legalized and taxed adds a whole new level of credibility (and excitement) to the cause.

In fact, on top of any medical use for marijuana, financial reasons have been some of the biggest arguments in favor of it’s legalization, or at least decriminalization.  In doing such, you not only eliminate the massive costs of prosecuting and locking up non-violent offenders such as pot smokers, but you bring in the income from taxes or tickets, addressing both sides of your P & L with one decision.

As part of his statement, Liu laid out the income side in numbers, projecting perhaps more than $400 million in additional annual revenue for the city alone.  On top of that, he cited $31 million as the amount that would be saved in “law enforcement and court costs”.

For a country trying to cope with both debt and a deficit, it’s hard not to start multiplying these numbers and imagining the effect it would have on our struggling economy.

Thus far, two states have fully legalized the use of marijuana, making it completely legal for recreational AND medical use; Colorado and Washington.  Both states have done so in the face of federal law, and federal law enforcement’s position regarding those laws has been fluid: at times they swear they won’t bother people at all, and other times they raid clinics and farms at will.

While it’s too early to fully tell the economic difference in those two states (partially because excise taxes don’t take effect until 2014), part of the initial argument was the projected income increase of $2 billion over the course of 5 years, for the same reasons Liu laid out in New York City.

Some numbers we DO have however, are starting to come in from states that have decriminalized marijuana, which is to not make it fully legal for recreational use, but to make it a violation instead of a crime.  In other words, you can’t go to jail, you’ll instead be written a ticket, as if you were speeding, or littering.

Rhode Island (where marijuana was decriminalized in April of this year) recently issued a report, citing the number of tickets they’ve handed out in the first four months of the law as 850, totaling over $110,00 in fines thus far.  According to Traffic Tribunal Chief Magistrate William R. Guglietta, this is more than he anticipated, something he chalks up to the ease of the ticketing process.  He would know, as a former state prosecutor and former head of the state’s narcotics unit.

Continuing at this pace, RI would be bringing in over $300,000 a year in marijuana ticket income.  They’d also be avoiding prosecution, police administrative, court, and jail costs previously attached to the process.  These costs were estimated 3 years ago by Harvard Director of Undergraduate Studies in the Department of Economics and Cato Institute fellow Jeffrey A. Miron to be $8.7 billion annually in the US.

While I can’t tell you exactly what.

Only time can truly tell how financially beneficial either decriminalization or legalization and taxation of marijuana will be, but the projections and early numbers look promising.  And at this time, in this country, can we really afford to turn down anything that will save us or earn us a buck?  Especially if it’s not hurting anyone?  What do you think?

Is marijuana prohibition worth the massive cost?share belongs to Rhode Island itself, I can say that if even $1 is their share, that’s a dollar they don’t have to spend.  And in this state (as with this country) every dollar helps.


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Robert D. Cobb
Founder, Publisher and CEO of INSCMagazine. Works have appeared and featured in places such as Forbes, Huffington Post, ESPN and NBC Sports to name a few. Follow me on Twitter at @RobCobb_INSC, email me at robert.cobb@theinscribermag.com

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